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Generation “Then What?”

December 12, 2010

I recently came across an article by Thomas Barlow, written for the Financial Times , basically summing up a generation in their late 20s and early 30s as over-educated, spoilt for options and afraid of commitment, that most likely “grew up in one country, was educated in another, and is now working in a third”. It is damming assessment, but is he right?

For Barlow, the most fascinating feature of this generation is its attitude towards work and the sacrifices that Barlow believes this generation is willing to make for their career. Work “should not be just a means to an end a way to make money, support a family, or gain social prestige but should provide a rich and fulfilling experience in and of itself. Jobs are no longer just jobs; they are lifestyle options.”  Furthermore, this generation taught to strive for all that it possibly can, to learn and amass as much knowledge as possible and to always put itself first, “nothing is valued so highly as accumulated experience. Nothing is neglected so much as commitment.”

“At what point, though, does the experience-seeking end?” Barlow asks, suggesting that it is time to grow up and assume a life grounded in personal commitment and not lofty endless searching that will leave a person lonely, if not bored.

And it certainly seems to have struck a chord. After I read the article, a quick search on Google found a great number of blogs hailing it as the article of our generation; it appears to sum us up and so succinctly states our issues.

But at what point does too much freedom completely miss the point?

I myself will be moving in the very near future for a job/ ‘lifestyle choice’ and the happy simultaneous goal of making a long-distance relationship a non-long-distance one. My partner and mine’s work and lives are a reflection of what Barlow describes, much like everyone else I know that read this article. When making my decisions to move, it was absolutely imperative to be certain that it was for me above all else, and that though my partner is a great ‘incentive’ to move that I would have gone elsewhere if the offer I received wasn’t so great. It seemed like a great betrayal to contemplate doing something only for someone else. Worse, I perceived it as needy and clingy. While discussing this with a friend, he asked me what my biggest fear regarding the move was. I answered, without a doubt, concerns related to starting a new job aside, that my partner and I plateau, that we reach that sibling-like comfort, “and then what?”

Those three words, I realised sum up the fears of our generation. We do not want the experience seeking to end, because then what? We do not want to stay in the same place, in the same job, see the same friends over and over, because then what? Have our expectations been raised so, that we are no longer able or need to tolerate the routine and mundane encapsulated in the question “then what?”

But is Barlow right that we are making mistakes, by not settling and compromising (‘growing up’?) or are we the new and improved generation, doing it our way and gonna have it all our way? If so are new models of adulthood rising from this? Will the families we raise be different?

The crazy thing is Barlow’s article was written in the 90s. At first I thought “people were like this back in the 90s?” thinking that this post-9 to 5 lifestyle is a much more recent phenomena. Then it occurred to be that that group must now be in their late 30s and early 40s and surely they must have surpassed their so-called “professional development / searching phase”. So where are they now? What have been the rewards of living and working on three different continents? Of changing jobs at least once every 2 to 3 years? Of partners and lovers left behind for a ‘too good to pass on’ experience in another country? Of botched long-distance relationships that that expired? Do they regret they choices they made? Have they settled? Are they happy? Are they single? Are they lonely?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2010 4:09 pm

    I’m with you, except I don’t think those criticisms are damning unless you share the same value system. I was asked why my partner and I aren’t having a commitment ceremony (instead we’re having a ‘celebration’) and my answer was that commitment isn’t something I believe in. It might be important for other people, but I believe in continuing to make choices to pursue happiness.

    Kings fought and died, our grandparents battled Nazis, our parents worked their asses off, all with the hope that their kids would have the stability, security and wealth to build lives in which they could pursue fulfillment. So here we are. What are we doing?

    Looking at the lifestyle-models I grew up with, committing to a career does not appear to be a guarantee against loneliness, and in fact it looks the opposite. A better chance we have against loneliness is developing and maintaining relationships, but even that isn’t a guarantee.

    From where I sit (the bath) the only thing that looks like a guarantee is working on yourself and your expectations. Travel is the thing that has taught me the most about the nature of the human experience and the fundamentals of being one of us, so I travel. So I experience-seek to learn, to understand myself, others, us.

    “And then what?”

    And then I don’t worry about committing to a career because I understand it’s only one of many ways to do things, and they’re all ok.

  2. December 14, 2011 11:46 am

    Well, I think it’s not always about having a long-distant relationship. Sometimes, you gotta move on to another country because the field you’re interested in is much better in the country you’re willing to move than the one you’re living in. Say for example, one country’s education system may be better than another in some instances. Again, this happens when you’re seeking a job. Steve Jobs said, don’t settle until you find the work you love. Sometimes you really seek for a job that you love and the job you love doesn’t have a good market, or reputation, or money, or simply value in the country you live in.

    If I were to answer this, I would have said that I always wanted to be a technology journalist in a mainstream international media. However, living here in Bangladesh, it’s not possible. There are technology journalists, but they are not thought to be IT journalists (although they are called so) because, well, what IT event takes place in Bangladesh? More importantly, how often?

    If I were, instead, in the UK or the US, imagine what would have happened. Be it silicon valley or anywhere else, there’ll always be something to work on.

    In fact, that’s what I’m trying to say. Sometimes you move for the better, not necessary for the better half.


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