In 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