This great article describes fairly accurately the sweeping changes to American (and to many other industrialized nations’) quality of life due to the Great Recession. If you work hard and play by the rules, even if you are way above average in the talent and time you devote to your worldly ambitions, you simply aren’t guaranteed to have the “fulfilling,” middle class life, stable job, career with an upward trajectory, and great family life. We hear a lot about women wanting it all, and some women dropping out of the workforce when they realize it just doesn’t work for them, but don’t we ALL want it all? Isn’t that insistence on things being as good as possible, that belief in progress and a more and more just world, part of being American? We are an “Enlightenment” nation whose constitution was written by deists in the Age of Reason and inspired by positivism. But really, are we all that enlightened?
I think that living in an age of scarcer things doesn’t mean our happiness doesn’t have to be any scarcer or harder to find. Last time I checked, love was still as free or as dear as it’s ever been. Sure, a certain level of material well-being is important, but really, could we just be made a little more saner when we stop making such “rational” choices believing that more money and stuff to buy will make us happy? Maybe we will feel even less safe to step off the given path, but realizing that any given day the world is an unstable place and the next big economioc shock could be coming (or death), shouldn’t we just carpe diem all the more? And live maybe a bit more responsibly, not buying appliances on credit and using our houses as ATMs?
Maybe this whole Great Recession thing was just God’s way of letting us out of the golden handcuffs, and the world of political illusions. Sure, things are really tough, and especially in Washingtin we need people to be more truthful than ever before, but maybe not having a job might show you there was a lot more to life than your career. Maybe having to live in a more modest home might make you realize the people who live in it are much more important than anything else. And as you walk down the street and see more homeless people than there ever should be in America (or anywhere), maybe you will feel all the richer with a warm meal in your belly.
I don’t really know what the answer is anymore, and sometimes I feel like I’m a bit reckless, about to figure out my first real job opportunity and quite simply, not putting money or obvious advancement possibilities first. Sure, everyone has different needs in thier life and different risk profiles, and I am extremely fortunate to be able to come home and be taken care of by my family for a short while. I want to have a successful career, but one that supports a life worth living. I don’t want to sacrifice anything important in lfie, no more than i have to, when nothing really seems so certain anymore in terms of future reward. Sure, only time will tell, but really, there’s more to the Great Recession than dollars and cents. People might be putting off having getting married and having kids, and there’s a lot more economic anxiety than ever before, but the last time I checked the problem most people in my “entitled” “post-adolescent” age bracket are worried about are the more existential things. They want to lead good lives, not only great or well-paid ones. They want to come home to their families for dinner when they have one. They want to do some good in the world, for all the good this Great Recession has done them.
And we are certainly not the biggest victims. The rungs of the socioeconomic ladder have gotten slippery and living in the information age, those kids that don’t get to go to preschool really don’t have the same chances in life. Seniors are struggling, parents trying to get their kids through college in an age of credential inflation are struggling, and there’s a lot more people out there REALLY struggling just to get supper on the table, increase in government aid or not. These are real issues I hope will get addressed.
We might not be able to have it all, but we can decide what really matters. And go for it! Tihs is still America- we might not have as much of a perceived safety net like we did before but at least there’s freedom to jump, and to climb. So use this moment of little opportunity cost to follow your dream, whatever that means! Face the consequences, but answer to your own heart before the gods of the market! And most important of all, be grateful.
God Bless America!