I’m a card-carrying member of the 20-something club. You know us – we’re the ones that want to change the world but aren’t sure in what way. We’re the over-educated who can’t get jobs but can travel. We’re the trophy-obsessed trying to “be real.” We’re the Facebook generation, the one-uppers, the pay-me-more-ers… The incredibly f-ing frustrated group that just wants to figure it out!
Did I mention we’re 20-something?
Every time I discuss this common frame of mind with “real” adults, I’m inclined to describe it as a generational difference. They quickly remind me that this isn’t a generational issue. This is an age issue.
Being 20-something is incredibly complicated. There are many, many ways to be 20-something. You could live on your parents’ couch or you could run a company. You could be taking orders from your mom or the president of the United States. You could be overseas in Afghanistan or down the block in a Bronx elementary school. You could be assembling meeting prep binders or you could be publishing books. You could think you’re way ahead or far behind. Whatever your situation, you don’t think you’re where everyone else is.
That said, whether you retire to your childhood bedroom or a penthouse suite every night, the one thing that I think virtually all of us have in common is the quiet voice nagging us late at night after a long day: What do I really want to do?
I’ve found that for many of us 20-somethings, a job isn’t so much about employment as it is about figuring out who we are, what we’re about and what we want to do. Turns out most of us have no idea who we are, what we’re about and what we want to do.
Are we smart, motivated, hardworking individuals willing to put in long hours, do the dirty work, to rise up the ranks? Yes, absolutely. Will we do that for just anyone? Nope. The job market has forced us to be a little less picky, but the truth remains that we’re holding out for something that aligns with our fundamental passion – if only we knew what that was.
I remember when I was looking for my first job out of college, by far the most common sentiment I heard was not I want to do X; it was I just want to be around smart people and work for a company I believe in.
A few years and jobs later, I think we’re all lying to ourselves.
I HATE answering this question. I hate the judgment that I can sense in how they do or don’t nod their head in approval. I hate the way I need to defend my response, build it up or tone it down. I hate the disappointment of a sympathetic head-tilt or the flicker of excitement I feel when they’re impressed by the answer. I hate the fact that – whether they admit it or not – they are pigeon-holing me based on my response: you are what you do.
I think more than anything, I hate that I don’t feel proud of my answer.
And, if I can get over myself, I think that may not be a bad thing. There’s actually a lesson to be learned in there. What response would I be thrilled to share? What answer would I love to give and then be more than happy to discuss with and defend – in depth – to the most obnoxious man in the room?
Negative emotions (jealousy, frustration, envy, hatred) can be great teachers – showing us what we really want/wish we had – if we take the time to assess, reframe and look for solutions. Kind of like a masseuse working on a knot in your back. You gotta focus and push on the pain to get rid of it.
I think I’m getting closer to figuring out what I’m meant to do. In my happier moments, I try to think of my working life as a process of whittling down a block of wood. Slowly I’m chipping away at something massive, undefined and daunting – figuring out what I don’t like as much as what I do – until, some day (or year) I’m left with a beautiful… something.
In my more frustrated states, I enjoy commiserating (aka drinking) with others. And finding out that I’m not the only one who’s suffering from all this damn whittling and is tempted to break out the axe. (Who whittles anyway? Seriously.)
Somewhere in the middle I find a calm knowing that I’m blessed in many ways, and swimming in the unknown can be a glorious adventure if you have the right people to swim with you.
There are millions of articles out there about figuring out what the heck you want to do – but here are a few I’ve recently found and that manage to keep my attention. Enjoy and good luck!
- To find happiness, forget about passion – by Oliver Segova, Harvard Business Review
- Don’t follow your passion, follow your effort – by Marc Cuban, Blog Maverick
- Why you will fail to have a great career – Larry Smith, TED Talk