In Response to the Corporate Mentality
I thought traveling the world had helped begin to kick my Facebook addiction, but this morning reversed all that progress.
Browsing Facebook today was like opening presents on my birthday. Incredibly powerful articles, videos, and songs about everything from the disintegration of hip hop as evidenced by Macklemore and Bauuer, Macklemore’s (admittedly tear-inducing) support of gay marriage in “Same Love”, a trailer for a movie documenting the horrific discovery of trash in the stomachs of birds on Midway Island, and an beautifully artful response to a lifetime of bullying reminded me that Facebook is actually quite useful for sharing questions, comments, and solutions to global problems.
“Three Lies That We Are Force-Fed by Corporate America”
Amongst all of these, a friend had posted this article, called “Three Lies You Tell Yourself about Your 20s.” Naturally, as a relatively honest 20-something-year-old, the title gripped me (though, to be honest, I had expected something more along the lines of Thought Catalog).
What resulted was instead an assault on the individualistic philosophy that rebukes capitalism as life’s primary motivator.
While the author attempts a balance by acknowledging the existence of alternative life paths, she/he/it (the article is written by “Brazen Life,” a company tag that again removes claims to individual accomplishment) immediately makes sweeping generalizations about the motivations of its readers. “Want to enjoy your life? You must be a drunken idiot who spends your days eating Cheetos on your mother’s couch! Want to do something other than join the corporate world? Why, you might as well shoot yourself now – there’s nothing else out there!” Think I’m being facetious? Let’s look at some examples.
…”Lie #1: These years don’t matter
If you’re telling yourself that your 20s are for self-exploration and fun and don’t really matter, you’re leading yourself astray…”
Alternatively, one might think that their 20s – even their (gasp!) teens and 30s and 40s! – might be a perfect time to figure out who they are and what they want to do, lest they end up in a mind-numbingly boring job for which their benefit to society is little to none. In the industry, business people refer to this as “job training:” enhancing employees with skills and perspectives that allow them to grow and contribute more to their company.
Moreover, the concept that “these years don’t matter” is one that I feel takes hold the more someone grows divorced from their job and their sense of purpose. How many people sit in their cubicles every day, year after year, just waiting for the time they get home? How many people slog through temp jobs and horrible work conditions, just hoping for a promotion “somewhere down the line”? In my opinion, those are the years that are wasted, and this can happen at any age. Learning more about yourself, seeking to improve society, and trying to enhance any environment you’re put in is when life gains meaning.
“…In reality, Dr. Jay says, “our 20s are the defining decade of adulthood. Eighty percent of life’s most defining moments take place by about age 35. Two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens during the first 10 years of a career. More than half of Americans are married or are dating or living with their future partner by age 30.”…
Here is where the nameless author attempts to support their soul-crushing bullshit with some “factual evidence.” I’m going to poke some holes in this dreary balloon of sorrow, because it’s absolutely a misrepresentation of information.
For one: what proof has “Dr. Jay” provided to indicate that 80% of the “defining moments” occur by 35? To do this would be to define what a “defining moment” is, and to do that would be to reinforce an outdated model of family and gender stereotypes, not keeping in line with the actuality of our present world. Do I feel like my life will have been less important or fulfilled if I don’t have kids, or buy a house, or learn how to bake lasagne? No, because as is, my life is pretty amazing, and it’s because I took advantage of the resources with which I was blessed and I used them to carve a new destiny for myself. My “defining moments” are more intellectual than physical, and thus develop independent of age or career-related trajectories. Maybe all these things will happen, but they won’t “define” me – they’ll just add to a me that is constantly developing.
Secondly: maybe 2/3 of lifetime wage does occur in the first ten years of a career. But as the article notes a few lines later, people change careers constantly – my dad has a Ph.D. in Physics and now makes bank as an executive consultant in business management. Maybe his reputation took time to take root, but his success has nothing to do with how young or old he was when he began this current career. This statistic applies to anyone starting a new career, whether they’re 20 or 50.
