How kids find their passion

Here’s a good rule: Don’t expose your kids to stuff that’s good for them and don’t actively look for their passions. Instead, just listen and make good suggestions. The real purpose of education is for kids to learn to find their own passion – not for you to find it for them. 

1. Well-rounded kids don’t find a passion.
People justify school by saying that kids need to be exposed to a lot so they can see what they’re good at. But school is actually just five subjects. Eight as kids get older. The world is 5 million subjects. The world is way too big for us to start exposing our kids to possibilities. Because it’s too random. Or worse, it’s not random. It’s only what we the parents like. So the goal of having well-rounded kids undermines their ability to find their passion.

2. Your own passions are useless to your kids.
All the entrepreneurial ideas I’ve had for my kids ultimately failed, because—big surprise—I’m the one in the family who has a passion for building new businesses. 

I started my oldest son on violin. He had no choice. I was not a homeschooler then. And I watched my cousins all go through the Suzuki program. I wanted that for myself, but it was too late, so I started it for my son.

What I learned, just a little bit late for violin: If you think a love of [whatever you love] is important, then act on it for your own life, but don’t force it on your kid.

3. Your kids will find what they love like a cat finds water on a drought-riddled farm.
What I learned from living through a drought: If you give a cat the ability to go anywhere, they find water. If you limit them, they die. Parents restrict a kid’s ability to explore, lock the kid in school, and then decide that the kid can’t find their passion on their own.

My younger son begged for a year to also play an instrument before I gave in (I was overwhelmed by the prospect of making a second kid practice every day). Since then, he has tried voice, piano, and guitar, but he always comes back to cello. That’s his process.

He also found baking, and at this point he does all the baking in our household. I would have never thought of baking as something that suited him, but when he bakes it’s a performance. The deserts are a spectacle, eliciting oohs and ahhs, and baking with his friends is more action-painting than careful measurements.

4. You know how to steer if you know their personality type.
My son who plays the cello is an ESFP, which means he’s a born performer, so when he was two years ahead in math by first grade, I largely ignored it because I know he’ll never make a living in academia or problem solving. That’s not him.

My older son has been playing violin since he was three. He’s good enough to be fun to listen to, but he hates performing. So I leave it up to him. INTJs don’t grow up to be performers. They are problem solvers, behind-the-scenes operators.

Those of you who say kids are too young to be so focused – you are in denial. A kid is born good at some things and bad at other things. We all are. No one can “be anything”. It’s a vapid expression left over from half-baked feminist ideas of opening doors for women.

If you want to keep everything open to your kid, your kid will have nothing; All options open means no options selected. If you steer your kid to what will feel fulfilling, your kid will learn how to find that for herself.

5. Look for patterns. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Look for the intersection of your kid’s personality type and your kid’s interests. Help your kid stick to things he or she could be great at. (For example, my son made a gymnastics team, but he’ll be very tall, so I discouraged investing time in gymnastics when he will end up unable to compete with the  short kids.)

Many of you will be able to figure out your kid’s type by using a personality test. At about five years old you should be able to tell. Many of you will know even before that. If you want to know how to parent you particular child, I recommend taking the course I have on personality type for parents. It’s amazing to me how much easier it is to raise my kids once I understand what their definition of fulfillment is.

I see so many adults benefit from learning their type late in life. It’s so hard to know what drives us when no one taught us to ask the question.Our system is performance-based and not purpose-based. It teaches mimicry and not passion.

If we are on a mission to change that, with homeschooling, then the first step is understanding purpose. We don’t inherit our parent’s purpose. Each child has their own drivers. Find those to help your kids find their passion.




34 replies
  1. Erin
    Erin says:

    This pulls together a lot of stuff you’ve said before, but the really interesting part to me is the tidbit about the cat in a drought. I’ve never heard that before.

  2. kina
    kina says:

    My favorite passage from this post, which rings very true: “No one can “be anything”. It’s a vapid expression left over from half-baked feminist ideas of opening doors for women.” #ohsnap

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      I think “half-baked” more accurately describes the ignorant slurs against feminism frequently peddled on this site, by people whose lifestyles (like mine) would be impossible without it.

