This article originally appeared online in Forbes.
Passionate millennials just on the cusp of publishing a novel, launching a non-profit or developing a new business share a burden as big as their dreams: How do they explain their table-waiting or Uber-driving to parents and friends in the traditional workforce who don’t understand?
Past generations couldn’t consider a “happy” life as one that encompassed Airbnb hosting or part-time dog walking. But this concept of the so-called “gig” economy — in which workers move fluidly between jobs, or have more than one employer — is not uncommon. It’s growing substantially and it’s here to stay, according to the Brookings Institution. Available numbers suggest at least three in 10 Americans qualify as gig economy workers, and earn an estimated $1 trillion each year.
Spinisha Symone is a 25-year-old recent graduate of Ohio University, and right now, she’s just looking for a job that pays the bills. But like so many millennials, she has her sights set higher and wider: She’s passionate about music, entertainment, and working with children who have disabilities. As a former Miss Ohio USA contestant, she’s training to compete in more pageants. She’s also drafting a children’s book.
“Are you going to just do what everyone expects you to and take that degree and get a salary job, and potentially be unhappy with that?” Symone said in a phone interview, reflecting on her thoughts about why she plans to pursue a non-traditional career path. “Or are you going to try and find your true passions and find a life out of that?”
Although Symone has the support of her family, like many eager millennials, she’s encountered those — including former college classmates — who are less than enthusiastic about her vast area of interests and her nontraditional five-year plan. Simon Sinek, the best-selling author of “Start With Why” and “Leaders Eat Last,” has gone viral online for his perspective on the unique struggles working millennials face, including how they should communicate their career goals.
“Millennials need to learn to talk about their passion, and provide a context for why this job or this chosen industry helps them fulfill whatever long-term vision they have for the world,” Sinek said in a phone interview, noting that he had difficult conversations at home after he told his parents he wanted to drop out of law school to go into advertising.
“They couldn’t understand that,” he said. But to battle misunderstanding and dubiousness, millennials must begin to focus their passions, then ask their parents, friends and colleagues to be supportive and excited for them.
“When we can describe why we’re so passionate about one industry over another, then people will understand,” Sinek said.
But it’s often difficult for a generation of people raised to want to change the world to whittle down which specific passion they want to develop — especially because factors that range from the advent of the internet to student debt and the global recession have changed everything from the way they date, to what they buy, to how they work. Many millennials report being paralyzed by too many options in both their career and personal lives, wondering if they are making the right decisions to set up their lives to be as rewarding as possible.
Symone noted that the most important thing to her isn’t actually about which path she ends up on — it’s more feeling good about whatever work she’s doing.
“I don’t want to dread going to work every day,” Symone said. “I don’t need to be rich, but I want to be in a place where I can be creative, help others, and most importantly, be happy.”
There are three ways that millennials with big plans can hone their passions and identify their desired impact, then explain it to friends and loved ones, according to Joan Kuhl, the founder and president of Why Millennials Matter. Kuhl, whose small business works to develop millennial talent and teach organizations to invest in it, believes the ingredients are in understanding these three factors: business, finance and communication.
Kuhl said it’s vital to figure out if a proposed business is going to be profitable, sustainable and scalable. “This will give you a stronger language to communicate to some of those tenured generations,” she advised. Finances are vital, too — both short and long-term. It’s part of the reason why parents and grandparents are scared and anxious when young people don’t follow a traditional path, Kuhl noted.
“Protect yourself and have an educated conversation with those that love you about how you’re thinking mindfully about yourself,” she said.
Finally, find a strong group of friends who can be supportive and are present to bounce ideas off of.
“Grab a friend and say, ‘Hey, can you listen to this?’ I think that building those relationships can be intimidating of young person,” Kuhl said.
In the end, though, the responsibility doesn’t just fall on millennials. Sinek believes it’s up to parents and leaders in the lives of millennials to help them develop and shape their futures.
“Instead of expressing concern about them, instead of criticizing them, say how much they love the passion, and love that they want to make an impact, and how excited they are to help them focus their attentions and actually be able to do those things,” Sinek said. “A good leader should make themselves a partner to their people, an enabler to their people, not a roadblock.”
Kuhl agrees, noting that it’s important for leaders and older generations to not only care about millennials in the workforce, but also prime them to run and sustain businesses.
“We should always want better for the next generation, want them to continue to solve the world’s problems,” she said, before adding, “but also make us a smarter, more caring, more kind, and more intentional world.”