When I was younger, say roughly twenty-some years ago, the United States was different. Duh! That is called history, but the differences stand out more to me today than they did five years ago or even a year ago. No, this won’t be me waxing poetically or nostalgically about how the past (not that twenty years is that long ago) was better. The past wasn’t. The past was different and different in important ways. Some of those ways I have touched on in my Where Do I Get To Vent? series of posts. This difference has to do with my children and the choices that they will have to make that I never had to make and probably never will make, but maybe should have been forced to make.
When I was growing up there was no emphasis on being something, finding something, doing something specific career-wise. You can do anything, is what I was told and with the exceptions of music and hard science that turned out to be a truism. If I decided I wanted to do something or learn something I could and did. The net result is that I never applied myself to any one thing, instead I did and learned about whatever was on my mind or suited my mood for that time frame. Interested in martial arts-go study and do that for several years, want to learn Japanese and learn about Japan went and did that, wanted to take a stupid chance and start up a hobby shop on the other side of the country-went and tried to do that. Didn’t like my job, quit and go get another one. My point being that when I was younger, I could do those things. The job market and society supported those types of growing experiences. I wasn’t alone either. Most of the people I went to high school with were the same way to one degree or another.
I couldn’t do that today, if I was in my late teens to late twenties. For one, the job market alone ensures that you had better either get a job that you love or like or at worst can tolerate, because unlike when I worked at a job for a few months or years and then bounced effortlessly into another you cannot do that. Businesses couldn’t hold the threat of “you need this job because we know that there aren’t any others” over my head. Today, businesses have all of the power, they know that the job market is so bad that you have to have that job and if you don’t do what they want/need that there are ten others just like you waiting for a shot. Which means that people who are in their teens and twenties, unlike me, had better have a clue.
There is no sign that the job market is going to or will ever improve to previous levels, which means that the job you get now could be the job that you have for a long time. This means that you should have a clue what you want to do. No, that is wrong, you NEED to have more than a clue what you want to do. High schools are starting job specialization and colleges only further that focus today. The days of going to college to “discover yourself,” that is what they called it when I went the first few times, is over. You don’t get that chance anymore. Financial aid has a caveat now called satisfactory progress towards a degree. This means that if the school feels you are taking too much time or have no clue, in addition to grades, family finances, personal financial need and every other niggling detail that they can deny you funds. Send your child to college without a plan and be prepared to have that child kicked back home with nothing more than a few interesting stories and a huge bill.
Does this mean that the days of finding your own way are over? No, close but not yet and hopefully not ever. However, the tolerances that used to be there are a lot smaller. There are too many people seeking the same scrap of land or job that you are. Which means that you have to be better than them. Unfortunately, in my opinion, that means you need to focus on those job skills a lot sooner than you used to so that you do have that knowledge, expertise, that experience, that whatever to make sure that you are better than everyone else. To me this explains why so many young people I meet on campus are so one-dimensional. If you don’t get a chance to find yourself, to see what else is out there, if you have been focused on one or two-things for most of your life, you tend to be very single-minded, monochromatic, one-dimensional or…well you pick the word.
I have to say that those people who I have met who are focused on what they want to be impress me, but at the same time I feel a little sad and apprehensive. Sad, because odds of them dropping what they are doing to try something new are minimal. Apprehensive, because what if they are like me and many people I know; I didn’t truly, honestly, figure out what I wanted to be to do with my life until I was in my thirties.