Setting Your Own Course: How to Identify What Interests You

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As a teenager heading towards high school, you’re probably exploring new roles and taking on new responsibilities. You’re making more of your own choices while also helping out your family, friends, and other peers. With all of that going on, it’s easy to overlook your responsibility for your own happiness and fulfillment.

OK, you may think, sure, that sounds fine and reasonable, but what does that even mean? It is up to us to determine the things that inspire us, that grab our curiosity or fire up our passions — whether that’s activities or topics, people or places—and that keep us excited and moving forward.

Take a moment to think about your favorite fictional characters. Perhaps they come from a big city or a cozy village by the sea, or maybe they grew up on a farm. Maybe they are from the modern world, or perhaps they lived centuries ago. They might be from a real place you’ve visited or from a fantasy world that exists only in our imagination.

The possible backgrounds are endless, but my point is this: regardless of where your favorite characters come from, they will probably share at least one trait: they are driven by a strong, persistent desire for something. Be it starting a family, saving their friend, or building an empire, they all have a defining passion. Chances are you will notice that many of the more interesting people in real life have this characteristic as well. Clearly, real people are more complex and have many motivations, but, more likely than not, the people we find most compelling are motivated by at least one interest that fuels their motivation.

In this blog, let’s define “passion” as the set of characteristics that energize or interest you, whether that might be a skill you want to develop, a topic that you can’t learn enough about, or the call to make the world a better place, in whatever way you imagine.

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.

This quote from the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger has always stood out to me for connecting what motivates us and where we’re going. Having a deep, motivating interest can be extremely helpful when making decisions, large or small. If you know what you enjoy, you will be able to better choose which classes to register for, which hobbies to undertake, and how to spend your free time. Additionally, you will know which choices may seem attractive in the short term but ultimately lead you away from the things you fundamentally enjoy. This self-awareness can be called your “guiding principles,” and without it, it is harder to know the best course of action for your longer-term success and fulfillment.

Once you are able to identify your interests, you’ll also be able to make decisions more quickly and confidently. Similarly, the earlier you identify what motivates you, the sooner you can begin making decisions that help you to realize your goals. Think of a person in your life who knows they have an interest in a certain athletic or academic field: they can organize their time in such a way as to make sure they pursue their passions, now and down the road. 

Discovering Your Passions

So, now that we have made the case that having identified your interests is important, how are you supposed to go about identifying and cultivating these? We recommend giving yourself time to reflect and realize what you have enjoyed so far, both at school and in your everyday life. What did you look forward to the most? What are you looking forward to now? Which types of interactions (whether with peers or adults) and settings (from playing soccer to playing the guitar) were the most fun for you? Which kept you coming back for more?

Looking Forward

With the summer coming quickly, and the start of high school following after that, this is a great time to actively explore what interests keep inspiring you, what questions keep your attention, and what settings make you feel encouraged and motivated.

  • Immerse Yourself in Activities: Dip your toe into the activities you think you may have an interest in exploring but haven’t yet had the chance to really check out yet. The only way to know what you truly enjoy is to explore all your options.
  • Schedule Downtime: Give yourself a break from your phone — even if it’s for a few minutes a few times a week — to sit and think about your activities and check that you are still enjoying yourself and that they’re a good use of your time.
  • Get Involved: Once the new school year begins, investigate different clubs and organizations. Attend an orientation meeting. Try an activity or two and note which ones excite you, whether that’s your athletic, artistic, or cultural passions, your intellectual curiosity, or your desire to help others.

Some Final Thoughts

Don’t underestimate the value of some quiet time to really think through how you’ve been spending your time and on which activities. What brings a smile to your face? What are you eager to return to doing? What do you find yourself drawn to doing on your own time? Keep in mind that as time passes, what interests you may not stay the same: as you change, so will your interests. Next summer, some of your interests from this summer may have grown stronger, while others may end up replaced by new ones. Finally, although we encourage you to weigh input from your family and friends, your decisions about your interests and passions should be motivated by your own experiences.  Good luck on your journey! We look forward to hearing about your interests, your discoveries and what you’ve learned about yourself.

John Jones

Tutor & Director of Quality Assurance

John Jones has been ACT and SAT tutoring at PrepMatters since 2001. He prepares students for the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, SSAT/ISEE/HSPT, PSAT, and ACT.  Mr. Jones began tutoring in high school, serving as Vice-President of Tutoring for a high school service organization. His tutoring experience continued through college and has also included work with the AmeriCorps National Service Program...

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