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Gen Y Speaks: When pursuing your passion burns you out

I think at one point we were all sold by the wonders of pursuing our passion. It’s the saying that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” right? It takes away the worries about being stuck in a job you take out of necessity and that lacks meaning to you.

The experiences of the author's friends have changed her longstanding perspective that pursuing one's passion is fun and fulfilling.

The experiences of the author's friends have changed her longstanding perspective that pursuing one's passion is fun and fulfilling.

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I think at one point we were all sold by the wonders of pursuing our passion. It’s the saying that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” right? It takes away the worries about being stuck in a job you take out of necessity and that lacks meaning to you.

Looking back, it was in Secondary 4 when I first heard about the concept while seeking advice from my teachers and relatives on what and where I should study next.

But now, as a final-year student at university facing yet another crossroads, I am starting to realise that having passion does not always guarantee a fun and easy time.

I was talking to some of my friends recently about their new jobs and it changed my longstanding perspective that once you pursue your passion, everything will be alright.

My friend Young Yang graduated last year. With a degree in psychology, he instead pursued a career as a photographer. 

Fresh out of school, with gigs he was promised even before graduation, his plans sort of took an unexpected turn when the jobs that were promised did not materialise. 

Eight months in, sourcing for jobs was hard and he found himself waiting for these opportunities to happen, stuck with small jobs that could cover only his living expenses.

“It’s just a bad start to my dream. You see other people do a lot better and you start to question why it’s not working for you,” he told me.

With little experience and the lack of progress, he struggled with his mental health and was at a loss as to what to do next.

Another friend Kang Soon shared with me similar experiences. 

He and his friends had always wanted to make video games. But with no funds and experience, they were left to their own devices, with passion and enthusiasm being the only things to keep them going.

After the midway mark of the project, he and his team lost the initial spark they had in developing their game, as their work required them to rewrite the game’s program twice, which is no easy feat.

“It’s like driving on mud. The wheels are turning, but it feels like you are always at the same spot and not moving,” he told me.

Now, even though the game has seen success, he is still not certain that he has overcome the loss of passion and tiredness he experienced.

These conversations got me thinking. Is there value in pursuing our passion if we just end up burnt out and unable to find joy in what we do? 

As someone who has yet to find something I am really passionate about, this was an ideal I have always strived towards. But that does not seem like such a good idea now.

My parents used to tell me that in their generation, what they studied or what their family did usually determined what they were going to be in the future. I guess we are lucky in a sense that we are encouraged to follow what interests us, instead of following in our parents’ footsteps, no matter how unconventional they are.

But perhaps, because pursuing your passion was a much better alternative to following someone else’s passion, we automatically assume that life is easier if we are courageous enough to take the leap.

Young Yang told me that he realised that it was not only passion that mattered, but connections, networking, and the financials of the work that also come into play. This was when I realised that a job that you are passionate about does come hand in hand with challenges, just as any career would. 

With graduation right around the corner, I’m scared about how uncertain the future looks. But with no other choice, I still hold a little glimmer of hope that I can find a job that is not only purposeful but satisfying.

Looking for advice online, I stumbled upon a study by researchers at Yale-NUS and Stanford University last year who found that as much as “finding your passion” is a well-intended piece of advice, it might not be such a great one after all. 

According to the results, use of the term promotes a fixed mindset that pursuing this goal is supposed to be easy. This can create problems as the study showed that people with this expectation are more likely to give up in the face of difficulty.

The study also found that the term suggests that passion is something innate, where the number of interests a person has is pre-determined and limited. 

So, it makes sense that when you face trouble in the job that is supposed to be easy, and where it had been expected that you would thrive, your identity and self-worth is threatened, making it hard to cope with the challenges you face. 

After all, as the term suggests, we have only one or two interests that we are “born with” to fall back on, right?

But maybe the way we have conceived the relationship between passion and our jobs is all wrong. While the study shows how “pursuing our passion” can limit our growth and satisfaction, I think that there is still value in finding jobs that are meaningful to us.

The study also discussed how we should develop our passion instead of just pursuing it. Yes, it might just seem like just semantics but it can really change the way we define work and life.

Viewing passion as something more fluid gives us leeway to pursue our passion in ways where we can venture into different directions without the pressure of needing to be good at it. 

This growth mindset encourages development and privileges us with the freedom to delve into anything under the sun that just simply, interests us.

So I guess as I prepare to step into the workforce next year, I should be less worried about what my passions are, and instead, go forth towards a direction that interests me and just work on it. Now that sounds much less stressful than finding a passion to pursue, doesn’t it?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Lauren Ong, a final-year student majoring in psychology at the National University of Singapore, is interning as a reporter at TODAY.

Related topics

passion millennials Gen Y Speaks work career

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