Founder and Chief Impact Officer
SUTW Impact Consulting
Former Halogen Staff
“I chose to work with youth and young professionals aged 20 to 35 because it’s a stage of our lives when we have many crossroad decisions to make, a time of many pivotal turning points, when many are struggling with fine-tuning who they are, where they want to be and what’s ahead.”. As a millennial practitioner armed with a mission to support young adults in navigating their future, Ruo Mei sees how the challenges faced by today’s youth can be both daunting, yet full of promise and potential.
Many young people identify with a ‘quarter-life crisis’ in this phase of transition. “For some, this comes in the later stages of their formal education, where they start to question if the rat race is worth it and what all the study, internships and striving are for,” says Ruo Mei. “Then there are those who find a mismatch only after they start working (typically between 3-5 years) and they experience a stark disconnect between reality and their expectations. That’s when quarter-life crisis tends to hit.”
While many desire to find ‘answers’ and ‘solutions’ to this uncomfortable position, there is hardly a straightforward answer to this. One may need to consider their personal or life priorities, current financial status, risk appetite, interest areas, and how much they prize work-life balance etc. Ultimately, one needs need to be in alignment with their personal values, to be consistent in making these important decisions.
So what about this whole emergent movement of ‘following your passion’? While Ruo Mei recognises it is definitely more permissible to pursue alternate pathways now than before- taking a gap year, founding a startup, quitting your job to travel, taking up an unpaid leave of absence – she is of two minds about it. “Personally, I’ve always championed following one’s passion as I was growing up. I do believe that in the absence of passion for what you do, you can’t make a career out of it, at least not an outstanding one. If you are doing it merely to pay the bills, or to fit into your perception of what society deems ‘useful’, then it is hard to beat that ‘geek’ out there who is passionate about their craft and spends their after-work hours tinkering around simply because they are curious.”
“That said, I would like to issue a caveat emptor and caution against ‘passion’ for its own sake. Many young people are still growing into their fuller selves- you may think you have a passion for something, and that’s a good start- but hold your horses, and explore further; don’t shut off your options prematurely. In your relative youth, you may not have been exposed to a sufficiently wide range of life experiences, or explored many deeply enough, to thoroughly understand where your ‘passion’ truly resides. Like love, passion founded on shallow experiences and momentary highs isn’t true passion but rather a passing phase, like a fad. Sometimes young people also lack perseverance – even in their thought processes – so they get tired, or lose interest and drop out. What do you do when the ‘passion’ burns out, and drudgery kicks in? When you work long and hard at something, stick to it and attain mastery, that’s often when lasting passion emerges. Just ask any world-class musician if they enjoyed playing their instruments for hours every night, and over weekends, while their friends were playing outdoors.” Neither extreme is ideal; a lot of this boils down to finding the delicate balance that is right for you- in this season of your life. Things change, as you do.
Although this is a stressful (and perhaps necessary) transition for many, Ruo Mei is still very much encouraged by the promise the younger generations bring. “A heartening trend I see is that our young people are increasingly valuing higher-order things like social impact. It’s more common to see young people stepping out of the box to prioritise social causes – whether they be young social entrepreneurs creating change, civic ground movements to go straw-less (cue the “sustainability straws”), youth refusing to take plastic bags when it’s not needed, or young adults choosing their workplaces based on the CSR policies and whether the company’s values mirror their own.” There is a sense of growing social consciousness, and conscience, and a willingness to act upon that consciousness. “If we think not about doing one great thing but many small things greatly, that’s how we start a movement of influence that can truly go viral.”