Waiting. I’m not just sitting here. Doing nothing. I’m waiting. Waiting for something worth doing. I’m not self-absorbed. I’m introspective. I’m paying attention. I’m watching. Listening. Waiting for something meaningful. I’m not lazy and I’m not unmotivated. Demotivated, maybe. Under-challenged, certainly. Sorry, but I’m just underwhelmed by shallow dreams. Unimpressed by meaningless ambition, colorless relationships, broken promises. Slacker (?!) Yeah, right. Show me one ideal worth dying for. Let me glimpse one thing worth living for. Do that and the wait is over. Ask me a big enough question and I’ll answer with my life.
Waiting is the text of a short film I wrote for a gathering of 20-somethings. The organizers wanted a motivational piece; something to kick-start the last hours of a conference on Change.
The movie was well received by the audience. Not so much by the Boomers who paid for the event. In fact, the Deep Pockets were disenchanted with the whole gathering. My assignment came from people who organized the conference, not those who underwrote it, so this is just my opinion, but I think the older folks were working on a plan to recruit and co-opt those 20-somethings into their political vision for the future.
I imagine you recall, co-optation from first-year sociology. No? Well, no matter, I saved my notes: Co-optation is the practice of recruiting potentially troublesome, usually non-formal, leaders into management before they incite discontent in other workaday employees over low pay, shoddy manufacturing, dangerous working conditions...whatever. It’s based on one of the oldest known business principles: If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em.
But those darned kids! It didn’t take long to see the young men and women at this conference weren’t interested in being co-opted. The conference was supposed to be the pilot for a nationwide series of events. Didn’t happen. After a day of watching and listening to the concerns of these young Americans the mission was scrubbed.
I wish I could say this is the only time I’ve seen this kind of thing.
I’ve spend a good chunk of time helping organizations think about the handoff of their mission to the next generation of practitioners. What’s disconcerting is how often someone voices a question that’s apparently on the minds of many: Is there any way to skip this generation and still survive?
The answer, clearly, is: Absolutely not. Why do you ask?
But I know why they ask. They ask because so many young men and women don’t play by their rules. They seem sketchy to elders who expect loyalty to legacy brands, political parties, religious institutions and social customs. They’re volatile in the marketplace, moved by unseen winds. The young tend to ignore or make up their own religious dogma rather than accept something they consider warmed-over.
Career? Many young Americans are uninspired by the prospect of a job, at least in the sense accepted by their parents and grandparents. Well ahead of the economic volatility and outright fraud we endured in the first decade of the 21st century, American Demographics columnist Marc Spiegler ventured a hypothesis: “What seems like apathetic hedonism actually represents a fairly informed bet,” he wrote. “Why put up with the cubicled world’s woes when its promised delayed gratification is an ever more dicey proposition?” (Time Magazine, June 9, 1997, page 60)
Douglas Coupland caught a shift in the wind even sooner:
Anti-sabbatical: A job taken with the sole intention of staying only for a limited period of time (often one year). The intention is usually to raise enough funds to partake in another, more personally meaningful activity such as watercolor sketching in Crete or designing computer knit sweaters in Hong Kong. Employers are rarely informed of intentions.
— Douglas Coupland, Generation X, St Andrews Press, 1991 page 35
Suppose you grew up eating dinners you prepared yourself—alone in front of the television—because the adults in your life weren’t actually in your life, they were at work. Suppose you watched your folks bust their humps sixty or eighty hours a week for companies that downsized them for the sake of quarterly earnings. How would you feel about joining the rat race? Real excited, I bet.
To many of us, the youthful lack of enthusiasm for our missions looks like a lack of commitment. They are slow to trade away their loyalty; we take it for untrustworthiness. They fidget when the boss repeats herself in meetings; we think they’re unfocused. They multi-task; we think they’re not paying attention.
Something has to give.
— from Raising Adults