The problem with “Follow your passion”

Y living in the momentIn the face of adversity, a highly recognizable trait of Generation Y is their ability to make use of creative resourcefulness to go around obstacles. It is indeed through this ability that they make sense of a constantly changing world and obtain an adaptative edge over their colleagues from other generations.

However, like any other behaviour, the excess and all-purpose application of going around obstacles is not without a cost. Its cost lies clearly in the helplessness some Gen Y members feel in the face of obstacles which one can only go through. This uncomfortable helplessness is often translated into behaviours that attest for a lack of perseverance and resilience.

No other generational slogan epitomizes more this behaviour than “Follow your passion”. On his HBR article “Solving Gen Y’s passion problem” , Cal Newport show the explosion of this sentence as a widespread career advice during Gen Y’s formative years.

Born from a mix of well-intentioned parenting and a general lack of meaningful work (a research from Georges Washington University professor Amitai Etzioni indicates that in the period of 1976 and 1986, two thirds of the 500 largest american organizations were engaging in varying degrees of illegal activities), this sentence was transformed by some Yers into a “noble” shield, protecting them from confronting adversity altogether.

An enlightening analogy can be made when one ventures out of the professional spheres into the more personal realm. Although any wise adult would not wait for Prince Charming (or Beautiful Princess), it is precisely during the same period of “Follow your passion” (80s-00s) that divorce rates doubled and first-mariage age increased by 4 years. Put together, this data attest for a well-known behaviour of job (or relationship) hopping on the first sign of conflict, that is not only characteristic of Gen Y but also of the times we live in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the upmost supporter of following one’s heart, whether in work or love. However, the assumption that there’s such a job or person ready to understand us entirely and delight us forever is a lure. There is no such thing as a fulfilled life, because meaning and happiness cannot be found in the destination, they’re a consequence of the path we trail.

In our hunger for connection, achievement and meaning, we read “Follow” in the imperative as an obligation to be met, a box to be checked, and, most importantly as something lying out there, in the outside world, waiting for us to claim. Pushing this logic further, if our “Passion” is already out there, then it precedes the encounter (with the job or the person) and one should be able to love it from day one.

And it is in this final deduction that lies the biggest problem with “Follow your passion”. By assuming it’s out there, then how can we not love it from the start? Conversely, if we can’t immediately and constantly take joy out of a particular job (or relationship), then it mustn’t be our passion. Hence the aimless hopping.

The hard truth is that more often than not love and passion develop slowly, through complex and unexpected paths. Except for a few lucky ones that meet early on their vocation or lifelong companion, most of us will get there after awkward, uncomfortable and frequent encounters with ourselves. Our passions are not found, but revealed to us, once and again, as we create the conditions inside us.

And even when they’re revealed to us, it doesn’t mean they’re any easier. The instant gratification and understanding of our impact are not in arm’s reach every single day, the fear of failure (or worse yet, the fear of success) haunts us, and the gremlins in our mind comparing our choices with the alternate path return when times get tough.

In summary, living your passion is exhilirating and liberating, and it also hurts. As poet David Whyte once said “There’s no path you can take without getting your heart broken, so why just not get on with the job and make sure it’s broken in a direction that’s worthwhile?”

The human adventure (and Gen Y’s challenge) is not finding your passion, but having the perseverance to live through it. For those who do, a broad range of feelings and experiences await. It is precisely in this movement that hides the essence of meaning.

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches”― Rainer Maria Rilke

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Generation Y Plans VS Dreams Recently I’ve come across a very interesting HBR article about the meaning of this question and career planning. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is one of most heard questions in job interviews because it provides the interviewer with a false certainty of the applicant’s ambition level. In reality, it measures the applicant’s ability to say what’s expected of him.

To further apprehend the problem with this question, let’s take my own example:

-10 years ago, I was passionate about Math and living in Brazil. I was saving money to have my first and probably only trip to Europe. Less than a year later, I was joining an exchange program in France.

- 5 years ago, I was a high potential trainee within a global corporation. My desire was to work in production and make a quick ascending career. Less than 2 years later, I moved towards commercial projects, discovered a higher meaning in people management and moved to Belgium.

The truth is that my life has gone through a series of organic transformations. It hasn’t been linear and it never will. As a matter of fact, the long careers in a single company, the corporate ladder, the unshakeable family structure, the “offer-demand” equilibrium and the geographical stability are for a majority of us a thing of the past.

Generation Y careers are not shaped by plans, but dreams and passions

Yers have learnt that middle term plans are just guesses and that they reduce our flexibility to accept opportunities. While older generations struggle with the concept, Generation Y has fully embraced serendipity.

Moreover, they have the confidence and conviction that business is nothing like rocket science. To them, most positions can be filled by those willing to learn the ropes.

The lives of talented Yers are therefore marked by diverse and converging passions, a stronger awareness to opportunities and a drive to acquire the skills for the next step. For that reason, Yers career directions might seem illogical to the common recruiter, while holding enormous meaning for them.

Understanding Yers “life is organic” philosophy is the key to retaining them

Yers are not in search for promises of linearity and stability. Instead, they’re offering their talent, skills and original work ethics in exchange of support in their quest for purpose. Underlying the most surprising attitudes of Yers in the workplace hides this unwritten contract.

So the next time you’re in front of an applicant with a varied career path lift your judgments for a second and ask yourself which questions will best assess his chances for success. Forget about the 5-year career plan: don’t try to fit him into a broken mold!

Which question do you ask to best assess talent and potential?