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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Follow Your Passion or Pay off Your Debt?

Student Loans

Student Loans

An Ethical Dilemma for Millennials

Alex Disney

A quick autofill search in Google suggests that “Millennials” are ”the worst,” “broke,” “screwed,” and “lazy entitled narcissists.”

Oh, Internet, you sure know how to flatter a generation! Considering federal student debt equates to about one trillion dollars, you can take a guess as to where the “broke” part comes from. Millennials tend to go directly from high school into college and, with limited savings accounts, loans may be the only option.

Different news sites have average student debt ranging from $29,000-$35,000, which can be equal to or greater than a college graduate’s starting salary. With such a large amount of student debt, the student debt crisis could eventually turn into the retirement crisis. If a 23-year-old receives a median salary, saves 6 percent of that salary for retirement each year, but has $35,000 in debt and, he or she can expect to retire at 75.

That brings us to the question of following your passion or trying to find a career that’ll quickly repay your student debt.  Millennials are known for trying to find a career that is fulfilling even if it isn’t high paying.  But is it ethical to ignore money when you owe a lot of it on your student loans?

And is following your passion necessarily a good idea?  I Googled the question and here are some of the articles I found:

Follow your passion: a good idea or dumb advice?

10 Reasons Following Your Passion is More Important Than Money

Why ‘Follow Your Passion’ is Pretty Bad Advice


The articles against following your passion seemed to argue that “follow” is the wrong word, as it implies discovering your passion in advance, matching it to a job, and living the rest of your life in career fulfillment bliss. They state that it’s not that simple.

Instead, these articles propose an alternative to “follow”; you should “cultivate” your passion to work toward building a passion for your job. Though this may be a longer and more painstaking practice, it is more likely to pay dividends in the long run. But does bringing your passion to your job instead of finding a job that already lines up with what you know you like to do actually work?

Most of the articles that claim, “’follow your passion’ is terrible advice!” merely rephrase what it means to follow your passion: If you can bring what you love to any job, you’re going to be happy.

Mike Rowe, who arguably has experienced some of the worst jobs in America on his Discovery Channel series, “Dirty Jobs,” may be of some help on this matter:

Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by.

If we should not use our passion to guide us, what is the alternative? If passion doesn’t guide us, what role can it play in our lives?  And what about those loans?  How are you planning to balance loan obligations with job nirvana?

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Feb 17, 2016