As he gets ready to go to college, eighteen-year old FWI intern Eric Reiner wrote of his goals for his working life, “So, no matter what I do, it will without a doubt not include doing the same thing day after day.
“…I have always hoped to find my own path in life, and to not fall into an already established career, such as an investment banker, lawyer, doctor, etc. I always thought of myself as the guy who ends up doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Not only does that address my need of change, but also would give me the free time I need when I need it. I see this as a reasonable path for me as I am the one who is always willing to try new things.”
Lois, a Baby Boomer, responded to Eric’s Millennial perspective:
“Unlike Eric, I never considered what my future life needs would be. I did not think about my family and work life and how it would intersect. I did not think about whether I wanted to travel, or what kind of work environment I wanted to be in. What I did think about was that I would not return to the safety of my parent’s home when I graduated. And, I knew needed to work, and make money, to support myself. ”
Lois expresses an outlook that I think was fairly typical for her time. The product of Depression-era parents, she wasn’t sure what kind of work she wanted, but she framed her career in terms of achieving independence from her parents and supporting herself financially.
I was born at the tail end of Generation X. My approach coming out of college was perfectly in between Lois and Eric’s. I craved excitement from my career. At 18, I vowed never to end up in the New Jersey suburbs in which I had been raised. In my twenties, I had amazing career opportunities but moved around a lot. I even moved to Africa. But I always supported myself—well. I worked very, very hard. But when I didn’t like a job, I quit it. I don’t know if Lois would say the same thing. Certainly, my father, raised during the Depression, simply could not fathom how I could quit a perfectly good job.
As I get older, I will not sacrifice precious family time to the altar of career success. Data says I’m a pretty typical X-er for that. But, much to my amusement, I think of the lovely house in the suburbs where I grew up and think, “Wow, I wish we could afford a house like that!” I’m reminded of Joyce Maynard’s (born 1954) famous article, “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life,” published in the New York Times in 1972. She wrote of her generation:
“If you want to know who we are now; if you wonder how we’ll vote, or whether we will, or whether, 10 years from now, we’ll end up just like all those other generations that thought they were special – with 2.2 kids and a house in Connecticut – if that’s what you’re wondering, look to the past because, whether we should blame it or not, we do.”
When you’re 18, you can be undecided and excited. When you’re in your thirties, it’s downright terrifying to be undecided (on this point, see one of my favorite blogs, Undecided). You crave some of what came before you, with key adjustments to suit your own life—X-ers, for example, over-index on desiring flexibility and under-index on wanting to be “well paid.” Still, according to the 2008 National Study of Employers, four generations in the workforce share more common values than they share differences.