The Passion Problem

How millennial burnout became an ouroboros of psychic pain.

Without passion you don’t have energy, without energy you have nothing.      

Donald Trump

Millennials are now the largest workforce generation in the US. Statistically speaking, Gen-Y has outgrown its slacker stereotype. We’ve finally made it!

AND YET. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, this millennial-driven workforce is a bit of a clusterfuck. We’re entitled and hardworking; needy and independent. We’re devoted to our jobs, yet leaving them in droves. We don’t make any fucking sense. We’re stuck in a paradox of passion.

I’ve since Googled “passion paradox” and discovered I’m not the first person to coin this phrase. In fact, it’s the title of a self-improvement book, and from skimming the Goodreads summary, it seems to focus on understanding and manifesting passion. This blog post will not do that. I’m not a qualified life coach. I’m going to rant and rave about my interpretation of this paradox. If you’re looking for the cure, buy “The Passion Paradox” by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness.

Anyway. The passion paradox is what makes us intolerable to older generations and to a certain degree, eachother. It’s what makes so-called creatives work with the rigor of heart surgeons. It’s why we’ve convinced ourselves that networking events and coworking membership plans are apt substitutes for a social life. It’s why we’re obsessed with optimizing every aspect of our lives. Instagram and Twitter tools for personal branding. Listening to a podcast is more worthwhile than a playlist. Relaxation is a chore called self-care.

Sleep deprivation and text-neck are casualties of pursuing our passion. The end goal is finding our dream job. A job that pays well and aligns with our values, while carrying enough professional clout so we can make our high school classmates jealous at the 10-year reunion. Oh, wait, what? You’re not a jealous monster? Just forward this to your pettier friends.

Our generation is supposed to be woke, but we’re destroying ourselves in pursuit of a dream.

When we self-assign excessive work to guarantee career success, should higher-ups be obligated to intervene? Of course not. We’re the ones who push this fallacy that our careers are subject to interminable labor.

And this is why, despite hearing workplace horror stories of career stagnation, departmental in-fighting, overt discrimination and sexual harassment, despite reading reviews on Glassdoor that say, “Run, run, run,” we continue to run, run, run to submit our applications.

If millennials have power in numbers, why tolerate, yet revere, jobs that make us miserable? Because we refuse to believe our dream job could be a nightmare.

whatever it takes to get them to want you, I suppose.

Our jobs must align with our passion, and we have constructed a worldview where we have won the game; fulfilling the millennial trope of growing up as children who could be anything we wanted, so long as we worked hard and followed our dreams. The cost of investing in this narrative is enormous.

Passion is poison; it seeps and spreads into every corner of our lives. Even those of us who aren’t caught up in the zeitgeist of living our best life, even for the silent millennials who don’t think or care about self-optimization, the passion paradox is inescapable.

Because there is a ceiling for millennials in our professional lives. Job performance and education are no longer the cornerstones for success. What happens to people who follow archaic advice like keep your head down and do the work? We look up and find ourselves sitting at the same desk, with the same title, ten years later.

It’s impossible to attain professional success by starting at the bottom, keeping your head down and doing the work…when your contemporaries are moving fast and breaking things.

It’s integral for millennials to demonstrate passion in the workplace, even if our passion is extracurricular to our chosen field. When hiring managers are presented with two job applicants, identical in skill-set, relevant experience, education and references, a passion portfolio is the tipping point.

Somebody who pursues their passion off the clock while fulfilling requisite job skills will get the job. Companies want to hire employees who are driven to succeed; passion projects prove candidates can manage their time and are intrinsically motivated Nobody wants to hire people who lack passion.

But passion is opaque, and not all of us exhibit passion in a material way. In order for people to see it, your passion needs a platform.

Humans are passionate creatures; we all have something we love, something we’re fascinated with that brings us creative or philanthropic fulfillment. It’s not a matter of finding, but monetizing our passion. The things in life that spark joy – travelling, jogging, painting, cooking – no longer belong to us for private enjoyment. As we present ourselves to the world as a product, a marketable brand, our passion is inextricable from our professional value.

The proliferation of sharing platforms means there’s no excuse not to publicize every aspect of our lives that can be interpreted as passion. Even a habit as mindless as binge-watching TV has potential to build your personal brand: Just get a blog and call yourself a television critic.

You can accumulate dozens of stamps on your passport, but if you don’t have a travel-oriented Instagram, did you really go anywhere?

I have conflicted opinions (naturally) when it comes to the passion paradox, because on one hand, having the opportunity to take something you love and mold it into a career is dope! Taking advantage of social media to monetize your passion is a more egalitarian formula for success than investing a fortune in education or training. By the way, I’m typing this essay on WordPress. I’m not writing it in a journal for my eyes only because it takes effort to formulate these thoughts, and I’m part of a generation where anything worth doing well is worth sharing.

There are, at any given moment, approximately 700 things I want to do: paint T-shirts, learn to play piano, practice producing music on Ableton, watch YouTube tutorials on cutting my own hair (I probably shouldn’t).

I have a shoebox full of paint sample strips from Home Depot to use for a Pantone collage. I have a bin of old clothes I’m saving to upcycle or sell. I want to renew my Google AdWords certification. My to-do lists are full of activities that will keep me busy if I live to be three thousand years old. The haphazard nature of my existence seems guided by the only principle I’ve known since childhood: follow your passion. But the roadmap ends there.

I don’t have just one passion. I feel my brain glitching out because this is a flaw in the system. I am not alone, I know that much is certain; just Google “How to find your passion?” and you’ll understand. And then you’ll become obsessed with understanding why we inflict this insidious torture upon ourselves, why we have to ask the internet for help understanding something so fundamental to our own existence.