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Pursuing passion

Tips on how to help young people discover their own path in life

Cascades Mountains
March 16, 2021

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the spring 2021 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

Story by Jaime Casap, ’93 MPA in public administration, who evangelizes the potential of digitalization as an enabling capability in pursuit of promoting inquiry-based learning models. He collaborates with school systems, educational organizations and leaders focused on building innovation into our education policies and practices. He was previously the chief education evangelist at Google. Subscribe to his YouTube channel at

“I think I am going to be a business or marketing major,” my 18-year-old daughter said when we were discussing what she wanted to focus on at ASU back in 2012. 

The answer surprised me. “What made you decide to focus on those areas?” I asked her. She said when she did her research on jobs, it seemed that most of the work closest to the areas she was interested in fell into the business marketing space. She was practical and safe, so she picked a major that gave her the best chance to find a “job.”

This is a talented filmmaker who has been making movies and videos since she was 5 years old. In fifth grade, she started the media club at her middle school and wrote, produced and directed a news broadcast to students every day. She could sit in front of editing software for 20 hours and edit a video.

“What do you think about my plan?” she asked me. I said something that even surprised me. I said, “Business major, huh? Well, no, I’m not paying for that. If you major in art, if you get a degree in film practices or production, I’ll pay for it.”

Here she was trying to be practical and logical regarding her higher education, and I’m the one who said no. I pushed back on practicality for her passion.

She graduated with her degree in film and media production from ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. She was a rock star in the program. Her senior capstone project was entered into many film festivals, a film still showcased by professors for incoming students. 

While studying, she got a job in film production and editing at a local company where, at 20, she became their entire creative marketing department, with the competition trying to steal her away.

Today, at 28, she is one of the most valued editors and storytellers at Courageous Studios, the brand studio of CNN, CNN Business and HLN. She has made dozens of videos seen around the world millions of times. 

I don’t share this story with you to brag about my daughter. OK, maybe there is a little of that. I share this story because it’s a lesson on purpose and passion. The most important thing we can do for the young people in our lives is to help them find their purpose and their passion, and to help them discover and identify their talents and gifts.

Tips to help discover a passion

Most people are terrible at knowing who they are and what their strengths are. You can help them by providing a realistic and accurate reflection. Here’s how:

Identify what lights them up.

It can be an activity they love to participate in. It can be the types of books and movies they like to dive into. What is that thing they feel compelled to do from an inner passion? All you needed to say to my daughter is, “Do you want to make a video?,” and she was all in. 

Look for patterns.

If the young person seems to be interested in lots of different activities, you may think it would be hard to find focus. However, ask, “What do the activities have in common?” If you look hard enough, you’ll start seeing patterns.  

Help them identify and set goals.

Helping young people identify their short- and long-term goals is a way for them to discover their passions and skills. If they set a goal and then struggle to meet it because they aren’t that passionate about it, that says a lot. It’s never too early to start. We help our 6-year-old singer-songwriter identify goals. At the end of 2020, she said that by the end of 2021 she wants to have written a song.

Listen more than talk and ask lots of questions.

Adults tend to want to be problem-solvers for young people. Instead of sharing your experiences and projecting onto young people, listen and ask many questions. How many parents would have told their moviemaking daughter not to be a business major? Ask:

  • Why is X so important to you?

  • Why do you get so excited when you do X activity?

  • What is important to you?

  • How do you want to interact with the world?

  • What can you see yourself doing every day?

  • What do you dread?

Without judgment or comment, help them gain experience in whatever they want.

I walk around the world believing I could have been a world-class Olympic swimmer. All three of my kids, including the 6-year-old, are master swimmers. My oldest was one of the fastest high school swimmers in Arizona. I never got the chance to swim and wish I had participated in more activities, and I am making up for that now. 

My wife didn’t discover how great she is at endurance sports until she was 33, and now she professionally coaches others. 

Let young people dive into whatever they find enjoyable — swimming, whitewater rafting, knitting, competitive frog jumping, anything. Our 6-year-old is into gymnastics, dance, swimming, science experiments, space, Legos and wanting to help homeless people. 

Support their interests, and don’t make them do it if they suddenly lose interest. You have an opportunity to be a mentor, guide and coach to the young people in your life. Do not force them in a practical direction. Let them explore who they are, what they care about and what they’re good at.

Top photo: Elaine Casap has been framing the world through a camera throughout her life. The photo above is from one of her hikes in the Cascade Mountains.

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