Making Gumbo

Millennials, Me and David Brooks

I am sick and tired of hearing people through around stereotypes of today’s young adults; so called “millennials.” 

 Today’s young adults are not of poorer character, not weaker, than other generations have been. