While doing some squats recently, I reflected that only a couple of years ago, my squats were, frankly diddly. I had to be taught to do them properly. Nowadays, when personal trainer Kasia’s eyes narrow, and she demands squats, I merely groan, but generally manage an approximation. It is another matter entirely when it comes to lunges. These I hate with a passion, and I think I know why. I am crap at them.
It raises the question, can you be interested in something at which you think you are not very good? It turns out that it depends on the role you are seeking. In particular, it depends on whether you are interested in being an actor or an active participant, or whether you want to be a spectator or supporter.
Clearly, for instance, many of us are interested in the arts and sport, but privately we harbour nagging doubts that we lack any facility with a paint brush or a tennis bat. Our acting is no mere veneer, we are solidly wooden. When we leave everything out on the field of play, it consists of a beer gut, heavy breathing, and a support bandage.
As Clive James once remarked, if we cannot be artists, we can work in the support of the arts. In the same way, we can support athletes and sportsfolk from the bleachers, or perhaps even find work in marketing, management, catering, administration, or allied health services to keep the artistic and sporting show on the road. Our personal ability need not be a barrier to our interests provided we are prepared to be creative, bend a little or even to compromise on our dreams to be an actor.
For those that can do something, they do not necessarily also possess a burning interest. Some of you may have heard of a bloke called Shane Warne, the frustrated Aussie rules footballer, who also bowled a bit in cricket. So much for following your passion. It presupposes that passion precedes achievement. However, it seems just as likely that passion can emerge over time from engaging in activities where one discovers they possess some talent and then decide to test the boundaries of their skill.
Interests do not magically appear. They are the result of engaging in the world around us. We need to foster curiosity, exploration, and trial and error. We need to encourage people to try things and to expect to fail. We want to help people in a process of continuous discovery of the world around them, and of their own latent and obvious talents. We also need to help people form their characters to develop their resilience, resolve and persistence, to keep on trying, not necessarily the same thing over and over, but to be strategic and know when to change horses.
We also need to encourage a solid sense of self-belief, that we are capable of achieving things, and that we might be better than we think because if we believe we cannot do something, we are less likely to be motivated to try, and less likely to be interested in learning how. PT Kasia knows this when she tells me I am good at lunges. Sometimes we have to bend the truth just a little, to get others to bend in the right way to succeed.
Jim Bright, FAPS is professor of career education and development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a Career Management Consultancy. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright