Unit 1: Launch

Chapter 1: Passion

“Ganas. That’s all you need. The desire to learn.”

– Jaime Escalante

Having a strong background in mathematics alone does not account for success. It is the desire and motivation to learn. Think about what you are passionate about. It might be family, friends, a significant other, a pet, an upcoming vacation, or what you might have for dinner. Different people are passionate about different things. Ask yourself: Why are you passionate about those things? What makes you passionate about them? Now ask yourself if you are passionate about learning, knowledge, hobbies, and interests.

Author’s Story

I can think of many things I would rather do than sit in a classroom listening to a lecture. I’d rather be relaxing at the beach, traveling to a new place, or playing Mario Kart with my family and friends. But when I was in college, my education was extremely important to me. I had a tremendous amount of passion, which allowed me to succeed. I had the attitude that nothing was going to stand in the way of getting my degree. In my first year in college I took an Introduction to Sociology class that genuinely interested me. It was easy to be passionate about it because I really liked the subject matter, my professor, and the textbook. I also took Microeconomics. And while I understood its value and importance, I was not as interested in attending and completing the assignments. However, I always knew I needed to find passion in the course if I wanted to be successful and accomplish my goals. One strategy that worked for me was to test where I could apply concepts in those less interesting classes to my personal life. For instance, if the lecture and textbook were explaining a Microeconomics concept like total and marginal utility, I would try to apply this to something I could easily relate to. If utility is the satisfaction of the consumption of a product for a consumer, I would think of an example involving Arby’s roast beef sandwiches, and blue raspberry slurpees. Making the material meaningful to me allowed me to be passionate about learning something I otherwise would not have been. Later, as a counselor, I have supported many students who were in college but for many reasons may not have been as motivated as I was at a given point in time. It is OK for students not to know their major. It is OK for students to prioritize aspects of life other than college. Sometimes students do not have a choice and have to prioritize other things. Some students may not necessarily want a four year degree or even to be in college. That is OK too. Many students are in college as a means to find a better job. Having passion for college and genuine curiosity for learning and knowledge can be helpful as it was for me. But many students are in college for different reasons and with differing levels of interest and passion. I encourage students to identify their own path – the one that is the best fit for them.

It is important to acknowledge my privilege as a cisgender, straight, white male in a system that was created by and for people like me. Hard work and passion is not the only way to success. In a meritocratic world, the hardest working people would win and be successful.

“Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things.”

– Randy Pausch

It is common to have other things you would like to do more than studying for a class, sitting in class, watching a recorded online session, doing homework, or preparing for exams. But you still must have passion for learning and for the class in order to be successful.

My favorite definition of success is from Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Why Are You Here?

Please note: It is OK to not know what your goal is when you start college. In fact, it is extremely common for students not to know what their goal is or what their major is when they begin college, but there is value in identifying your goal(s) as soon as possible.

More questions to ask yourself: Why are you in college, and why are you taking the courses you’re taking? If you can answer these questions with solid logic and understand their purpose and how they fit into what’s important in your life, you are off to a great start. However, if you are taking classes at someone else’s suggestion and you are not genuinely interested in them, you may want to reconsider. I do not wish it to be misconstrued that I recommend you drop out of college: rather I want you to have a plan and passion to be able to achieve your goals. For many people, higher education is a necessary part of their goals.

Balancing personal obligations can be difficult. Students may have pressing family, work, social and other responsibilities in addition to college. Developing a strategy to balance personal responsibilities and college life may prove successful in supporting students’ passion. Some of these ideas will be covered throughout this unit.


For college success, it is helpful to attend when it’s “the right time” for you. How do you know if it’s the right time? You need to acknowledge that there is no such thing as “the right time” and there is only right now. Ask yourself if it’s the right time or only right now for the following students to go to college:

  • Monica’s goal is to go to a university. She was accepted but couldn’t afford it. She enrolls at a community college. She is passionate about attending community college and then transferring to earn a bachelor’s degree.
  • Christina is a high school graduate. She would like to take a year off of school to work and travel. Her parents gave her an ultimatum, saying that if she wanted to continue to live at home, she had to go to college full-time.
  • David completed one year of college then got married in his early 20s. He and his partner raised four children and he has been working for 20 years in an uninteresting, low-paying job. He always wanted to finish college and now finally has the time to go back to school.
  • Andy is interested in partying and little else. He knows his college education is important but it is a low priority at this point.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Passion

Sometimes we are motivated by a specific desired outcome of performing a task. Some people play a game because they want to win. In education, some students work hard because they want to receive a good grade or transfer to a prestigious university. Parents of younger children may give a monetary reward for each “A” their student earns. This is extrinsic motivation.

Interest, desire to learn, and enjoyment of a subject are characteristics of intrinsic motivation, which can lead to passion. It is helpful if your passion for your education comes from within yourself. If your educational goals (passing a college course, acquiring new skills or attaining a degree) are important to you, your motivation can become intrinsic, allowing you to develop passion, which will help you reach your goals. Without passion, you may find yourself struggling, withdrawing from courses, earning poor grades, or dropping out. External rewards of ascending to a certain academic level or acquiring wealth lose some of their appeal if students do not find the work to get there personally rewarding. These students, who truly embrace their work, are intrinsically motivated – passionate while those who are focused mainly on rewards for high achievement and punishment for poor performance are extrinsically motivated. Trophies, medals, money, new clothes or a new car are examples of extrinsic motivators. One could argue, “the end justifies the means”—that it doesn’t matter if a students’ passion comes internally or externally, as long as they accomplish their goals. However, when the reward is learning itself, the student is on the road to long-term success!

“Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.”

– Denis Diderot

The Choice Is Yours

I believe one of the best decisions you can make is to attend college if you are passionate about it and are able to dedicate time to this pursuit. On the other hand it may be better to postpone attending college if you are not passionate about it, have support for one’s passion, or may wish to explore other options, such as vocational programs, internships, apprenticeships, or certificates. Sometimes students have other commitments, obligations, or life circumstances that do not allow the opportunity for them to pursue college at a certain time. Passion can predict success or failure such as the time spent on an activity, which can ignite a change in students to improve outcomes. There are some suggestions in this book that can assist a passionate student to succeed. But all of the suggestions in the world will not help a student lacking passion. In the end, I want you to be successful and I want you to enjoy college, but I believe these are nearly impossible without passion.

“Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

There is a scene from the movie Serendipity (2001) where Dean’s character says, “You know the Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: ‘Did he have passion?’” I will leave it up to you to decide if this is true or if it is Hollywood taking a liberty, but either way that quote has stayed with me. You can be successful in college. This textbook is a journey in figuring out how you are going to get there.

Licenses and Attributions:

Content previously copyrighted, published in Blueprint for Success in College: Indispensable Study Skills and Time Management Strategies (by Dave Dillon).  Now licensed as CC BY: Attribution.

Version History: Minor edits and updates for more inclusiveness, alignment, and cultural responsiveness, July, 2021 and October 2021.


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Blueprint for Success in College and Career Copyright © 2019 by Dave Dillon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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