Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy
I usually don’t think much of what I see from the Huffington Post, but I thought this was kind of a cool article on how things for Generation Y (those of us born between the late 70’s and mid 90’s. I was born in 1981.) haven’t exactly panned out to our expectations. To sum up the article, we received a lot of bad (but well intentioned) advice from our parents’ generation that didn’t reflect current reality and we were told that we were special and could “do anything we wanted to do”. When it turns out that we really couldn’t do anything we wanted to do by following the prescribed path (going to college, putting time in, etc.) we become unhappy. Makes sense. I bet this article hit home for a lot of the HuffPost’s readership.
After reading the article it made me think of some of the conversations I remember having with my parents and other “authority figures” in my late teens/early 20’s. My dad worked at the same factory for about 35 years, from the age of 18 or 19 until retirement and my mom has been at the same place for over 25 years. That mentality that it’s best to get hired on somewhere and stick around was definitely put into my head and I actually ended up working at the same factory as my dad but I’m probably in the minority of my generation with that kind of opportunity.
My sister had a boyfriend years ago that worked in the jewelry industry. In the year or so he was around, I think he worked at half a dozen different jewelry stores. He was constantly talking to other people in the industry and going wherever he could get the best deal. This absolutely blew my dad’s mind… he was worried that employers would think he was flaky and that he would be better off settling in somewhere and working his way up, just like he did. He ended up doing pretty well in the jewelry business because he thought outside of the box and wasn’t afraid to make changes.
I heard both “if you don’t go to college, you’ll wind up flipping burgers” and “it’s best to get hired on somewhere, put in your time and get your pension” quite a bit. I don’t know a lot of people with college degrees flipping burgers, but I know a shitload of people with college degrees doing entry level work that they could have gotten without the college experience, often at places where their positions are precarious and they wind up having to find a new job after a few years.
Growing up I also remember the “you can do anything you want” line too. I think there is some truth to that, but I think we fail to teach exactly how you go about doing “anything you want”. The path I was taught was basically go to school for whatever it is and work really hard, like there’s always going to be someone there to hand you an opportunity if you can just present that magical diploma. I knew a lot of people that went to school for things like marine biology, sociology, history, English, etc. figuring that in the worst case scenario they would just end up teaching it somewhere and they wind up processing mortgage applications at Wells Fargo….if they’re lucky. A lot of people who “followed their passion” could only follow it so far and wind up not having the skills to truly be competitive in the economy.
I also know a lot of accomplished un-accomplished people if that makes sense. People that have checked off the boxes they were told they were supposed to check off (i.e. going to college for something) and haven’t quite gotten what they feel they deserve in life yet (and probably won’t) and end up in a perpetual state of limbo doing work “beneath them”, but believing it’s just temporary because their boat will come in soon enough because, well, it has to. I’m not making fun of these people, just pointing out that they exist and that it’s a problem in our society.
The author concludes with some advice to stay ambitious, stop thinking you’re special and to stop listening to other people. Pretty good advice. Fortune favors the bold, no one is entitled to anything and conventional wisdom usually isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The article doesn’t touch the student loan debt issue which adds another dimension to it. I’m sure it sucks to work at Starbucks when you thought you were going to wind up studying dolphins in the South Pacific, but it probably really sucks if you’re paying down $60,000 in student loans while you’re doing it.
I also think that we’re set up for a huge generational wealth gap. As the baby boomers who lived in an extremely prosperous period retire, much of their wealth will probably wind up disappearing into thin air and/or being sold at rock bottom prices to whoever will be available to buy. I honestly don’t know a lot of people (myself included) that come from average backgrounds who seem on pace to outperform their parents economically. When it comes time for mom and dad to cash in the 401k, sell the McMansion and on a larger scale in society assets like farmland, machinery, businesses, etc. who is going to be there to buy it? Probably not little Jimmy with $40,000 in student loan debt and an entry level job. We’ll probably end up with greater wealth inequality and/or more foreign control over our economy. It should be an interesting next 20 years to see how this pans out.