It’s a piece of advice most of us have heard before starting a new career: make sure you love your job.
While this idea has good intentions, some experts believe young people shouldn’t be told this specific piece of advice.
Allison McWilliams, assistant vice-president of mentoring and alumni personal and career development at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, told Global News it’s not always advice that pans out.
“People don’t necessarily realize how paralyzing or demotivating that advice can be, in practical terms. It’s a pretty tall order to expect anyone at 22 [or] 23 years old to know what they love,” she told Global News. “They’re still figuring out who they are and what matters to them, and that’s OK.”
McWilliams recently wrote an article for Psychology Today on this topic, adding that instead, young people should focus on what they are good at.
“Life is a journey of becoming, of getting closer and closer to that thing you might eventually call ‘the dream,’ through a series of experiences that help you to distinguish between those things that you like and those things that you don’t.”
“There is a fair amount of privilege to be found in the advice,” she continued.
“Some folks just need to do what they have to do to pay the bills, to pay back student loans, to cover the rent. We get into pretty dangerous territory when we start placing value judgments on how meaningful other people’s lives may or may not be.”
Fiona Bryan, a career coach in Toronto, agreed, adding that this type of advice can be passed down by baby boomers who often work for one company over a long period of time. She said most careers these days are like jungle gyms versus ladders and telling people to do “what they love” can be foolish.
“Sure, you can do what you love if you know what it is, but I believe careers are more of a pyramid of success. They need a strong foundation,” she told Global News.
It can be difficult to find a job you love when you really don’t know what you love, Bryan explained. She said that some people take their passions and focus on them outside of their careers, while others take their passions and apply them in a larger way: for example, if you love to coach others, becoming a basketball coach versus a life coach.
McWilliams added that it can take life experience, deep reflection and conversations with mentors and sponsors as well as a sense of self-awareness to know what you are passionate about.
“It’s paying attention to the things that have you jumping out of bed in the morning and the things that you seek more of because it’s so exciting or interesting or fulfilling to you,” she explained. “And those things can change over time… the honest truth is that most entry-level positions just aren’t going to be the passion positions, nor are they meant to be.”
She said these are the positions to teach you what it means to work.
“Certainly, the things that I’m passionate about and find fulfilling now are not the same as my 22-year-old self would have described,” she continued. “That’s getting life experience and getting clear on who you are.”
Bryan added that is not a race. She argued many young people today believe they need to hit a certain position or make a certain amount at a specific age, not realizing how long a career lasts.
She advocates self-reflection, adding that people should be continuously journalling or reflecting on what they love or hate about their jobs.
She also recommended finding a mentor or sponsor to help young people unpack what they are good at.
“We forget that after a certain age, it is our network or circle of influence that gets us jobs… we need to get constructive comments,” she said.
While some reports show groups like generation Z has clear goals on what they want out of their careers, McWilliams said it is common for young people to feel stuck.
“Don’t worry so much about what may or may not happen 20 years down the road,” she said. “Figure out what comes next for you — work, grad school, travel, what have you — and go do that and learn from it.”
Some surveys, however, add a majority of workers are not “engaged” with their jobs, but McWilliams is hopeful this young generation will change that.
“They aren’t so interested in just making it work,” she said.
“They are deeply reflective about meaning and purpose. And while I do think that makes some of these early career decisions more challenging, in the long run, I think we will see them living much more meaningful and intentional lives.”
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