Sunday, August 20, 2017

You Can Have It All (Not the Oprah Version)

Placing a disproportionate amount of emphasis and emotional energy on work is nothing new and nothing purely millennial – it remains a militantly expressed national trait.  In fact, according to Harvard’s Samuel Huntington, it dates back to the era of populist forebear Andrew Jackson: “The glorification of work came to the fore during the Jacksonian era, when people were classified as ‘do-somethings’ or ‘do-nothings’” (from Huntington’s book Who Are We?  The Challenges to America’s National Identity).  He then points to a 1990 International Values Survey of industrialized nations, asking how much pride the respective citizens took in their work.  USA: 87%.  Great Britain: 83%.  All the rest: under 50%.

A fair amount of millennials came of age at the wrong time for their career dreams, with the most severe recession since the Great Depression decimating approximately 9 million jobs (according to the Department of Labor) and not offering as many entry points to the generation attempting to enter the work force with limited skills.

That, combined with the strictures of a labor hiring system highly tailored to prior experience, and further combined with Millennial Entitlement Syndrome, sounds like a mental health nightmare.

“Expressing gratitude, achieving short-term goals, and achieving long-term goals” – all great, no complaints here.  However, unsurprising to anyone who’s been reading here, I first and foremost recommend the arts: watching, hearing, doing, dancing, reading, laughing, crying, rolling your eyes, and nodding your head.  Not because they inherently offer happiness – many masterpieces, quite the opposite.  No, they rather offer context, shape, and inspiration, and when they do elicit joy, it is with an amplitude and verve that transport us to vantage points that our careers will likely never take us.

The French filmmaker Francois Truffaut once remarked that if he had an adequate supply of books, records, and tickets to the cinema, he could live out the rest of his life happily.  For the countless millions who have oppressive or unfulfilling jobs, and for the increasing share of the population that may have no work at all, it’s going to be vital.