Develop your passion, don’t ‘find’ it

Cal Newport writing more on the problem of the “find your passion” line of thinking, and sharing Melissa De Witte’s piece suggesting “developing your passion” rather than “finding it.” Why? Because:

The belief that interests arrive fully formed and must simply be “found” can lead people to limit their pursuit of new fields and give up when they encounter challenges, according to a new Stanford study. …

…the adage so commonly advised by graduation speakers might undermine how interests actually develop, according to Stanford researchers in an upcoming paper for Psychological Science.

In a series of laboratory studies, former postdoctoral fellow Paul O’Keefe, along with Stanford psychologists Carol Dweck and Gregory Walton, examined beliefs that may lead people to succeed or fail at developing their interests.

Mantras like “find your passion” carry hidden implications, the researchers say. They imply that once an interest resonates, pursuing it will be easy. But, the research found that when people encounter inevitable challenges, that mindset makes it more likely people will surrender their newfound interest.

And the idea that passions are found fully formed implies that the number of interests a person has is limited. That can cause people to narrow their focus and neglect other areas. …

“Difficulty may have signaled that it was not their interest after all,” the researchers wrote. “Taken together, those endorsing a growth theory may have more realistic beliefs about the pursuit of interests, which may help them sustain engagement as material becomes more complex and challenging.” …

“If you look at something and think, ‘that seems interesting, that could be an area I could make a contribution in,’ you then invest yourself in it,” said Walton. “You take some time to do it, you encounter challenges, over time you build that commitment.”

Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology, noted: “My undergraduates, at first, get all starry-eyed about the idea of finding their passion, but over time they get far more excited about developing their passion and seeing it through. They come to understand that that’s how they and their futures will be shaped and how they will ultimately make their contributions.”

Syncs with Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” thesis on how to obtain mastery of a skill or subject, and more than that, this syncs with common sense.


LOVE Park to Kansas City

It’s hot, humid, and beautiful in Philadelphia this morning.

I’m headed to Kansas City shortly to meet Bobby Schindler and attend the second half of this year’s National Right to Life Convention. Looking forward to hearing Wesley Smith, and potentially others if time allows.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann will be keynoting; his keynote at last month’s National Catholic Prayer Breakfast was good. Melissa Ohden, who keynoted our Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia dinner last year, will be speaking too. I am interested in hearing Roger Severino, Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Under Trump, Severino’s Office for Civil Rights is attempting to protect the conscience rights of medical professionals in a new way.

But I’ll be in Kansas City mostly for meetings, and to catch up with Bobby Schindler before a few weeks of travel next month.


Anthony Kennedy

Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court yesterday. He’s the last of the Reagan appointees on the Supreme Court, and he’s the last of the 1980s high court justices. Kennedy turns 82 next month, and he’s earned retirement. Who comes next? And what sort of country will she or he help foster?

In January, Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote on the Kennedy-era Supreme Court, and it’s unique tendency to “swing from side to side, dispensing wins and losses to the left and the right” in any number of 5-4 cases where Kennedy has been a pivotal decider:

When normal people find out that my job involves writing or thinking about politics, they sometimes ask questions like, “Who is to blame for the government shutdown?” Or “Will Donald Trump get reelected?” Or “Will Donald Trump get us all killed?” And I try to answer these queries quickly so as not to bore them too much: The people. Probably. And, I’m not discounting it, FWIW. Among people who also do this for a living, such as my fellow writers and editors at National Review, you have in-the-weeds conversations about “tail risks” to the whole system. You ask questions like, “Will the Senate still be around in ten years?” Or, “What would cause a regime change in the United States?”

And occasionally these conversations leave you with a thought that you can’t escape, even if you feel silly bringing it up. Here’s one that’s been bothering me lately. I’ve started to think that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy may be the one man preventing the United States from political breakdown. …

The most salient feature of American political life is partisan conflict. Gerrymandering and other factors in elections have disempowered moderates in both parties and increased the power of activist groups in each political coalition. The closeness of presidential elections emphasizes that the country is divided in relatively equal camps. The American system, in the eyes of citizens, is functioning less and less like a federal system in an orderly republic. It seems more and more like a closely competitive mass democracy. So long as the presidential coalitions remain roughly competitive, partisans expect some victories in between their defeats. …

The Supreme Court’s role in this scene, with Kennedy as the swing justice, has been to moderate and restrain the ambitions of each party. Kennedy deals out victories and defeats to each side — giving slightly more defeats to social conservatives. In effect, he constrains what each side can do to the other. His mercurial jurisprudence replicates and even gives the savor of legitimacy to a closely divided country.

