THE HELL UP?
Boring but stable career?
Um, is that a joke?
Ecstasy at a music festival while hula-hooping and hallucinating in the nude?
Bring it on.
These are the emerging trends among millennial young adults, who tend to go heavy on the “young” and light on the “adult.” I can judge them because I’m one of them (I use the same twisted logic to judge other Jews).
“I’m a millennial boy,
living in a millennial world.”
As a result of our free-spirited nature (and our fondness for all things alternative) the notion of “work” is rapidly transforming.
It’s a passion market.
It’s a leadership market.
It’s a creativity market.
It’s a fantasy.
Unless you’re Steve Jobs, Beyonce, Andy Warhol, or a wannabe impersonator thereof, you will probably need to do something uninspiring and unsexy for a living.
Is that a tragedy?
It depends on whom you ask.
But the ethos of our era tends to emphasize romantic aspirations which beget unrealistic expectations.
Why make five to six figures at a stable nine to five when you can empty your trust fund and gamble it on Bitcoin?
Ten figures in ten minutes, right?
Compose your profound poems.
Direct your indie films.
Eat your CBD-infused kale.
And chant a hearty namaste.
You’re a unicorn!
And who needs office hours?
In fact, who needs an office?
I can brainstorm and innovate from a rooftop jacuzzi while vaping avocado oil and dreaming up prototypes.
Pass the bong.
The hilarious HBO series, Silicon Valley, has already made a brilliant mockery of the start-up world. But the idealistic spirit of impassioned entrepreneurship is prevalent and pervasive. The underlying motif is that if you give up on your dreams, you’ll be doomed to a life of crappy cars and chubby kids. You’re a loser, baby…
Even the most grounded millennials devour leadership books and attend peppy conferences where adults act like children and call it professional development. But let’s call a spade a spade: it’s a conference, not a transformative breakthrough. The synthetic jolt of passion has not changed your current job description, nor has it turned your jerky boss into an empowering mentor.
And what about the brilliant musician who takes his talents to nursing homes for a living?
Or the aspiring artist who paints faces at birthday parties for a living?
Or the tech guru who dreams big while fixing the wifi and repairing a printer at the local DMV?
They all followed their dreams down a long and winding road which ultimately landed them in rather anticlimactic destinations. These are the depressing 99% whom we rarely meet, precisely because we’re scared to admit that dreams don’t always come true. And even the so-called “success stories” — the rockstars, the novelists, the designers, the innovators — how happy are they? Did their dreams come true, or did they morph into nightmares?
So here are my questions:
Is pursuing our passions a luxury or a necessity?
What if our dreams are unrealistic pipe-dreams (as so many of them are)?
Are passions and professions mutually exclusive, mutually dependent, or completely unrelated?
Can we be happy if our dreams remain dreams and our jobs remain chores?
I ask not because I have the answers.
I ask because I’m struggling with the questions.
My reality is spoiled by my expectations.
And my expectations have been spoiled by our overly romanticized passion-culture.
Ambrose Bierce, in The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary, defines love as:
“a temporary insanity,
curable by marriage.”
In a similar vein, we can define passion as:
“a temporary insanity,
curable by employment.”
If marriage is a sobering reality check for those lost in the asylum of love, employment serves the same function for the youthful spirit of dreams and aspirations. As it turns out, I’m not the next John Lennon, I’m not the next Bob Dylan, I’m not the next Carl Jung. My passions and dreams have given way to some inevitable growing pains. One of which poses the following challenge to any inkling of an aspiration:
“Very nice, but can you monetize it?”
In other words, show me the money.
So long as your dreams can guarantee lucrative returns, go for it.
But if you can’t squeeze profits from your passions, why waste your time?
The dream wave crashes.
And we’re left grasping for life-vests in the form of salaries and health insurance policies.
We grow up, and in doing so, we give up.
“Growing up is losing some illusions,
in order to acquire others.”
― Virginia Woolf
I grew up.
I lost the old hopeful illusions.
And acquired the new hopeless illusions.
The old illusions were naively optimistic.
They were childish, but they were pure.
The new illusions are bitterly demoralizing.
They are mature, but they are depressing.
“And in vain does the dreamer rummage about in his dreams…
looking in these cinders for some spark, however tiny…
and revive in it all that he held so dear before,
all that touched his heart,
that made his blood course through his veins,
that drew tears from his eyes,
and that so splendidly deceived him.”
― Fyodor Dostoevsky, White Nights and Other Stories
But I think the truth resides in the middle.
Both illusions are unhealthy.
Both illusions are toxic.
Grandiose expectations are setting millennials up for crushing disappointments. The passion bubble is bound to burst.
But the flip-side is equally unbearable.
I need music. I need art. I need to write.
The linear, all-or-nothing, dream big or don’t dream at all narrative is a fallacy. I just need to distinguish between making art and making a living. They are not mutually exclusive. I can pursue a passion without demanding a payback, and I can earn a paycheck without feeling a passion. To expect my passion and my profession to merge gracefully is to demand a rare fortune that very few enjoy.
There’s a word for this realization.
The word is maturity.
(A dirty word, indeed, for us millennials.)
So let’s circle back to our opening question:
Do I need to follow my dreams, or do I need to grow the hell up?
The answer is yes.
Yes, I need to follow my dreams.
And yes, I need to grow the hell up.