Finally: what the hell? I have a boyfriend who I could easily see myself being with for a good while, but meeting him when I was 20 doesn’t mean that I’m going to necessarily be with him when I’m 30. The future is unclear – what if we break up at 27? Is whoever I date in that interim time before my 30th birthday going to somehow “mean” more to me than a boyfriend who was with me as I grew into the person I was when I met the second guy? Will I feel coerced into some sense of permanency by our ridiculous notions of marriage and “lasting commitment”?
Which brings me to: divorce. The divorce rate is through the roof, and this bullshit statistic that indicates that half of Americans are settled by 30 is completely ridiculous, presumptuous, and actually irrelevant. With the increase of dating sites, the gradual acceptance of gay and bisexual relationships, and couples delaying marriage until their late 20s and early 30s (Malthusian economics in play, hopefully), this statistic might not even be true. And to turn this “glass half full” card on its head, what about the second half? Don’t they indicate something equally important? Again, this reinforces the stereotype that relationships are necessary to personal fulfillment, which the article clearly doesn’t endorse as they vehemently oppose “fun” (see Lie #3).
…Lie #2: Now’s the time for a career identity crisis
Several lies spring from this central one, particularly when it comes to our careers. It’s natural to be unsure about your future career goals when you’re in your 20s, but don’t let that uncertainty develop into a full-fledged career identity crisis that keeps you from starting something now.
“The biggest myth is that the 20s are a time to think about what you want to do. That doesn’t work. You basically know what you want. Just start, and get the best job you can get,” Dr. Jay told Forbes…
Let me rephrase this “lie”: “Sure, you might not know what you want to do. But finding out is a waste of time; instead, waste your time doing something you don’t like, for which you are probably over-educated, and with people who don’t necessarily encourage or inspire you! Maybe the answer will come to you eventually, when you’ve resigned yourself to your daily hell and are too mired in responsibilities to try something new.”
To clue you in, this is the “lie” that set me off, inspiring me to stay up into the wee hours of the night to write this. Even re-reading it is upsetting me. The article takes the stance that “identity crises” (what Europe has adopted into their educational institutions as a “gap year”) are useless and needlessly time-consuming. Of course, the article assumes that no one needs an identity, or needs to know anything about it, since apparently everything you learn about yourself occurs by the time you’re 20, despite the fact that you can’t even get Lasik eye surgery by then because your eyesight is still likely to change for another five years.
On the other hand, I had just recently read a TechCrunch article entitled 10 Reasons Why 2013 Will Be The Year You Quit Your Job. Though some of it is a bit too hippie-idealistic, it speaks volumes to deride the soul-crushing rhetoric that these kinds of organizations – and I’m using this Brazen Life article only as an example of the millions that are out there – try to perpetuate to the masses of admittedly confused and vulnerable young adults.
Maybe I’m taking this a bit personally, because I’m 22 and traveling around the world instead of going to school or, better yet, pushing paper as an assistant or an intern or a glorified butler. But maybe it’s because I’m privileged to live in a community of inspiring people who do alternative things with their lives and simultaneously find ways to imbue meaning into their surroundings. Maybe it’s because I am taking this year to learn about various cultures and customs and problems, and trying to isolate areas in which I could be of the most help. Maybe it’s because I’m lucky enough to have a father who has insane connections, such that I’m currently working on a short project with a local non-profit that trains disabled 18 – 35-year-olds and connects them to jobs in various industries. Maybe it’s because I also work as a freelance researcher who makes bank looking into global political and socioeconomic problems, things I would look into on my own time anyway. Maybe it’s because there are resources, everywhere, that would help me find a volunteer position, or a teaching job, or some other opportunity that allow me to help people, rather than sit in a cubicle with no purpose and no vision of how what I’m doing actually affects anyone but my immediate superiors.
But mostly, maybe it’s because there are a million options out there, and this article completely dismisses all of them.
…Lie #3: I just want to have fun
But what if the best job you can get is pretty dreary? Given that you’re probably still without many adult responsibilities, like a mortgage or dependents, it’s tempting to imagine the misery you’ll experience in that entry-level gig and decide you’d rather minimize commitments and maximize fun. Maybe later when you’re ready or you find a cooler opportunity, you’ll focus on slogging it out at the office.
