[Nate writes...] So much of life is figuring out what you want to do. As you go from one life step to the next, everyone asks "What are you going to do now?" or "What will you do with ___ degree?" More often is the case where you don't find "the answer" immediately, nor did you know what "your passion" was since age 5.
I would argue the more appropriate and constructive questions are "What do you prefer not to do and how did you figure that out?" or "What are your options given your ___ degree?" As we evolve into adults, we are exposed to many different paths and generally latch on to the people and activities that we care about. This "finding yourself" takes time and willingness to take on new experiences that you might not like. And that's just fine. You are not going to like everything, and it's especially tough if this negative experience pops up in the path you had predestined yourself to follow.
As an undergraduate I worked in 9 different research groups mostly in the ecology/environmental world. I georeferenced satellite images, surveyed pine seedlings while being bit by black flies, and tested how the length of legs on ant species affected their ability to escape ant lion traps (morbid but fun). Things were great! I was learning all kinds of different techniques and figuring out what I did and did not like to do in research. Then I applied to the NSF GRFP (a federal program that funds graduate students in the sciences) and got chewed out in the reviews of my application because "the one vital missing component is that of participation in the ongoing scientific discussion." Apparently, because I had not published any of the research I had worked on, what I had done as an undergraduate had "poor" intellectual merit-- the worst possible ranking.
What makes a person stronger, more confident, and better able to persevere is how they carry on after these less than favorable experiences. What did you learn by failing? I learned that not all reviewers are the same. Different academics have different metrics of success. I also learned very quickly that if you don't write about it or present about it, the research didn't happen. I'm not sure if I totally agree with that, but I understand the sentiment. However, sometimes success comes in many forms and academia is still waking up to this reality.
Putting a historical spin on career choices, it's harder now to "find your passion" than it was 50 years ago. There are thousands of different career paths today that didn't exist decades ago. The top projected job opportunity in STEM fields would not have been possible 30 years ago ("Computer occupation", pg. 11).
How can a person possibly know which ones fit their skill sets and interests? It's a lot more intimidating to choose something to eat from a menu with hundreds of choices than it is to find something you like on a small set menu.
My advice for those currently navigating life choices (aka everyone) is to think positively about "negative" experiences, they just might help you grow. Now, you may have figured everything out already by the time you read this. That's okay too. You will at some point be a mentor or provide advice to an aspiring youngster, teenager, high-schooler, undergraduate, or graduate student. Let them know it's okay to fail and not enjoy something, that finding your passion takes time and whenever they encounter something that they're not passionate about, learn from it.
An alternative view on "Following your Passion" from Mike Rowe.