How To Approach a Passion that has No Obvious Practical Application (At Least Not One that You Want to Pursue)
Photo courtesy of Brendon Burton.

How To Approach a Passion that has No Obvious Practical Application (At Least Not One that You Want to Pursue)

Written by Emilie

Topics: Education

Last week I sent out an email about feeling drawn toward a passion that “makes no sense.” The email spawned a great discussion on Facebook. So many of you had the experience of becoming interested in fields that were radically different from anything you’ve done before. When this happens, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable, maybe even run from your new passion for a while.

The fear of being a beginner and stepping out of my comfort zone has been a big part of my hesitance, but I think what has held me back from pursuing my new-ish interest in science is the absence of an end goal. In other words, it doesn’t feel like there’s an obvious practical application for what I want to learn. I don’t necessarily want to become a practitioner or researcher, I’m simply thirsty for knowledge. That’s it.

Learning alone seems to be my goal, not that it won’t evolve into something tangible, it very well may. But I can’t know that now, and anyway, it doesn’t matter. Even if the knowledge I acquire never gets applied in any way, I’m still developing my mind, and that has inherent value.

When I was in college, even a slight interest in an area was enough for me to justify taking a course (hell, it was enough to justify me going to law school!), but now that I’m out of school it feels harder to justify.

But why? Is it just the cost of education? Or my age? The feeling that I should have it “figured out,” at this stage of my life, and that I’m an adult now with “adult responsibilities”?

It sounds so silly, especially since I am someone who’s always believed in education for education’s sake. Still, the absence of an end point to my goal has made its pursuit a lot scarier.

So here’s what I’ve decided. I’m going to stop needing this path to make sense, to mesh with my experiences, long-held identities, or plans I had for my life. That big hovering question mark? It’s no longer a source of anxiety or a thing that I need to figure out. Now it represents adventure.

If anything is my “goal” in this new field, it is open-ended-ness. I don’t know where it’s going to lead me and I don’t care. But now I’m excited.

Your Turn

Have you ever felt yourself being pulled toward a field that didn’t have an obvious practical application, at least not one you were interested in? How did you approach it?


  1. Josh says:

    Anything that can help someone else has a practical application. They say to bring value to others, what they’re looking for are the important things in life: their wealth, their health, or their relationships (or perhaps it was their time? Anyway you get the idea.). So it never hurts to have skills where you can help someone in one those three areas, this time health.

    Heck, most of my interests have helped in one way or another. Even my fascinations with Lord of the Rings and Star Wars have helped my imagination. It has helped in my writing to be a more passionate storyteller even when I’m writing about something really boring like logistics.

    • Emilie says:

      I agree with you Josh that everything is applicable. My point is that it doesn’t matter. Cause even if knowledge weren’t applicable, it would still be valuable.

  2. I think every interest has some value. It can make you happy, which in turn helps your mental and physical health (I firmly believe both are linked). It can even also help you meet people you never thought before. I never thought in a million years I would want to and work towards learning about how to operate a business, but here I am. I have met so many people, online and in person that it’s not even funny.

    • Emilie says:

      Great points, Sarah. I guess the scary thing is that you don’t know who you might meet or how it might affect your happiness looking forward. You can only know that looking back. The unknown is scary, but that’s where trust comes in.

  3. Cassie says:

    It creeps me out how much your words resonate with me sometimes, Emilie. This: “Learning alone seems to be my goal…”–have you done the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment? I wonder if “Learner” is one of your talents (it’s one of mine). Here’s a brief explanation of the skill: “You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you.”

    Also, this: “I’m going to stop needing this path to make sense…”–this is a good example of why you’re a role model for me. I can spend weeks on self-assigned research projects when a new topic strikes my interest (which is all the damn time), and I sometimes beat myself up over it because of, just like you said, the lack of an end goal. It’s difficult to justify all the time spent learning when I don’t intend to apply the knowledge immediately (or ever), but from now on, I’m following your lead and explaining to myself and others, “I just like to learn.”

    • Emilie says:

      I haven’t done Strengths Finder 2.0 but I’ve heard a lot about it. I think you’re right about me being a Learner, and I bet a lot of multipotentialites are too.