      When the feminists on whose shoulders we all stand said that women could “be anything,” they meant that laws and customs prohibiting half the human race from professions and economic activities were unfair, contrary to human potential, and should be overturned. Portraying it as a statement about individual psychological plasticity is ignorant or disingenuous.

      Luckily for us, the feminists were both right and victorious. Thanks to the efforts of these brave women and men, people born with two X chromosomes today can be many things that they couldn’t a few generations ago – like voters, property owners, businesspeople, students, and professionals.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I have benefitted from the feminists in the 70s as well. Of course. Everyone has. But like most big intellectual movements, the relevance of the ideas wane after they have been tested, some implemented, and some tossed to the wayside.

        The history of political thought is the history of changing perceptions of problems and solutions. It seems fine to say that feminism as an ideal is outdated for today.


        • Commenter
          Commenter says:

          Limiting your understanding of the historical contribution of feminism to the work done in the seventies would understand your lack of appreciation.

          In reality, feminism began in the 18th century. By the time the nineteen-seventies rolled around, feminists had already achieved most of their practical goals. The second wave of feminism, in the seventies, addressed far more theoretical questions than suffrage, personhood, and property ownership.

          I know the younger generations tend to be ignorant of history, but it does them a disservice. It’s easy to imagine people always had electric lights and scoff at Edison, imagine we always had vaccines and scoff at doctors, or imagine women always had legal personhood and scoff at feminists.

          I will thank past generations of feminists for the fact that you can respond to me, even if you won’t.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            You two are talking about very different things. Commenter is talking about the entire history of feminism and its significance from a historical perspective.

            Penelope is saying that the currently held feminist ideals are outdated. So the expression “be anything” carries less weight today.

            What we should be saying, that is more accurate, “Make a choice” “You choose your path” which I would add to that, You can make any choice but you can’t have it all.

          • Commenters
            Commenters says:

            You’re right, YMKAS. When a younger person today hears “feminism,” they think about some weird theories they didn’t enjoy in their sophomore seminar class. When I hear “feminism,” I think about how my mother had to let her supervisor conceal her gender to be hired as a professional mathematician in the late fifties, publishing with only her initials, and how in this decade a woman going into math or computing hardly raises an eyebrow.

            Just a generation ago, people actively tried to prevent my mother from “being anything,” if that anything was in the realm of math and computing, and they did so entirely legally, as there wasn’t a law in the country against refusing to hire on the basis of gender. My daughter will not face such barriers, and she will know she has feminists to thank for that.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            This happened to me recently, after watching Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter, I needed to explain the significance to a tween on why a bikini on a woman was a big deal back then. He had a hard time accepting that but the explanation was needed so the ending scene made sense.

            I think it’s ok for feminists to not be on board with the current wave and have different ideals. It’s not like we are throwing away the entire history of the movement. We can be critical of the parts we don’t like.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      The sentence “you can be whatever you want to be” is frequently misunderstood – it does not mean you have to be everything, it means you can choose what you want to be rather then your non-choice being imposed on you. And yeah! to the feminists – they truly opened this door for women and men (indeed – many men also benefit from the idea that their choices in life do not have to be dictated by the profession of their fathers and that it can be their choice instead of their parents choice).

  3. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    My older son is a huge online gamer — any game that involves going on a quest with a bunch of online friends, he’s in. It helps that I know that he’s INFP like me. Clearly, it’s unlikely he’ll make a living doing online games. But what I’m telling him is that whatever he chooses to do for a living, if it doesn’t feel to him like he’s on a quest, he should probably keep looking.

    • Rebecca F
      Rebecca F says:

      Thank you for pulling this together for me. I never thought to connect not only personality type but the types of online gaming my sons enjoy to future employment. Definitely given me food for thought today!

  4. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I’m a feminist and I will continue to be until there’s no need to be so because human rights are respected and honored for everyone despite being born with XX chromosomes.

