Millennials: Let Your Career Passions Follow You and You Might Be Waiting a Long Time


“Passion is not something you follow," espoused Cal Newport in the New York Times Job Market section last week. "It’s something that will follow you as you put in the hard work to become valuable to the world."

Ironically enough, Newport also begins his article by telling his readers that upon graduation from college he had a job offer from Microsoft, an acceptance letter from MIT and a finished manuscript for his first nonfiction book. But his passions were just gonna catch up with him later, right?

On the day of my college graduation, I had a diploma which misspelled my name, a serious headache and a few crinkled Matisse posters jammed into the back of my car. Some of my peers also had thousands and thousands of dollars in student loans to account for. But I’m sure that amidst the plastic bins and the winter boots we’d never wear again, we had our passions and goals and hopes as we drove away from campus, and I like to think we knew enough to hold onto them tightly.

The most troubling part of Newport’s argument for me was that it seemed to condone all the behaviors of a generation already renowned for our apathy, our need for instant gratification and complacence with mediocrity. It’s the advice we’d give a friend trying not to seem desperate: “Don’t text him! He’ll text you." Don’t follow your passions; let your passions follow you. But maybe your passions lost your number? Or your name is, like, really common on Facebook, and I think you made your settings extra private so that weird dude from work wouldn’t look you up, so I’m sure your passions just can’t find you.

New York Magazine’s cover story this week featured the successful indie rock band Grizzly Bear and the byline,  “Grizzly Bear just released a hit record and sold out Radio City Music Hall. But forget about renting a private jet. Some of them don’t even have health insurance. Welcome to the new rock-star economy.” Obviously wrought with passion and talent, the band’s lead singer lives in a 450-square-foot apartment in Williamsburg.

Unfortunately for the passionate, there wasn’t an asterisk on that Thoreau quote card we all, without fail, received on the aforementioned graduation day: “Go confidentially in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.*"

*But don’t forget to imagine paying rent and buying 17 coffees a week because you’re a fiend and the 300 times a month you get charged to use an ATM.

Unfortunately our passions don't typically lead to making money, but our passions were never about that anyway.

Newport urges us to ask not, "what is this job offering me?" but instead, "what am I offering this job?”, which I do think is quality advice. He argues that becoming great at what one does, moving up in the ranks and experiencing a sense of free will can inspire passion in what may be a lackluster job on the surface. However, I think he’d be hard-pressed to find a freshman Intro to Lit student who raises their hand and says with certainty, “I am passionate about being autonomous.” I don’t disagree that these traits make the difference between a bearable job and unbearable job; we all deserve to feel appreciated in the workplace. Yet at the end of the day, unless we’re Hugh Hefner, work is work. And isn’t every working person passionate about retirement anyway?

Instead, I’d urge fellow millennials to find careers we enjoy, careers we are good at, careers where we feel like we’re making some sort of difference. I’d urge us to change jobs, to wait tables with pride, to have a job that will make us enough money surrounded by people we like to be with.

Most importantly, I’d urge us to find jobs that afford us the luxury of pursuing our passions outside of work. To try earnestly to leave work at work. I’d urge us to go home and write music or a novel, to go fly-fishing, make earrings, bend wires, edit a movie, run through the park, make soup, kiss our children goodnight. We know we shouldn’t sleep with co-workers; the same reasoning applies to why we should find a job we like enough but aren’t necessarily passionate about. Why mix the two and risk losing the job or worse the passion? 

This is why tonight, after working an 11-hour day at a job I like but wouldn’t say I feel “passion” toward, I am sitting here writing this article, an article that will be published but won’t ever make me a dime. This is what I love to do.

I’m not waiting for my passions to follow me. I don’t even think they have Twitter.