Why Following Your Passion Could Be Holding You Back

Sigmund Freud said, “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” We draw meaning about ourselves in relation to the way we love and the way we work that serves as the framework from which we rate the quality of our entire existence. This is the essence of life. One of the most defining aspects of being a Millennial is the way we approach work differently from past generations.

Members of other generations may use words such as “entitled” and “lazy” but author Jason Ryan Dorsey offers a different, more compassionate way to understand the way the fastest growing demographic in the US workforce works.

In his book “How to Y Size Your Business” Dorsey states “Many of us, regardless of socioeconomics, were saved from consequences and overwhelming struggle by our well-intentioned Boomer parents. At the same time, Gen Y has been told over and over that if we can dream it, we can achieve it…. Gen Y does not believe we must pay our dues to get ahead- and why should we, when everyone gets a trophy just for showing up (late)?... We believe we are uniquely talented, and that we can bring immediate value to just about any employer.”

Our parents encouraged us to pursue our dreams, and so we are now a generation full of self-assured dreamers. For better and for worse, being a cohort of passion seekers has its consequences. Dorsey elucidates how millennials are generally very driven to make an impact. We also place great value on who we are, what we do, our lifestyle, and our relationships, specifically outside of work. We seek to find ourselves first, and then we look for employers that “fit our lifestyle, personality, and priorities.”

Our Boomer parents learned to operate differently. Some were children of immigrants and most went to work at a younger age than us Millennials. Our parents sought to find good paying jobs to provide for their families. These factors undoubtedly contribute to the Boomer attitude about the nature and purpose of working. They forged meaning from the process of doing work, from being a contributing member of society, and in turn, built confidence and identity from those experiences.

So many parents of millennials have worked for the same company for decades. Boomers don’t necessarily feel passionate about their jobs, nor do they plan to. They simply see work as means to an end: providing for themselves and their loved ones so they can go home and live life.

As millennials we have specific anxieties to our generation. We have never imagined working at the same job for a lifetime, nor do we even expect Social Security benefits will be solvent by the time we age to retire. We switch jobs constantly, the fluidity in our career paths mirroring the fluidity in our identity development. The volatility of our flight is even supported by the changing socioeconomic system in our nation.

My question for you is this: Is it necessary to pursue a career based on passion to find meaning in life?

I am a millennial. And I am the stereotype of a person who pursues a career path based on passion. When I was thirteen years old I told my parents I was going to be a therapist when I grew up. I was the kid who was collecting candy from the piñata and bringing it to the shy kids sitting with the grownups on sidelines. I always felt good about helping people and I knew at a very early age that my purpose was to do just that. I am aware I have it better than a lot of people who work in jobs they hate, jobs that feel contradictory to their values, with terrible schedules, and even worse employers. I am grateful I get to do what I love every day and feel blessed I found success in doing so. But once you put all that aside, the funny about pursuing your passion, is eventually it just becomes a job.

I work with a lot of individuals who are desperately struggling to figure out “what their passion is” or find a job they are passionate about, but they are depressed because they have no actual hobbies or things they like to do in life. You need to have passion in your life. That is certain. Without activities and pursuits that bring you joy, life would be very sad and dull. But why do these pursuits need to be work? Perhaps rather than finding a job they are passionate about (which will probably last two years max) the real pursuit millennials should be facing is how to live life with passion.

Don’t get me wrong; I am in no means trying to discourage you from following your dreams. If you have a lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut, by all means shoot for the stars. What I am suggesting is perhaps the way our Boomer parents worked was not so bad either. It may be a hard pill for us Gen Y dreamers to swallow, but the practical economic reality is that we need to support ourselves and pay the bills, whether or not our work is glamorous or passionate. Maybe we can pursue activities that excite us, and not dramatize them to be more than hobbies. Paid work doesn’t have to be the only way to find identity or to make an impact. If you think your passion is to help people, try volunteering at a shelter on the weekends. Or if you enjoy fashion, start a blog or even just a tie collection.

Part of being a Millennial is redefining outdated constructs to fit the rapidly changing society in which we live. Perhaps it is time we redefine Freud’s definition of work to include pursuits that bring us meaning and joy outside of our jobs.

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