      Aw thanks for the kind words, Cassie. I’m right there with you. Often my best writing comes out of me giving advice to myself. :)

  4. Priya says:

    I feel like I always have a question mark hanging over my head. I’m always “in-between”, I don’t even know what that means but it sounds a lot better than telling people, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I think I figured out a way to approach a part of my dream–something that will be a compromise between dreams and money. I’m just having trouble being productive a lot of the time when trying to research. I’m looking at all the things that distract me, and slowly ( very slowly) trying to change my habits and working environment.

    • Emilie says:

      I like that “in-between” idea, Priya. The productivity piece is definitely a part of being a multipotentialite. Finding your own practice and habits to stay focused on your projects and not get distracted is key. It’s something I write about a lot here. It sounds like you’re on the right path.

  5. Karen Renee says:

    I’m studying many impractical things. The beauty grows as they all tangle together into a lovely whole.

    Discovering the piano as I draw the shapes and lines and notes to audible rhythm … until the fluid call invites me to dance … then longing to represent that impossible leap pours into my paintings … and the conversation of meditative design lures me into the science of form … I massage my way along new understanding of muscular function … then absorb perspective on the intricacies of nerve structure … and wonder at the mystery of quantum physics … until the fractal composition of nature … unfolds a new view of the universe … a mathematical display, a holographic pattern?… reflected by the galaxies as they whirl in formidable precision … and I cascade once again into the spin … of wind brushing through the branches of trees in gentle melody … a poem, a language, a song … and the elusive fragment of a vision, a tune hidden beneath my fingers and in a sigh.

  6. Trish says:

    Thanks so much for writing this post! I’ve had the same constant question of “should I or shouldn’t ?” looming over my head. For quite similar reasons-the cost attached, the already busy life that I live, that I should have my act together by now, and the list goes on.

    But like one the previous comments I too have started to see where my plethora of interests can intersect or can simply be a project that I explore few times a year.

    I’m always grateful to visit your website as it never fails to remind me that I’m not the only one out there.

    Thanks again :)

  7. Leah Jay says:

    Emile, I laughed out loud when I read this blog post.
    In case anyone thinks they’re weird, I just posted something on my own blog about making a puppet that looks like me and then practicing in the mirror with it, etc. (Note: I’m an artist by vocation.) Doing goofy and impractical things is definitely one of my life’s themes!

  8. Moni says:

    I have been working hard on my degree in library science and was the whole reason I had even found this site. I ran across it while perusing through the linkedin forums for librarians.

    I have a huge passion for astronomy that I can’t ignore. I love everything about space, astrophysics, and general science. Even though loving space isn’t part of my job requirements, it did help me get into tutoring for my college one semester, helping other students with their astronomy 101-102 needs. If it wasn’t for an interest in space, and the need to pursue the curiosity of my interest, I never would have gotten into the tutoring, which opened up my eyes to other types of interesting jobs.

    I am currently a member of an astronomical society in the bay area and am spending some time this summer helping others learn about the stars, thanks to my continued interest in space. While I am still working on my degree, I have a passion, if not a knack, for astrophysics. I think this alone justifies spending time on projects that are not career centered, even if just to get around and be a part of the society for awhile.

  9. Leah says:

    This post really resonates with me; for a long time I’ve been interested in improving on playing the piano and guitar. But since I wouldn’t be up to snuff in terms of performing professionally for a while, I didn’t think it would be worth it… what was the point of learning something if it wasn’t going to be applied in some way for monetary gain/public approval?

    I’ve since learned that, for myself anyway, I really enjoy music no matter what. Even if I’m not going to perform, like you said, learning itself could be my goal. Learning to play and create beautiful music, music that I enjoy.

    Of course, convincing myself that this could still be a fun, worthwhile adventure while not gaining me anything “worthwhile” in the long run is not going to be as easy as snapping my fingers. But at least I’m on the right track to thinking that way, and this post definitely helped reinforce that. Thanks, Emilie!

  10. Pia says:

    Well, just a word of warning or a promise if you will. ;-)

    I’m 47 and I still do things this way. So much exciting stuff in this world, how can I ignore it?

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