Americans are now being challenged to do something they haven’t had do to for a few years now: live in a world with high unemployment, not automatically get richer just for having a house, college degree, or just breathing, and see the rungs of socioeconomic mobility get a little greasy as the rich get richer and poor get poorer or so it seems as technology seems to simultaneously democratize everything.
Or maybe it’s just always been this way, except for the economy part.
The bottom line is, and this is especially hard for young millenials like me to accept, you can’t define yourself by your job anymore. Your career is pretty impermanent as this transient world goes. You’ll probably change jobs at least every few years, careers every 7 years, and you know what? finding your passion doesn’t stop it from feeling like work. especially when you have to do all kinds of unpaid internships, take on tens of thousands of dollars of student loans, and go to fairly great lengths to find a good job, compared to yesterday. You are probably not as well off/far along as your parents were at your age. You probably have less responsibility but much greater difficulty taking care of yourself. You probably feel like there should be a little more to life than this, and people call you entitled for that (although at least they had economic stability and now you are essentially indenturing yourself in order to find non blue collar work, and blue collar jobs are becoming scarcer). O what a wonderful world.
Well, guess what? You are privileged. Guess how many people in this world woke up this morning without clean water, in a war torn country, or unable to express themselves due to governmental repression? Ok, I guess that didn’t make you feel much better about yourself, but really we’re all just petit bourgeois and don’t really care about making much of our freedoms except to enjoy the fruits of prosperity and watch reality tv, so we can see how messed up other people’s lives are.
Somehow there are people out there much poorer than you with much less hope than you have of having an easier life someday. And somehow, some of them are actually happy. Maybe they compare themselves to you and feel shafted, the way you feel about your sell-out banker friend or the fact that your internship or contract position didn’t pan out.
And maybe, what’s even worse is, somewhere along the way you saw the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You dared to compare yourself in your little non career path job, doing whatever it is you like to do in some spare time maybe, to those career path people. Or maybe you were on that path yourself, and you decided you didn’t like what you saw, or how you felt. What to do then, when the way is not clear and socially sanctioned?
The truth is that we all have to learn to live in an imperfect, and sometimes seemingly unjust, world. We have to learn to find our happiness in simple things, and define ourselves not by the opinions or envy of others nor by our material circumstances. We have to stop checking off the list of things we want for our lives and give up the vision and all the expectations and embrace the reality-not only of what the world is, but what we are.
You are a shining star. You have so much potential you could not begin to express in 12 lifetimes. I know you think you aren’t doing anything your life but everyday even when you’re tying your shoelace you’re just doing the best you can, and that’s enough. You don’t have all the answers, and that’s ok.
You are only just beginning to ask the questions, and you don’t know if you’ll ever have a solution. That’s ok too.
Everything is ok right now, and so are you. So just breathe in, breathe out, and be happy. If for no other reason, to be alive.