I’m going to try and spend about 500 words or so on this idea of “passion over profit,” often attributed to the millennial generation.

I think a lot of how we think about the concept of “passion over profit” is a bit twisted.

Let’s explore.

Passion over profit and millennial assumptions

We talk about generational differences way too much. Let’s start there. Millennials are not that much different. They’re not all spider monkey unicorns or whatever. In fact, much of the “millennial mindset” is complete horse manure. They’re just people — and about 125 million of them to boot, which is a hard sample size to generalize about.

This gets even more fraught when we start talking about work. Millennials will choose passion over profit, right? Wrong. Millennials are actually bigger workaholics than Boomers. What’s funny is, people hear that stat and gasp. But it’s totally logical. Millennials are at a point in their career arc where they need to be seen as nose to the grindstone to get ahead. Boomers are past that. What incentive does a Boomer really have to be at work at 8pm other than avoiding his family? None really. A millennial? Heck yes. Right from the office to “love in ‘dis club,” baby.

The real deal with passion over profit

It’s not so much a choice — the choice is really flexibility vs. stability, which explains the rise of the Gig Economy.

Here’s the actual deal with “passion over profit,” though:

  • It’s not so much about choosing passion.
  • Rather, if you live in an advanced capitalism, you need a job or some way to “earn your keep.”
  • That job, or those series of jobs, takes up most of your time in the middle part of your life.
  • Because of its pre-eminence, we’re all left with fewer and fewer ways to define “passion” apart from what we do.
  • Hobbies? Ha! Who has time with these TPS Reports being due and all?
  • So we need to find jobs we’re supposedly “passionate” about because, well, we gotta be there anyway.

The discussion is less about choice and more about this troublesome corner we’ve painted ourselves into: we need work to be a source of self-worth and meaning.  That’s a dangerous as hell place for society, because companies don’t operate according to reciprocity. Companies are pretty much a one-way street at the broadest level: “Do this, we’ll give you this, but at any point we can kick you to the curb.” The fact that we seek these things from work has led to spikes in loneliness and isolation. We’re asking work to be our loving mother of meaning and purpose in early adulthood, and work is like “Fuck, didn’t you leave for college a while back?”

So is passion over profit a bad thing?

Not at all. It’s great. But it’s just a lie. You’re not chasing passion. You’re just shifting the narrative of what you do to make it sound better. And the profit-chasing is still happening; many a millennial is a hustling finance guy. That sub-category of humanity didn’t die out with Occupy Wall Street, you know?

Next time you hear “passion over profit,” just chuckle lightly to yourself and say “Yea, for sure.”

Ted Bauer

Originally from New York City, Ted Bauer currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He's a writer and editor for RecruitingDaily who focuses on leadership, management, HR, recruiting, marketing, and the future of work. His popular blog, The Context of Things, has a simple premise -- how to improve work. Ted has a Bachelors in Psychology from Georgetown and a Masters in Organizational Development from the University of Minnesota. In addition to various blogging and ghost-writing gigs, he's also worked for brands such as McKesson, PBS, ESPN, and more. You can follow Ted on Twitter @tedbauer2003, connect with him on LinkedIn, or reach him on email at [email protected]