Passion: Superpower or Career Kryptonite?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether or not “Follow your Passion” is the “worst career advice ever given”. Particularly applicable to Millennials, who have heard this advice repeated from those who perhaps didn’t follow their passions early enough in life – this is a relevant debate.

So when I began thinking about the “worst advice ever”, several random – even contradictory – thoughts came to mind.

Perhaps you’ve had some of these same reactions and opinions?

Passion is NOT the Cause of High Unemployment

At YouTern, we’ve mentored hundreds of college students and recent grads. Without a doubt I can tell you that despite what you’ve heard in the media, read in myriad blog posts – and despite any preconceived notions – Gen Y’s attempts to follow their passions are NOT why so many are unemployed or under-employed. This theory is bunk. Period.

Consider the Source

Like most advice – including the “follow your passion” variety – we must strongly consider the integrity of the source. All too often this advice is from Boomers who also spew such noteworthy advice as “Get a job!” and “Passion doesn’t pay the bills!” Which is it, my Boomer friends? The reflective “follow your passion” advice? Or the bitter, parental “You need a real job” speech? Can’t be both, sorry.

Passion as an Excuse for Non-Performance

“I haven’t found my passion yet…” (Yes, this is where the Boomer in me comes out).

This gem is most often heard from the guy who just spent the entire day on his parents’ couch playing Call of Duty. Think you’re going to find your passion living at home, sleeping until 11am while Mom does your laundry? You are not. And you give a bad name to others genuinely searching for their passion through internships, volunteering and continuing education. You, my excuse-driven friend, are unwise to place passion on a pedestal while devaluing independence, contribution and the opportunity to learn and grow.

Passion Has a Shelf Life

Very few of us are fortunate enough to turn any of our passions into lifelong vocation. In fact, very few of us pursue ANY of our passions for a lifetime including hobbies, careers – even relationships. So, knowing this is the case for 99% of us, why is passion such a driver in our professional lives? Could it be that we’ve been sucked into “passion” while failing to realize that even our deepest passions have a limited shelf life?

Must Passion Come from Work?

I’m not convinced that our day jobs MUST involve passion – especially in our entry-level careers. Can’t we pursue passion as part of our work-life balance? Can’t we contribute and create outside the office? Can’t we pursue our entrepreneurial dreams while working for someone else? As some of the happiest people I know are pursuing their passions outside their 9 to 5 responsibilities, the answer seems to be “yes”.

Passion as a Synonym for Happiness

Along those same lines… I’m not sure that passion must be a pre-requisite for finding and excelling at a job. In fact, it seems general happiness from work comes down to four questions:

  1. Do I like the job?
  2. Do I like or respect my direct supervisor?
  3. Do I philosophically support the company’s mission?
  4. Does the compensation meet my current needs?

Especially in our current economy, if all four answers are “yes”… that may be a job we should be passionate – and happy – about.

Passion in “Pay it Forward” Style

For many across all generations, passion embodies “pay it forward”. We feel as though we’ve learned from our failures, enjoyed some success and, overall, accomplished something worth sharing. Now, it’s time to give back by pursuing our passions while mentoring others. With this in mind, the question for passion seekers becomes: Can we properly “pay it forward” before we’ve personally accomplished something worthy of professional respect?

Define “Passion”

Speaking of those who have accomplished…

Many now known as passionate innovators, mentors and philanthropists (Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs, for example) were once one-dimensional, insanely ambitious workaholics. Their undeniable passion is why they worked so hard – and were so driven to success. Surely, this intense type of passion isn’t anywhere near the same level we think about when a young professional attempts to answer the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question. So, let’s be clear what we’re talking about – and understand there are many different levels of passion on the professional playing field.

And maybe that’s where this post should end: stating that passion does have a different definition for everyone – especially when discussing career development.

And, while we’re debating, let’s agree that passion should be a superpower to be used only for good. Because when passion comes from the dark side it can all-too-quickly become an excuse for a lack of productivity, a generational stereotype or – worse yet – a buzzword that acts like career kryptonite.

 

About the Author: A passionate supporter of Gen Y talent, CEO and Founder of YouTern Mark Babbitt is a serial entrepreneur and mentor. Mark has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Forbes and Under30CEO regarding internships, higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce and career development. Recently, Mark was honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors”. You can contact Mark via email or on Twitter.

 

 

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