Passion and Work: A Gen Y Tells It Like It Is

By Phyllis Weiss Haserot

In almost every group discussion I've participated in with college students and young alums as a mentor, cross-generational networker, coach, or friend, the question of following or having a passion in one's work comes up. It's become gospel that passion is necessary to succeed or be happy in or at work.
 
At networking meetings, to help build relationships, we're frequently asked to mention our passions. In a discussion at a dinner meeting of students and alumni of the Cornell Women's Network this summer, I took the opportunity to speak up for those who haven't identified a passion (yet) or maybe don't know what passion is for them. (I am passionate about my work and other things now, but for a long time, I thought there were a lot of things I liked a lot but didn't know what the passion was supposed to feel like that we - not just the young - are supposed to follow.) 
 
I was delighted to read Gen Y/millennial Cal Newport's contribution to the New York Times Preoccupations column titled "Follow a Career Passion? Let It Follow You." He explains and explores the myth and relates his own experience. The article also helps to explain the new label "Hesitation Generation." 
 
Newport, age twenty-nine, now a computer science professor at Georgetown University, wrote of his generation, "Growing up, we were told by guidance counselors, career advice books, the news media and others to 'follow our passion.' This advice assumes that we all have a pre-existing passion waiting to be discovered. If we have the courage to discover this calling and to match it to our livelihood, the thinking goes, we'll end up happy."
 
This only makes sense for a small group of people who by their late teens have had a clear passion in sight. (And in my consulting and coaching experience, many of those discover by their forties that the passion has died for them, and their strong focus on it, with blinders to other broadening interests, has left them ill-prepared for career and life transitions.)
 
For others, the pressure to follow a passion they've identified may be intense or even cause anxiety among those with a passion that they've actually chosen the right thing. Frequently, when Gen Yers' work is hard or lacking total pleasure, they want to job hop to find a better "right" choice - not sticking it out long enough to succeed. 
 
Newport summarizes the traits that lead people to love their work: a sense of autonomy, feeling they're good at what they do, and feeling they're having an impact on the world, whatever the job is. He says these elements need to be earned and take time (my emphasis) - they're not an entitlement. He describes his own choice among three appealing options, the hard road, and his current "love my job" enthusiasm. Newport concludes by offering this advice: "Passion is not something you follow. It's something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world.
 
Very savvy and perceptive for a twenty-something. It's also good insight for members of any generation with anxiety that they have/had no passion to follow.
 
Has this changed your mind about the "follow your passion" gospel? Has it reduced your stress if you haven't identified a passion or you worry that your choice may prove less than perfect? Please share your thoughts.
 
About the author:
Phyllis Weiss Haserot is the Cross-Generational Voice and the president of Practice Development Counsel, a business development and organizational effectiveness consulting and coaching firm she founded over twenty years, A special focus is on the profitability of improving workplace inter-generational relations as well as transitioning planning for baby boomer senior partners (www.nextgeneration-nextdestination.com). Phyllis is the author of The Rainmaking Machine and The Marketer’s Handbook of Tips & Checklists (both Thomson Reuters/West 2011). pwhaserot@pdcounsel.com. URL: www.pdcounsel.com
 
© 2011 by Phyllis Weiss Haserot

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