Steel Sharpens Steel: How Coming Of Age During A Recession Gives You An Edge

There are a lot of strange contradictions that come with being 20-something. During the months surrounding college graduation, I was continuously told to “set the world on fire” and “follow my dreams with a passion,” but found that months later, as I was applying to jobs, I was consistently harassed with the idea of settling for a job, earning a paycheck, and collecting work experiences to set myself up for happiness in the future. All of those pressures became my focus, rather than pursuing the aspirations that really mattered to me.

I felt completely deflated and confused by the messages I was receiving. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) make sense that we are expected to spend our days toiling away at something we absolutely hate. In no way am I bashing the effort to put in genuine work and pay our dues, but it does seem that the trend of slaving away at an unsatisfying and unfulfilling career is slowly becoming a thing of the past.

Coming of age on the cusp of a recession has given Generation-Y an interesting perspective of what it means to have a happy career. Many of us watched in distress as our parents were laid off from companies they’d worked at for decades. We shared the despair of small business owners we knew who had to close up shop, and we began to understand the helplessness of genuinely not being able to pay for essentials needs (I’m talking about you, college). As we watched the climate of our country change and the hard work of older generations slowly dissolve in a financial crisis, I noticed one change in attitude slowly begin to develop in my peers: why should we do this if it’s all for nothing?

This sounds much more negative than it’s meant. In fact, this attitude of members of Generation-Y is refreshingly optimistic, daring and exhilarating. We watched as our parents struggled for years in jobs they weren’t happy with so they could eventually enjoy a happy retirement - a goal that, for many of them, is now farther off than expected. Seeing this happen hasn’t been easy, but has given us an exciting perspective on developing our own professional lives.

Each day, I notice more of my peers agreeing that if their career isn’t challenging, exciting, driving or inspiring them, they will look for something else. Of course, this attitude might also play into the perception by older generations that we are an entitled group. The thing that is so wonderful and obnoxious about our generation is that we know exactly what we want and what we don’t. We know, from watching our parents, what it feels like to work at something that doesn’t pay out in the end, and we are adamantly protesting against living through that experience a second, more personal time.

It’s important to acknowledge this. We know what we want and aren’t afraid to ask for it, or go elsewhere. We recognize the value of enjoying our lives, of taking advantage of our post work hours, and looking for opportunities that will be mutually beneficial for both employer and employee. We don’t want to waste our time, but we also don’t want to waste the time of the people around us, either. Our generation is exceedingly educated and well connected. With such a wealth of resources, we are coming of age in a time where we see the value of our skills, and have an acute picture of exactly what it is we do and don’t want.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in conversation with a much older, successful professional who was nearing the end of his career and excited to enjoy his environment. He asked me point blank, “If you could do anything in the world and money wasn’t an option, what would you do?” This is something that I think about often, so I had no difficulty conjuring my answer. I remember that he smirked a bit and patted me on the back as he said, “You were born in a great time kid, just go do it.”

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