New college grads enter a world full of uncertainties, in a system not structured to automatically achieve their perceived “success.” Even in a first world, the job market will not cater to new grads’ every whim. And yet, what consistent message has the millennial generation heard? It’s all about you.
They’ve been coached, tutored and coddled into thinking the world is in fact their oyster. Who’s to blame them if we’ve trained them to think their role is the key one, and we’re all just minor characters in their big story? The vocabulary of ‘self,’ of ‘freedom’ and ‘autonomy’ are what makes up an illusory world, one we’ve built for them. (‘They’ are us, and we are them.) Perhaps I’m a bit cynical, but the consistent message spun by boomers to their kids (in general) will actually lead to their demise. The problem here is not early twentysomethings, it’s the raw bill of goods we’ve sold them. We have told them half-truths we needed to say to feel good about ourselves.
Once again, David Brooks of the NY Times hits the nail on the head:
Worst of all, they are sent off into this world with the whole baby-boomer theology ringing in their ears. If you sample some of the commencement addresses being broadcast on C-Span these days, you see that many graduates are told to: Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.
But, of course, this mantra misleads on nearly every front.
College grads are often sent out into the world amid rapturous talk of limitless possibilities. But this talk is of no help to the central business of adulthood, finding serious things to tie yourself down to. The successful young adult is beginning to make sacred commitments — to a spouse, a community and calling — yet mostly hears about freedom and autonomy.
What’s missing from the message?
Commitment, courage, sacrifice, enduring, and being true to our responsibilities to society — not just being ‘true to yourself.’
(And the need for this message continues, for there is a generation of teenage boys investing huge portions of their days playing “Call of Duty,” a video game helping them medicate their inner pain and escape responsibility.)
Brooks succinctly reminds us why what we believe shapes who we become, and how the daily messages we tell ourselves can actually lead to our detriment. A helpful list of scenarios to shape a young life:
Most successful young people don’t look inside and then plan a life. They look outside and find a problem, which summons their life. A relative suffers from Alzheimer’s and a young woman feels called to help cure that disease. A young man works under a miserable boss and must develop management skills so his department can function. Another young woman finds herself confronted by an opportunity she never thought of in a job category she never imagined. This wasn’t in her plans, but this is where she can make her contribution.
In a messy and broken world we learn life is not about us. Now we’re free to live a meaningful life.