For those of you that are weekly readers of this blog you know that we have previously written about Generation Y (aka Generation Next, the Millennials, etc.) I personally have an interest in this generation since all three of my sons are part of that group.
I read a blog post today from the HBR Blog Network entitled “Solving Gen Y’s Passion Problem” written by a Generation Y member, Cal Newton. He notes several sources that have called this generation “Generation Me”, “The Worst Generation” and “Generation Why Bother”. They are often characterized as “pampered”, “high maintenance” and “perhaps . . . too happy at home checking Facebook”. The premise of his post is that this criticism may be valid but it is because this generation has been “misinformed”. They feel “entitled” because we have repeated told them to “follow their passion”. What we have NOT explained is that passion is NOT necessarily automatic – it may need time to grow. I agree.
First I want to address the criticism of this generation. They are NOT all pampered, high maintenance, spoiled, etc. Perhaps those that are sitting at home checking Facebook are doing so because only about 50% of them could find jobs after graduation. Maybe many of them are living with their parents because we have allowed them to be crushed under record levels of student debt. If “following their passion” means they are trying to fix the environment that we have been destroying for decades I am all for it. Let’s face it we have done a disservice to this generation and we will ALL be paying for it or many years to come.
So how do we fix it? Let’s start by changing the conversation. In his post, Cal’s talks about giving passion a chance to grow. Think about this. How many of us are currently working in the profession we thought we would be in when entered or graduated from school? This is a question I ask the participants of every training class I deliver (I have trained hundreds) and 9 out of 10 times the answer is NO. Careers have a funny way of taking you in directions you never imagined. For example, Steve Jobs was very interested in philosophy and Eastern mysticism and look where he ended up. For myself, my passion out of high school was Fashion. I entered college as a Fashion Merchandising major, ended up with a major in
accounting as well, became a CPA and now am a consultant. I didn’t plan to be a consultant, it just happened. I had never even heard of Supply Chain Management – who knew? But it is my passion today and I love what I do. By the way, I still have a passion for fashion but I fulfill that passion outside my career.
The conversation I have with my sons is “follow your passion” as long as you can earn a living at it. In addition, every experience you have in life can help you uncover a hidden passion. My oldest son, for example, was a sports management major. After graduation he looked tirelessly for a job in that field. After a few months, he needed a job so he took one selling copiers and he hated it. BUT, it gave him business experience, strong sales training, a steady paycheck, the ability to live on his own and a realization that sales (not copiers) was his passion. He used that experience to land a job in media sales and he is doing great! He is not where he “planned” to be but he discovered a passion he never knew he had.
I happen to think Generation Y is great. In my experience they are bright, hard- working, tech savvy, demanding and perhaps our greatest hope for a better future. Generation Y ignore the bad press. We baby boomers were subjected to criticism we needed to overcome as well. Follow your passion OR let passion find you.