Saturday, February 7, 2015


By happenstance, I’ve found myself lately to be a sounding board for several Millennialsvoicing their angst about ever finding a fulfilling future. There is nothing new about this. See The Graduate (1967) for the iconic depiction of my generation’s moment. In truth it is a luxury: "a first world problem" in the parlance of our time. Anyone struggling just to survive doesn’t have much time for it. The difference between Boomers and Millennials is that the latter really do have reason to worry. Few are struggling to survive, but many aren’t moving forward. That statement needs qualification: a minority are doing very well indeed, but the rest are just muddling along. We’re not talking a minority of 1% . It’s more like 30-35% successes vs 70-65% muddles, but that still means the typical experience of a twentysomething isn’t very good. This hasn’t escaped the notice of the press, and many of the headlines are far from polite.

Salon Magazine: “Are Millennials Delusional?”
Pacific Standard Magazine: “Millennials: A Generation with Unrealistic Expectations”
Huffington Post: “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy”
allBusiness: “The Millennials: What Have We Done to Our Children?”
and so on.

All of the authors of the above articles broadly agree on the problem. The Huffington Post notes “a desire for nice things and an unwillingness to work for them.” They also agree on the source of the problem. “Baby Boomers all around the country and world told their Gen Y kids that they could be whatever they wanted to be” (Huffington), while (allBusiness) “the inculcation of false hope that students can be anything they want to be and do anything they want to do, regardless of skill, ability or intelligence as long as they believe in themselves, is nurturing impossible expectations.” If Satisfaction = Reality – Expectations, it is unsurprising if young people are in negative territory.

All this is a little unfair both to youths and their parents, and much of it smacks of age-old complaints against the young in any era. Surely the economic meltdown of 2006-8 plus a persistently sluggish recovery since then – one which has greatly benefited 30-35% of the population while leaving the rest stagnant at best – have something to do with it. Angst is not an unreasonable reaction to the present environment by 2015 graduates of high school or college. Nonetheless, there may be some fire beneath all the editorial smoke.

The twentysomethings bending my ear are not asking for advice, and probably (justifiably, too) would shut down were I to give any unsolicited. So, I’ll stay quiet and just offer this comment to the ether. Once there was a notion (not widely shared in my own generation, btw, but more common a century earlier) that that the biggest achievement in life was to live as a free human being. To live by one’s own values. Not beholden, not entitled, and not subservient. One might be prosperous or not. One might have responsibilities or not, but if so they are of the kind taken on freely. Circumstances in life might prevent this, but that is why it was considered an achievement. Any other boon – money, fame, adventure, or whatever – may be all well and good, but as gravy not the meat (or soy burger for the vegetarians out there).

Life without strings is an old-fashioned concept of fulfillment. I can’t claim much first-hand experience with it, but maybe it has some merit.

From Disney’s Pinocchio (1940):
I've got no strings so I have fun
I'm not tied up to anyone
How I love my liberty
There are no strings on me


  1. Yes, that's a conundrum for sure. I never cared much for my job, but I was appreciative that I had one. The more I asked people how much they enjoyed their work, the more I found out I wasn't alone in that area--some polls say 70 to 80% of people hate their jobs. So the odds of going from one job to the next to find happiness is sort of slim. I'm guessing it's one of those things you just have to do to pay the bills and derive happiness where one can. There was a guy were I worked, however, that said he loved his job. However, he quit, so I guess he didn't love it enough.

    The other thing I saw recently was a manufacturer being taken over by robotics, as are other jobs more and more these days. I wonder, where are people going to find work?

    1. I imagine the jobs will be tending to the needs of our robot overlords.

      Only rarely do people pay one for having fun. It happens. People win lotteries, too, but one shouldn't count on it for oneself. Of course, we can chuck it all and catch a freight to the Coast if we want. It's cheering to remember we have that choice, even if we don't make it. Maybe the guy who quit did just that.

  2. Riding the rails might be cheering, maybe even a romantic notion, but generally, not a great idea. I had a friend catch a freight to Ft. Worth one time just to try it with his brother, and they worked for the railroad, so they knew a bit about it. He said for one, the box car they rode in was filthy, so they were filthy once they got there. Plus you are without other transportation once you get there, and generally, railroads are away from the main interest in town, and Ft. Worth is a pretty big town.

    I also read a exploit from underground cartoonist Robert Crumb who tried the same thing out of San Francisco. He was broke and needed to get back to Cleveland or the east coast. He and some other guys caught a freight, and didn't take any food, and he said they nearly starved before they got there. To make matters worse, he had dysentery, and he said he tried to hang his butt out the car while it was moving to use the restroom, and well, it was a terrible trip.

    1. I have no doubt you're right about that. Hopping freights does seem to appeal to people somehow, probably as a fantasy of escape from rules and responsibilities. How else to explain the 1964 hit record "King of the Road"? ( It is nice to know escape is possible, but that doesn't make it advisable.

  3. Yeah, I'm not sure this is anything new. Gen Y is just the next group in line to face it. I'm also guessing those articles weren't written by any Gen Xers. We just don't care enough to actually write articles like that. ;) But it is nice to see that the traditional Gen X angst is drifting over to Gen Y. Makes my cynical heart smile to see them get a little grim. ;)

    1. Maybe there is a script in that worldview somewhere: "Cyn City." No one takes on the bad guys in it, because what's the point really? Just sit at the bar and watch Nancy.