    I have a boy and a girl. I can’t imagine her not having the opportunity to be what she wants to become because she’s a girl.

    Because I’m realistic about how slow society changes despite changes in the law, I gave her the middle name Rowan. I read a study that peer reviewed studies submitted by women with androgynous names get looked at more often than obviously female names. By the time the author’s gender is well known at least the reviewers have looked at the paper. Not the deciding factor but at least one less hurdle.

    I changed my last name and I cries. But I did it because I knew I’d have a better change with employment if I carried a Caucasian last name than a Mexican one.

    When job searching I did an experiment. During a couple weeks I filled out he voluntary racial identification and douring others I didn’t, and same with gender identification. When i declined the voluntary identification I got so many more interviews for jobs that were not overwhelmingly filled by women (like administrative jobs).

    I think that if you’re wealthy mysogyny still exists, of course. But you don’t lose everything. In fact, you benefit much more from playing that game if you fall in the category defined as very valuable. But if you’re poor, the consequences are incredibly close to home. If you live in other countries the consequences are of life and death.

    My approach to feminism doesn’t involve blatantly rocking the boat. I feel like by just existing as an immigrant woman daring to speak up confidently in male dominated industries I’m already rocking the boat. My approach is to raise a good son, a confident daughter, and to make allies out of men who understand and care for the principles of feminism.

    Because feminism also cares for the well being of men. So many are trapped and caving under the pressure of prescribed gender roles and no one is throwing them a life saver. ‘Cause they’re men. Men can handle anything, am I right?

    If at the end of the day we figure out that my boy’s passion is to be a father and wants nothing but stay at home and raise his own children, my husband and I will figure out a way to teach him how to make money so that his time is opened up to be home with his kids rather than saying “you’re the wrong gender. You have to find work outside the home even if yo marry a woman that makes more than enough for the whole family.”

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I love the Mark Manson link (our system is performance based and not purpose based) !!!

    1. You learned That success comes from the approval of others

    2. You learned that failure is a source of shame

    3. You learned to depend on authority

    We reject all of these things and embrace freedom to learn and find passions, being authentic, and failing is ok and even a good thing.

  6. Isabelle
    Isabelle says:

    I’m curious about the process of pointing your kids towards things that they might actually be suited for, or steering them away from things for which they aren’t suited– like your example of your son being too tall for gymnastics. How would I know that if I’ve never done gymnastics? My kid will doubtless be short, and seems to be quite stronger, more coordinated (gross-motor wise) and more fearless than average. Is my hunch that gymnastics WOULD be a good sport for him a correct one? If I know nothing about sports, where can I get this kind of knowledge to help guide him (hopefully without spending a bunch of time/money trying classes in the wrong things)?

    I would pay for someone to look at my kid’s physical traits and tell me what sports he should try– hell, I think I’d pay for someone to tell me that about MYSELF, because I’ve yet to find anything physical except yoga that I don’t hate! (well, I enjoy some kinds of dance but have zero natural ability for it, so classes are embarrassing and frustrating.)

    • Vanessa
      Vanessa says:

      Short people sports: gymnastics, figure skating, rugby (playing hooker) and to an extent, soccer where being short will not benefit them but wont rule them out either.

      Tall people sports: essentially everything else.

      Since gymnasts and figure skaters tend to start training when they’re as young as three or four, I’d suggest soccer for your son. As for rugby…too many concussions.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        Don’t forget wrestling. Wrestling is done by weight class at all levels. A short 128 pound kid might have a strength and leverage advantage over a tall 128 pound kid.

        And then there’s rock climbing. Odd as it may seem, many of the best rock climbers are quite short.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      My 3.5 year old is also fearless and has insane gross-motor abilities. She always tumbles and runs through the house at full speed. She jumps off of things and recovers quickly, I’m always on edge wondering how and why she does all this stuff. My two older girls are not athletic or fearless so it is all new for me as well. But I instantly think gymnastics for her, who cares how tall she will be. Not every child needs to have professional sports aspirations, but simply needs an outlet for all that energy.

