Gen X vs Millennials: Don’t Confuse Passion With Professionalism

There is always this group of “motivational” speakers who advocates ideas like:

Love what you do and do what you love!

Believe that you can!

Mind over body!

Coincidentally, during the formative days of millennials, the rise of internet that gives easy access to any type of information meant they were flooded with such nonsense.

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I called them nonsense, because beneath the candied packaging were assumptions that, after careful inspection and reflection, do not apply to the varied situations real life has to offer.

Today, the fine prints we’re looking into are the ones for:

If you do what you love, you’ll excel in that!

The context of that statement was in the workplace; we were told (apparently by disenchanted baby boomer workers) that we should not confine ourselves to our workplace. Instead of finding work-life balance (i.e. knocking off on time like what Gen X emphasised regarding their work), we are supposed to be doing only work that we love.

Here comes the first fallacy: there is work that fits the passion of everyone.

However, work arises because an organisation’s processes need to be implemented and seen through. For example, we need people to take over deliveries of purchases (that could be meant for production, or plainly for office supplies) and not everybody enjoys pushing trolleys to main lobbies, carry heavy stuff and sorts the stuff into cabinets. Even if they do enjoy such actions, it does not pay. In fact, such portfolios are usually a portion of a bigger portfolio.

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Every work in itself has its mundane qualities

Since doing work means being competent in a given task, it is inferred that we have to fulfill all dimensions of the competency.

A trainer must know how to set up the projector or other teaching aids (they can’t push it away and say it is the job of a training administrator). A barista must also take on the task of cleaning up the place and throwing out the rubbish. Similarly, a successful singer (even if they choose only to be a singer) must also be good in striking small talks and smiling even though they are not above the weather.

And yes, take a singer for an even deeper evaluation. Even if that singer has the privilege of having a good manager who tells her that she only needs to sing songs, she must also go around town (and perhaps the world) to keep singing the same song, whether to advertise for her work, or simply to showcase her skills.

Imagine singing the same tune thousand over times in a span of a 3-month marketing period.

The reality is that companies need people who completes tasks, boring or not, complicated or not, demanding or not.

Yes, passion will make the job even more enjoyable, and even helps one to fulfill the tasks faster, but first, there is no job for every passion, and passion is a function of emotion, which tends to wear out after repeated iterations.

Companies exist not to fulfill employee’s dreams, but to offer customers some value. As long as we’re playing the role of an employee, the only certain thing we can derive from the work is the remuneration that is stated in the contract or law. Job satisfaction is not part of the package.

Small and Medium Enterprises especially, will not be able to cater to the passion of their employees; they are struggling to stay afloat, and they don’t have the resources to employ different people who love different tasks. If I can use the same person to do 2 tasks, he has to do it whether he has passion for the tasks at all.

Here comes the big question, what is the greatest quality that companies look for, then?

Professionalism.

Being professional is doing something very well, and whether you like that task or not is never part of the equation.

Simple things like: can you do your work well even if you don’t get your smoking break or swiping through Facebook? Can you maintain your job quality despite a scolding from your boss? Or worse, constant heckling from your manager? Will you abandon your company’s core values of serving customers to pursue your ‘higher calling’ (like that clerk who refused to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples)?

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I didn’t ask him to smile for the camera, but he did it without cue. I don’t know if he’s passionate about his job, but if I were his boss, I will want him to stay on!

Employees who are professional provides more assurance to employers, even though the ‘passionate’ ones may, under the right circumstances, produce outputs faster and/or better. Professional workers provide consistency for companies that needs to survive in the long run.

That, my dear millennials, is the difference between Professionalism and Passion.

Do not be misled; the only way we can contribute to the society is to be professional. We should only expect Passion as a bonus, not a given.

Passion is what gets you on the road, and Professionalism is what keeps you on the road.

Disclaimer: I am a casual social commentator, who speaks because it is logical and rational, so my points are not necessarily based on established research and studies. As much as possible, I will refer to theories and knowledge I picked up through formal education. If you do agree to my ideas, please feel free to contaminate others in your social circle. If you disagree, though, it would be good to provide sources and credits, so that I can learn from my mistakes.

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