So I’ve started to worry that if the Court soon consolidates to the left or the right, partisans on the losing end of that bargain will swiftly lose faith in democracy itself. A non-swinging Supreme Court would give the impression of super-charging the ability of one party to act, and restraining its competitor. A consolidated Supreme Court could open up whole new fields of legislation for one side to act against the other. At that point, what would happen?

… I can foresee both parties’ reaching for extraordinary measures if they felt that the Supreme Court had become the cat’s-paw of one party. The obvious bag of tricks includes states’ trying to nullify laws. Or one party could try to pack the Supreme Court with new justices to rectify or reverse the consolidation.

In other words, I’ve begun to think that what’s left of our constitutional regime relies on the impression of legitimacy given to it by a swinging Supreme Court, the Kennedy Court. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the relative strength of our respective presidential coalitions and the respective health of the Supreme Court justices will align to keep the court balanced roughly the way it is, preserving what’s left of our constitutional order. But lately, I’ve begun to doubt it.

If the accidents of history have made Anthony Kennedy our philosopher king, his death means American regime change.

One of the reasons that Dougherty calls Anthony Kennedy our “philosopher king” is due to his 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey assertion that, in a single sentence, probably provides the key to understanding his approach to jurisprudence: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” It’s this capacious and basically libertarian attitude that has supported his philosophical (if not jurisprudential) approach to sex, abortion, marriage, speech, and more. We’ll probably never have someone like Kennedy back on the court.

I think Dougherty’s analysis is overly dramatic, but it’s true that Kennedy (along with Ruth Bader Ginsburg) developed distinctive cult-like followings among certain politico-types. With Kennedy’s retirement, and Ginsburg’s eventual departure, the court’s character will change.


Writers and subscriptions

I’m excited about Automattic’s acquisition of Atavist, a platform that lets anyone create a website offering subscription-based content:

Automattic, the company behind, WooCommerce, Longreads, Simplenote and a few other things, is acquiring Brooklyn-based startup Atavist.

Atavist has been working on a content management system for independent bloggers and writers. With an Atavist website, you can easily write and publish stories with a ton of media.

You might think that this isn’t particularly groundbreaking as anyone can create a website on or Squarespace and do the same thing. But the company also lets you create a paywall and build a subscription base. …

While WordPress is probably a much more solid CMS than Atavist, it could mean that Automattic wants to start offering subscriptions and paywalls. You can imagine websites that offer monthly subscriptions natively. …

Subscriptions on is good news for the web. Medium abruptly canceled its subscription program leaving many independent publications in the dust. So it’s hard to trust Medium when it comes to providing enough revenue to independent writers.

Automattic could create a seamless portal to manage subscriptions to multiple publications. And this could lead to less advertising and better content.

Services like Patreon and Memberful and WooCommerce have offered subscription-style support for creators for years now. But Patreon is trying to be a platform in and of itself which risks leaving anyone who builds a following there in a lurch if the company changes directions like Medium has. And Memberful is a bolt-on solution that could disappear just as quickly if their developers lose traction or interest. WooCommerce is neither simple nor intuitive for memberships/subscriptions.

It’ll be a good thing for all sorts of writers (and creators of all types) if WordPress can launch a simple, intuitive way for anyone to pay to subscribe to a website—writers, journalists, bloggers, painters, musicians, social entrepreneurs, and many others will be able to obtain direct patronage and support in a way that’s been difficult-to-impossible.


Native American Veterans Memorial

Kriston Capps writes on the National Museum of the American Indian’s forthcoming veterans memorial:

The circle at the center of the next memorial to U.S. veterans represents the cycles of life, nature, the seasons, and the elements. The circle is also the anchor for a special, and highly unique, stage in Washington, D.C.: a space for ceremonies for hundreds of different Native tribes and nations.

Fire and water frame the symbolic infrastructure for the memorial. The circular steel sculpture rises from a central pedestal, which is shaped like a drum; the drum works as a fountain, whose waters will bless sacred ceremonies. A fire at the base of the circle will be lit for Veterans Day and other holidays.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian just announced the winner of the international design contest to create its new monument. The National Native American Veterans Memorial will honor the military service of Native American soldiers who have served in every conflict in U.S. history. The memorial is meant to be an active site for healing, prayer, and storytelling, says Harvey Pratt, the memorial’s designer. The concept is unlike anything else that’s currently on the National Mall.

A jury selected Pratt’s design—dubbed the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor”—from five finalist entries, which in turn emerged from a pool of more than 120 contest submissions. Pratt’s design squares a difficult design brief. The memorial needed to facilitate a potent and reflective experience for veterans and their family members. But it also needed to be legible and meaningful across many different cultures and conflicts.

