Generation Maybe and the Value of Passion

It has been almost three months since I took the daunting leap in the dark and decided to gain some work experience in the Big Apple. Things fell into places sooner than I would have expected, and after a few weeks of thoroughly evaluating companies and systematically applying for appropriate positions, I finally managed to overcome the most critical obstacle: getting a chance to become active within an industry I am highly interested in. In the meantime, I have been interning with an ad agency in Lower Manhattan for one month. Opportunities like this should not be taken for granted. I am well informed about the U.S. labor market conditions, especially for recent graduates. We are living in times when jobs do not grow on trees, even if classified as internships. A New Yorker friend of mine has always had encouraging words left for me, but she recently also pointed out that looking for a job in NYC, especially now (and especially for someone coming from abroad), is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

A report on the CBS Evening News confirmed this impression to some extent and aired the story of two young forward thinkers from California who created their own jobs. Originally, they planned on conventional careers in finance, but as they couldn’t find work once graduated from university, they tried their luck as urban mushroom farmers. Today, people call them the mushroom kings of California, as they became successful entrepreneurs making money with growing mushrooms in used coffee grounds. The success story began two years ago as an experiment in a frat house kitchen, without any substantial knowledge about mushrooms or agriculture. This year, they projected to do five million in sales. One of the guys’ comment: “It gets me up every single morning and keeps me here entertained, excited and pumped to make this a reality.”

Not the simple fact that they run a business on their own is particularly worth mentioning, but the fact that such people inspire a whole generation to wake up, take a different course, and, as CBS put it, find meaning in an age of austerity. Only a few weeks ago, Welt Online, the internet version of Germany’s renowned daily newspaper Die Welt, published a comment on today’s educated 20-to-30-year-olds: Generation Maybe, a generation with neither plans nor courage – socialized in the digital age and paralyzed by the endless variety of possibilities. I am part of this generation and I was able to relate to the presented issue instantly. Many of us have forgotten how to make decisions and have developed a strong aversion for change and progress. Among all the graduates with valuable university diplomas and a broad knowledge of languages, only very few are determined to pursue concrete goals and take corresponding steps. I comprehend this reproach very well, because I also struggle sometimes when confronted with similar questions, for instance, at job interviews. The author managed to put this circumstance in very precise words: “We are insecure. And we are afraid. We mark time and force ourselves upon a self-imposed immaturity.”

But what are we really insecure about and afraid of? I guess pursuing the stuff we really dig. Call it passion. I have always considered it a critical factor for success and satisfaction. Filmmaker Dan Perez, who indirectly initiated my decision to finally set up this website, features a guy called Kirk Nugent in his award-winning documentary film “P.A.T.H.”. Kirk is a motivational speaker who wrote a piece called “Pursue Your Passion”. It is poetry with a lot of pathos. To be honest, I was born with a way too rational mindset to succeed in identifying myself in such work completely (I know people who can though). Nevertheless, I appreciate the artistic value and I agree with the general idea – albeit with reservations. This is how he puts it [it is worth watching the video version though]:

