Last week I received a letter from my friend Jonathon asking for money. He had been laid off from his job with a major consulting firm and after spending a few weeks looking for work, decided that he needed to make a major change. At 28 Jonathon veered wildly off the corporate ladder and was preparing to go to southeast Africa to teach AIDS/HIV prevention. I was surprised to hear of his plans, because in his own words “roughing it isn’t really a term that people associate when they think of me”. He’s not exaggerating, I once saw Jonathon cut a meeting short to make a massage appointment. I was happy to learn that his request for money was to help fund a trip to Malawi, Africa, not just to get him through a tough time.
Then there is my friend Scott, who cheerfully informed me recently that he’d been laid off from his communications job in DC, and before I could express my condolences, exclaimed, “No, no, it’s a really good thing!” And then there are the group of mid-twenty-somethings I met recently who peppered me with questions about what I do for a living and what it was like to work for ‘a cause‘. My initial reaction was slightly bemused, until I remembered that it wasn’t long ago that these same people would have glazed over as soon as I started talking about what I do. Something had radically shifted in the minds of these emerging professionals.
It seems I can’t go a day without meeting someone who has spent the last 6 or 7 years racking up student loans instead of work experience, and back when they charted their academic plans it wasn’t a matter of if they got a job, but where. While I hear a lot of anxiety in the conversations I’ve had with them, I’m surprised to hear even more curiosity, perhaps about the possibility of a successful future not measured by the size of their paycheck.
These are upper-middle class kids turned grown-up yuppies realigning their expectations for the sparkling futures their parents promised them in the ’90s, and I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. Unless I’m crazy, they don’t seem to think it’s so bad either. These “kids” still have privileged lives ahead of them no doubt, but I can’t help feeling that my generation is starting to realize their complicity in a world of haves and have-nots. Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I’d like to believe that as witnesses to so much loss we can finally feel that what we have is enough and maybe more than we deserve.