For his design, Pratt, an Arapaho and Cheyenne Marine Corps veteran, says that he relied on a handful of symbols and conceits to build something essential and, he hopes, transportive. “Of the 650 tribes, we’re all the same, but we’re different,” Pratt says. “We all use those elements, but maybe all a little bit differently.”

Unlike other war memorials in D.C., the National Native American Veterans Memorial does not highlight a specific conflict, but rather an entire people. Many peoples, in fact. The memorial honors all Native American veterans—including American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians—from the Revolutionary War to the present, across all branches of service.

This will be a fitting addition to the National Mall. I’m really looking forward to seeing this completed, and eventually visiting.


Voice control in hotel rooms

Sarah Perez writes that Amazon is coming to hotels:

Amazon this morning is announcing a new program called Alexa for Hospitality, designed to bring its voice assistant technology to everything from chain hotels to vacation rentals. The system can be customized to include key guest information, like checkout time or pool hours; allows guests to request services like housekeeping or room service; and can be configured to control “smart” hotel room functions, like adjusting the thermostat or raising the blinds.

Marriott is Amazon’s launch partner on the new platform, which is notable not only for the potential scale of this rollout, but also because the hotelier had been testing both Siri and Alexa devices ahead of today’s news. …

Marriott says that Alexa for Hospitality will be rolled out to ten properties across the U.S. this summer.

This includes the Charlotte Marriott City Center in North Carolina and the Marriott Irvine Spectrum in California where the company often features its latest innovations, as Hsieh noted. It will also be deployed in eight other properties across Westin Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis Hotels & Resorts, Aloft Hotels, and Autograph Collection Hotels brands.

The way that Amazon and TechCrunch present this is as if Alexa is being installed in hundreds or thousands of hotel rooms this summer. When you get way down and find out that Alexa is coming to “ten properties,” this sounds much more like an experiment moving into beta from alpha.

I like the idea of voice-controlled hotel rooms with some degree of automation. I don’t like the idea of Alexa listening in the hotel room, given recent instances of Alexa inadvertently being triggered and recording home conversations and given Amazon and Google’s interest in listening for the sake of ad targeting. It’s not hard to imagine scandals erupting and trust eroding when inevitable privacy breaches occur.

Given Apple’s commitment to “privacy as a human right” and their lack of interest in ad targeting, I’d be much more comfortable with HomePods and Siri voice control in hotels than what Marriott is piloting.


Cathedral Basilica mass

After landing in Philadelphia yesterday, I stopped in the office to check the mail and take care of some things. Then I headed downstairs to enjoy Sister Cities Park in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul. I realized it was coming up on 5pm, and that the 5:15pm Vigil Mass would be starting shortly, so I went in for mass.

The chilly interior of the basilica was a welcome change from the warm summer air lingering just outside.

Spent today recovering from this past week’s wonderful, intense Vita Institute.


Ducklings at St. Joseph’s Lake

During our lunchtime break yesterday at the Vita Institute, I hopped onto a Limebike and rode from South Dining Hall to the Knute Rockne Memorial Building, through some of the dormitories, and down past the Grotto to the lakes.

It had been drizzling a bit, and was a bit chilly and damp from the rain. I pulled the bike off the trail as I got to St. Joseph’s Lake when I saw a little huddle of ducklings keeping warm, and filmed them a bit. I was able to get much closer than I thought I would—they didn’t seem to mind the closeness and no hissing parents appeared to shoo me away.

After admiring those beautiful little ducklings, I rode on to Saint Mary’s Lake and past its little beachfront. Eventually I made my way back to the Eck Law building for our afternoon sessions.

Vita Institute was been an incredible experience. Our closing dinner took place in South Dining Hall’s Oak Room, and after that a group of us walked down to the Grotto and around much of St. Joseph’s Lake before closing out the night at Murph’s (Rohr’s) at Morris Inn. Notre Dame in the summertime is just as great as Penn State in the summertime, but it really has been so many good people, new friends, and companionship of this week that has made it so great.

I woke up after three hours sleep to catch my flight from South Bend Airport to Charlotte, where I’m now waiting for my connection to Philadelphia.


Everything is that firework

The question of being, the wondering about our origins and the basis for our existence, is the question that nags at the human heart. Bishop Robert Barron addresses this today in reflecting on Matthew 6:19-23, today’s Gospel reading:

Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples not to store up treasures for themselves on earth, but to store up treasures in heaven, “where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.”