I came to shine light into the dark.
Alike a dog against a hydrant,
I am leaving my mark.
We were not sent here to investigate someone else’s idea for what we should be.
The complacent life does not stimulate me.
So forgive me for feel no compassion for those poor souls who live to follow the fashion.
Because if you want to live a life that’s neither limited nor ration,
Then, by God, you must pursue your passion.
They will tell you that it can’t be done,
as though you were delivered onto this world for your song to go unsung.
Let the world scream that unattainable theme,
but for you, there is no such thing as an impossible dream.
Pursue your passion.
Steven Spielberg was kicked out of the University of Southern California Film School,
because his grades weren’t good enough.
Pursue your passion.
Michael Jordan was benched on his basketball team in high school.
Pursue your passion.
Larry Bird had problems making his team in high school,
and was benched his entire freshman year of college.
Now here is proof that greatness is born out of zero doubt.
In 1962, Decca Records dismissed four young musicians,
told them that groups with guitars were on their way out.
They left without a contract, but refused to walk on pins and needles.
Months later they released their first album and called themselves “The Beatles”.
Pursue your passion.
Colonel Sanders was 65 when he fried his first piece of chicken,
made millions after he told you it was finger-lickin.
Pursue your passion.
Lauryn Hill was booed at the Apollo.
Pursue your passion.
Luther Vandross was booed off the Apollo,
not once, not twice, but three times.
You gotta keep coming back, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Forget the limitations set by your fellow men,
because when you pursue your passion, provisions will be provided for your plans.
Let others lead small lives, but not you.
Let others sit around and settle for the crums, but not you.
Let other be volunteered victims, but not you.
Let others use their race, their gender, their sexual orientation as a crutch, but not you.
Let others be concerned about what the neighbors might think, say, or do,
but this is not for you.
This is about a lifestyle that uniquely fits.
Life is God’s gift to you, style is what you make out of it.
So whatever you are passionate about, the perfection of that craft can be learned.
So with obstacles of this world be not concerned,
because when you set yourself on fire, the world would come watch you burn.
So what are you gonna do?
What are you gonna do, now that you know that impossible is a word found in a dictionary, folks.
What are you gonna do with the rest of your life?
What two things do you wanna be said about you when you die?
Personally, I never listen to what the pessimists are telling me,
because I know that the richest place on the planet is the cemetery.
There you’ll find books that were never written,
loved ones that were never forgiven,
ideas that were smitten and dreams that were forbidden,
soil that was never tilled,
cathedrals that were never build,
restaurants that were never opened,
chefs who never knew that they were smoking,
paintings that were neither drawn nor hung,
songs, neither composed nor sung,
souls that left without doing what they really wanted to do.
So don’t you dare die with your greatness buried within you.
So today, declare that you refuse to lose,
because you can either live your dreams or you can live your excuse.
So even when I’m old and grey, I will still be commanding the stage,
my words will still be smoking off the page.
So understand, this ain’t no phase,
because every day I learn a new lesson.
And my best poem is yet to be written.
I’m not leaving till what I came to give has been given.
I’ll be 99 on the mic, still be ripping, still be spitting, still be giving, still be driven.
So let my tombstone read “Here lies Kirk and he died living”.
Pursue your passion.

I agree very much with Kirk’s underlying idea that a strong persistence in the pursuit of a personal passion can lead to results that one would had never expected before, but I disagree with his radical interpretation and his consistency with regards to people’s aspirations. I admire his positivity and I agree with a significant share of the content he comes up with, but I see crucial restrictions when it comes to three particular aspects: the absence of talent as a factor, the nothing-is-impossible-mentality, and the ignorance of pessimism.

People should not only consider what they are passionate about, but also what they are talented at. Not everybody can learn the perfection of the craft he is highly enthusiastic about. I find it very sad observing people who desperately try to pursue their passion, especially in the arts and entertainment business, although it is obvious that they have not gotten the relevant gift at the very beginning. People should consider both their passion and their abilities. Every profession requires this type of sound evaluation. There is nothing more self-destructive than ignoring the obstacles of this world by marching blindly towards unrealistic goals. Understanding every single obstacle out there is the first step though. The mental delusion that nothing is impossible makes people lose energy on things that cannot pay off. Furthermore, Kirk recommends not listening to pessimists in general. I do not agree. People should listen to optimists because they can motivate them, but they should listen to pessimists in order to be prepared for critical issues. Today’s globalized world offers a lot indeed, but it certainly has not turned into a place where everything can be accomplished by trotting up with the anything-goes-mentality. It makes people stand still.

Personally, I think that a better balance between all these aspects has become invaluable in this system. In my opinion, a larger portion of rational thinking, which is related to hard work by the way, is key within this mix. In spite of all the possibilities, we will never be able to participate everywhere. This is why we have to listen to many different opinions and then learn how to make clever decisions taking account of all the pros and cons. This process can become tedious and the corresponding decisions might be hard to make, but I am convinced that they lead to more beneficial experiences in the long run.

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