When it comes to discussing the obstacles facing Generation Y, it’s easy to get caught up in things that are beyond our control, like the job market or rising tuition. When informing youth of these issues, however, it’s essential to their success that they’re also aware of what they can control: namely, themselves.
In his opinion piece on Gen Y, Don McNay contrasts two young men he knows. One has been actively searching for work for months and is close to getting a job at a fast food restaurant. The other has mostly given up and now stays at home and watches television. Of the first he says confidently, “I’m sure [he] will make it as he keeps trying and trying.” For the second he can express no hope of success except by some undeserved miracle.
Like the second youth, it’s easy to give up when the more you try, the farther away your goal seems to be. In his article, McNay expresses concern that many of today’s youth might not have the tenacity to keep going in spite of adversity, discouragement, and a lack of results. Though he acknowledges that the economy is making things particularly rough, he emphasizes that “[i]f we are going to reduce unemployment among young people, somehow they are going to have to acquire the skill of working hard, never giving up and getting back up when you get knocked down.” While he says this is important, he expresses concern that tenacity like this might not be teachable.
Cal Newport, on the other hand, disagrees. A member of Generation Y himself, and author of the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest For Work You Love, Newport believes that a huge part of Generation Y’s problem isn’t a lack of willpower or drive, but unrealistic expectations. In his recent article, “Solving Gen Y’s Passion Problem,” he claims, “The problem is not that we’re intrinsically selfish or entitled. It’s that we’ve been misinformed.”
Citing career advisers, parents, and teachers alike, Newport quotes the popular phrase “follow your passion” as an example of how Gen Y has been mislead. Youth today want to find a job right out of college that they’re passionate about, but that isn’t how passion works. “The early stages of a fantastic career,” Newport says, “might not feel fantastic at all, a reality that clashes with the fantasy world implied by the advice to ‘follow your passion.’” It isn’t until you’ve worked at something long enough to be good at it that enjoyment really starts to set in. Passion takes time.
Could this be why many Gen Y professionals are leaving their jobs after two years? It could be part of it. A new generation of more diverse, tech savvy, and fast moving professionals are entering the workplace and we are experiencing a shift in work culture because of it. However, Gen Y, like the generations before them, still need mentors, internships, and real-world experiences to prepare them to stick it out in their new job. The mantra “Follow Your Passion” can only take Gen Y so far. Passion should lead them to exploring their interests in high school, picking a major and getting involved in college, and submitting applications in the working world. With help, students can use passion to direct them down a fulfilling life path. If we emphasize the need for students to have real-world experiences, they can define their passions, experience the work involved in their “dream job,” take aim, and explore their career options while still in school. Passion will not do the work; it is a guiding force to find fulfillment in a personal or professional capacity.
My book MAJORING IN THE REST OF YOUR LIFE: Career Secrets for College Students encourages students to explore their passions, while taking a pragmatic look at higher education and the world of work. Students explore their interests, abilities, and goals, then align them to choosing a college, a major, and a career. For the mentor in the student’s life, we offer Academic Coaching training to teach educators to help students discover their personal, academic, and professional path through using powerful question asking.
Dreams and passions are worth working for, and once youth can see the connection between the difficult first few years and their ultimate goal, it’ll be easier for Gen Y to keep pressing forward.