My friend sent me an article from the Harvard Business Review blog yesterday that defines the problem facing Generation Y in three words: “Follow your passion.”
It’s a variation on a well-worn argument — basically we’ve been told our whole lives to set huge expectations for ourselves and pursue our dreams, and then we received a rude awakening when we grew up, graduated college with tons of debt and moved back into our parents’ house with very little hope of a comfortable independence right away or a stable well-paying job where we can actually do what we love — both things that seemed to be promised when we were starting out.
Cal Newport, the author of the article and a professor at Georgetown University, writes that the problem is just that, the misplaced expectations that “following your passion” will automatically — and immediately — lead to success.
Good point. But to the adage “follow your passion,” I’d like to add a few more well-meaning pieces of advice that I heard over and over again growing up:
“The sky is the limit.”
“If you can dream it, you can do it.”
“Never settle for anything less than the best.”
It’s not that this isn’t good advice. I love that I didn’t grow up with a cap on my dreams. It’s just that they only tell half of the story.
What I’ve come to realize too late is that we’ve been fed a paradox. Our parents, teachers, coaches and counselors told us to “go for it,” but they also gave us some other, albeit less-emphatic, advice.
For every time I’ve heard “The sky is the limit,” I’ve also heard the phrase, “Think before you act” or “Be realistic.”
To counteract “Follow your dreams,” there’s “Be responsible.”
And the one that really gets me is “It’s ok not to know what you want to do or who you want to be.” Because from the moment we learned to talk, we had to find answers to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and no matter how much times have changed, success is still at least partially defined by having a steady job and starting your own home.
All our lives, we’ve received mixed signals about what our priorities should be — doing what we love or achieving stability??
I am not saying anyone is to blame. There is nothing wrong with being encouraged to follow your passion or create a life that you actually enjoy. (My biggest fear is spending the rest of my life at my desk working a humdrum 9-to-5 job for the sake of stability.) And I’m sure it’s possible to reconcile the two ideas. But I’m sick of being called “entitled” or “restless” or “immature” because I don’t have it all figured out.
From after-school activities to volunteer work to college to internships, we’ve seemingly invested more in our future than any previous generation, but the rules changed suddenly. It’s OK that we’re freaking confused.
What our critics seem to forget is that many of us were also taught another value: hard work. I’ll never forget the quote my sixth grade teacher taught me – “Perseverance is the difference between failure and success.” Throughout the constant struggle to figure out who I want to be or what my true passion is, I’ve never forgotten that I won’t get there by sitting at home and waiting for it to fall into my lap.
And if my friends are any indication, the same goes for tons of other Gen Yers out there.