      If you have an older child you could try martial arts as well as the list Vanessa shared.

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      I felt societal pressure to have my first kid in activities, including sports, when she was younger. We tried out whatever she was willing to try out.

      Now I tend to think around age ten or older is when kids can invest into an activity because they have learned enough self-awareness by then.

      Of course some younger kids *ask* for classes and organized sports. I wouldn’t hesitate to let them try and quit what they want–within the parent’s budget and personal limits (i.e. how much driving and being around other parents, etc. you want to do). Find activity groups which don’t require long time commitments. I think nearby gymnastics for us was 6 or 8 weeks per session, for example.

      And some young kids really need physical activity. But they don’t need organized activities to get that.

      I think it is more important to foster self-awareness and to let kids try and quit what they want than to be concerned with what kids “should” try. I think the “should” mindset comes from societal pressure to have kids enrolled in and busy with activities–I sure felt that but not anymore thankfully.

      As far as exposure, I think just talking about life, sharing life experiences, reading, watching movies, listening to music create exposure. So many times, in any of these experiences, a topic will snowball or morph into something else.

      Look at all the successful musicians, actors, athletes who came from a poor upbringing. Some people are so drawn to doing what they love that nothing will stop them. Thinking about that can relieve a lot of pressure.

      My thinking is if my kids move out into the world with strong integrity, well-being, self-respect, self-love, self-awareness, and having experienced healthy relationships, they will be just fine. They will create and find whatever matters to them.

      About finding something physical for yourself: I love walking outside, riding my recumbent stationary bike in front of a movie on my laptop, and doing stretches and calisthenics on my living room floor. I used to love weight training at the gym and will get back to it one day (maybe at home) because it feels so good. Classes: Not into them but belly dancing via Community Ed was pretty fun.

  7. redrock
    redrock says:

    “All options open means no options selected” – I honestly do not understand why all options open is a bad thing. It does not preclude selection, or passion, or focus – it just means that there are options to choose from. It also means you can try a few things before finding focus and passion. And – it is only a problem for those who have the options. I am betting if you ask a kid in a poor family, in a remote corner of the country, a kid in public housing or a run down apartment, in a poor school, and so on – they would disagree since they do not see many options at all. There was a very interesting report on NPR the other day about a school project in NY – a group of kids from a really poor school district with very few choices in terms of academics (and other stuff) met up on a regular basis with kids from a rich school with all the options. It followed the life of a former student in the poor school district and the one thing which really impacted her was the choices available to the rich kids – the possibilities it opened. Seeing how many more choices the rich kids had then she had in her life. This is probably the big difference between being rich and poor (independent of the school discussion) – the choices and opportunities. I am all for more choices and opportunities, which probably makes me a feminist.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Of course, more options in your context is a great thing. It’s the basis of ‘America’.

      Rich vs. Poor mentality is what you are talking about. It takes certain mental skill to have many options and then select and stick with your choice, maybe more skill than having just one or two options and selecting from those…

      Reminds me of the study that implies people are able to be more effective with constrained choice (4 jars of jam, versus 24 jars or something along the line)…

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        actually poor versus rich is not a state of mind, it is a true and tangible and rather large difference in opportunities. Yes, even in the US.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          I’m confused as to what you mean by this.

          Poor people think differently and make different choices and decisions that people of high intellect (rich, as in, state of mind).

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I think it’s about focusing on the one thing you want to succeed. For example, I chose to have children by my mid-20’s. And I was not going to let other people raise them.
      So I had to choose to lay low in the career and schooling aspect. Because I want to be present as a mother and I’m very driven but I’m not going to sacrifice my health and well being.

      I’d like to think that I can forge the circumstances for me to continue on my original path. But it’s possible that I won’t be able to. Who knows.

      What we chose to do when going after a goal, often times, will close the door for other options. Not always and not everything. But not wanting to decide to do X for the sake of not closing doors for other things will get us nowhere.