Look, I have no problem with paying my dues in an organization. I know that there’s a ladder to climb, and that the bottom rungs can be a bit slippery. But I also know that I have certain skills that I can leverage in certain ways, and I seek opportunity that allows me to either use them or to develop them. Jobs might be hard to find, but forgoing any chance to differentiate yourself is what will allow those companies control over your life. If you really need to make ends meet, at least make it a priority to take computer programming classes at your local community college, or simplify your lifestyle such that you derive happiness from companionship and nature rather than all the things you can make from it. Your performance reviews can stop being your only hopes for career advancement, and your bills can transform into merely annoying chores, rather than anxiety-producing monsters.
Also, who says you “maximize fun” when you don’t go into an office job? Maybe you volunteer in Kenya instead, and learn that “fun” can describe “commitments.” If you love what you do, happiness and responsibility don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Besides wasting valuable career-building time (see lie number two), this approach also often badly overestimates how much you’ll enjoy goofing off. Sure, travel can be thrilling, and everyone loves a great night out, but after a pretty short time, the satisfaction most of us get out of these things wears thin. And then where are you?
As Cracked recently explained in a post that offers wisdom sugar-coated with humor, saying that you’re just not ready to settle down is often an excuse that will bite you in the butt later. Partying is definitely fun, writes John Cheese, but eventually “you start to mature and realize that every second you spend living like that is a second you haven’t spent building your career or securing your retirement or building a legacy. And the longer you put it off, the more of a head start you give your competition for the perfect job or the perfect spouse.”
Gahhhhh!!!! Don’t be surprised if the next time you see me, I’m missing a massive patch of hair – this is where I just pulled out a clump in frustration. First off: traveling is not “goofing off.” While my European trip was a bit hedonistic, I was able to engage in a series of extremely interesting conversations regarding local politics, environmental issues, foreign policy, workplace etiquette, philosophy, international immigration, and economic integration. I have a better sense of what is going on in the world, I have a better filter for how to process all the new information I receive, and I have a unique perspective from various people who actually live in these countries, something I couldn’t get out of a newspaper or a textbook. When I return to the job force, I can apply those perspectives and innovative solutions to whatever projects I work on.
Moving on to the next point: Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a “partier.” I do go out, and I love socializing, but I am pretty sure that those are things people outside of their 20s like as well. In fact, not socializing is seen as a psychological problem, for which pharmaceuticals are more than happy to help. On the other hand, there are people who, well into their 40s and 50s, act in the most bacchanal of ways whenever given an opportunity. It seems the more money people make, the more bad decisions they can afford, and the more that this culture of conspicuous consumption congratulates them for being completely oblivious to the negative impact they’ve left on our planet.
One last note: according to this article, life is a big competition. And every moment we’re not playing, we’re losing. According to this article, I would be a loser. But I don’t subscribe to a theory that predicates its entire conceptual grounding in the idea that life is uphill battle. Call me a pacifist. Instead, I subscribe to the theory that is more communal, that encourages us to help each other and share our knowledge such that everyone benefits. I don’t need to go to the ends of the earth to “build my career” in an increasingly unstable and non-linear market, nor “secure my retirement” in a time when the stock market arbitrarily halved my college fund, nor “build my legacy” when I’m doing it right now, every day, by trying to do more right than I do wrong, by reducing my negative impact while increasing my positive, and by choosing an alternative life path that might ultimately lead to something that is more of a legacy than sitting in a cubicle ever could be.
And, it turns out, you probably won’t even hate that cubicle job as much as you imagine you will (assuming you’re using it to get somewhere you want to go in life). “Some people underestimate the satisfaction of working, thinking they’ll be miserable in a cube. The 20-somethings that do work are happier than those who don’t or are underemployed,” Dr. Jay points out.
Of course, maybe this whole article is a joke, and I got really worked up over nothing. I mean, read that last paragraph. They have got to be trolling, right? …Right?