St. Augustine once said that since every creature is made ex nihilo, it carries with it the heritage of non-being. There is a kind of penumbra or shadow of nothingness that haunts every finite thing.

This is a rather high philosophical way of stating what all of us know in our bones: no matter how good, beautiful, true, or exciting a thing or state of affairs is here below, it is destined to pass into non-being. Think of a gorgeous firework that bursts open like a giant flower and then, in the twinkling of an eye, is gone forever. Everything is haunted by non-being; everything, finally, is that firework.

But this is not meant to depress us; it is meant to redirect our attention precisely to the treasures of heaven, to the eternity of God. Once we see everything in light of God, we can learn to love the things of this world without clinging to them and without expecting too much of them. Think of how much disappointment and heartache could be avoided if we only learned this truth!

That beautiful, powerful, moving moments of joy, fellowship, singing, philosophizing, and baseball games even exist in passing is just incredible.

We say that anything above or below the “natural” doesn’t exist; that even the possibility of the supernatural or metaphysical is a sort of superstitution—maybe useful for abstract  thought experiments, but not for pointing to anything of ultimate concern. And at the same time, we do everything we can to pursue happiness. So why should happiness exist at all? Why should we exist? Why should the universe be intelligible in the way that it is? Doesn’t the intelligibility of the universe suggest an antecedent intelligence?

Why is there something rather than nothing? Why should being, be?

It’s good and fortifying to wonder about these things.


Notre Dame’s new (old) neighborhood

Since Sunday was our rest day at Notre Dame, during an otherwise intensive Vita Institute, I left my room at Ryan Hall and hopped onto a nearby Limebike for a ride down to Eddy Commons for lunch.

I’ve been to Eddy Commons a number of times before; it’s a compact “downtown” in miniature adjacent to Notre Dame’s campus that was built something like a decade ago. But on this bike ride, I pushed past that compact downtown area and discovered an incredible, growing neighborhood behind it. I rode through it for about an hour taking the photos below, and generally admiring the aesthetics, the walkability, and just how pre-World War II and traditional the entire neighborhood is.

At one point I rode past a guy who had pulled over to retrieve his mail from the neighborhood’s mailboxes, and he explained that the whole neighborhood had been transformed starting about a decade ago into what it is now: a place with intentionally and appropriately narrow streets, a place made for walking or biking just as much as driving, a place where mail is delivered not to each house but to one set of mailboxes, a place where (as a result) neighbors have the chance to bump into one another and catch up, a place where every home has a porch of some size to encourage community feeling and create spaces for gathering and resting, a place where garages are accessible only by alleys running behind the homes rather than facing the primary streets, etc.

Later I looked this neighborhood up and discovered the vision and history behind it:

The Northeast Neighborhood (NEN) of South Bend is located immediately south of campus at the University’s “front door.” While the NEN historically offered both desirable housing and a variety of commercial businesses, the neighborhood deteriorated badly over a period of decades. Family homes were converted to student rental properties as families moved out and there were no buyers to take their place; the housing stock deteriorated and housing values declined, and commercial businesses closed down or moved away.

In 2000, the University of Notre Dame joined with four other area institutions – the City of South Bend, Memorial Hospital, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center, and (later) the South Bend Clinic – to form the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization (NNRO). Working collaboratively with the Northeast Neighborhood Council (NENC) and area residents, the NNRO organized and funded a comprehensive redevelopment plan featuring five residential and two commercial zones, and created a set of comprehensive redevelopment guidelines. This plan laid the foundation for Eddy Street Commons, the Notre Dame Avenue Housing Program (NDAHP), and The Triangle Residential District.

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The Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization (NNRO) is the sponsor of The Triangle Residential District in the area bounded by Eddy Street Commons on the north, Eddy Street on the west, and South Bend Avenue on the south and east.  The Triangle offers buildable lots for owner-occupied, single-family detached residences, with 70% of the lots available to market-rate buyers and 30% of the lots reserved for Affordable Housing buyers.  The homes must be designed and constructed according to guidelines established by the NNRO.  While these guidelines require that new homes honor traditional architectural principles, they still allow for a great deal of individuality.

Aren’t the benefits of a neighborhood like this clear? Why aren’t we building more of these, everywhere? These are the sorts of suburbs worth having, where there is space for everyone, but not so much distance that encountering your neighbors (or even family members) becomes basically the exception rather than the norm. These are the sorts of neighborhoods that continue to make places just outside of Philadelphia across the historic Main Line communities like Narberth and Ardmore and Wynnewood and Bryn Mawr still so desirable.