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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. And at networking meetings we are frequently asked to mention our passions to build relationships. 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.

So I was delighted to read a Gen Y/Millennial contribution to the New York Times “Preoccupations” column (9/30/12) titled “Follow a Passion? Let It Follow You.” He explains and explores the myth and relates his own experience. It also helps to explain the new label “Hesitation Generation.”

Cal Newport, age 29, 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.

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 40s 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 anyone else, the pressure to follow a passion they have identified may be intense and even cause anxiety among those with a passion that they have actually chosen the right thing. Every time 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. The Hesitation Generation.

Newport summarizes, and cites Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” for details, the traits that lead people to love their work: a sense of autonomy, feeling you are good at what you do, and feeling you are having an impact on the world, whatever the job is. He says these elements need to be earned and take time (my emphasis).

Newport concludes offering this advice: “Passion is not something you follow. It is something that will follow you as you put in hard work to become valuable in the world.”

Very savvy and perceptive for a 20-something. And good insight for a member 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 have not identified a passion or worry that your choice may prove less than perfect? Please share your thoughts.

Phyllls Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com


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