      Or like how I often see guys and women who like having the option of going out with different people. They may be good looking so they have more options and availability of going out with good looking people. So they don’t want to close the door by choosing monogamy. But the majority of people seek monogamous relationships. The options stop being options after a while. And so these people are left with a reduced pool of options because they didn’t want to lose their options in the first place.

      Some are okay with it and some aren’t.

      I hear ya about having or not having options as a poor person vs a rich person. Even the rich have to close doors to everything else when they want to be good at something. But it’s so comforting to have your pick at several different good options rather than a few different all terrible options.

  8. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:


    I was surprised by this: For example, my son made a gymnastics team, but he’ll be very tall, so I discouraged investing time in gymnastics when he will end up unable to compete with the short kids.

    Could you elaborate further on the words you used with your son when you said you “discouraged” him from investing time in gymnastics?

    Aquinas Heard

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      Maybe she just guided him to other options…? Unless her kid was dying to do gymnastics I don’t think it’d be that big of a discussion. For example, my kid gets into things often, then his interest wanes out; especially if we haven’t taken him to the lesson/practice etc in a while.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Parents encourage and discourage things every second of the day. We can’t help it. Good body language when the kids play a game I like. Poor eye contact when they kids talk about a YouTube channel I think is disgusting.

        It’s as easy as “gymnastic competitions are on the weekend so you would have to miss some of the team events for cello. Or you would have to tell your cello teacher you are missing for gymnastics.” (The cello teacher would never go for that. So I know what he’ll choose.)

        On the other hand, earlier, when he was interested in the dance team, I personally called the cello teacher and asked her if he could miss two Saturdays for dance because I think it’s important for him to have something in his life besides music. (Ironically: He then heard he would miss cello for dance and decided against dance as well.)


        • Aquinas Heard
          Aquinas Heard says:


          Thank you for your response.

          I don’t view pointing out the possible consequences of a child’s choice as encouraging or discouraging them.

          As far as the body language and eye contact component, those obviously imply an evaluation by the parent but a child raised knowing their choices are ultimately theirs to make can blow these things off easily. I was more concerned with possible statements like this or similar: you should reconsider your goal of being on a gymnastics team because, even though you might not realize this, tall people don’t usually get to the higher levels of this sport.


  9. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:

    Instead of doing this:

    “If you steer your kid to what will feel fulfilling, your kid will learn how to find that for herself.”

    Why wouldn’t you explain to him how he might feel more fulfilled doing different things (given your knowledge of his personality type)? Then, rather than steering him in any direction you let him discover for himself if that is the case. I think the “steering” can rob him of developing the ability of deeper self-analysis/introspection.

    Also, instead of doing this:

    “Help your kid stick to things he or she could be great at.”

    How about explaining to him these are different methods/practices which you can implement, if you find yourself not staying committed to a task/subject/field/activity YOU have said is important to you? Depending on how you are “helping”, you might be making it so he is less accountable to himself and his freely chosen values.

  10. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    It would be nice to have a quick and free personality test like that for kids — one where they can better relate to the questions. I don’t think my kids know what a TV soap is and I doubt if my daughter knows words such as “speculate.” Are there any dependable ones out there?

      • Kristen
        Kristen says:

        Parentingbytemperament dot com is very good. It used to be free but looks like they recently started charging $10 charge. I’d still recommend it though. The questions are geared toward children so it’s much easier than using a typical MBTI test. I’d also recommend Nurture by Nature. Amazing book and it teaches you how to type your kid. Hope this helps. : )

  11. sylvia
    sylvia says:

    “The real purpose of education is for kids to learn to find their own passion – not for you to find it for them.”

    This line brought back a funny memory from my early mothering days. I think my kids were about 8 or 9 years old when they begged me to stop buying them educational toys. It wasn’t easy, but I stopped! My sons now have PhD’s in bio and chemical engineering, and my daughter is in med school. Less turned out to be more, and they get all the credit. But, I’ll probably still want to buy educational toys for my grandkids.

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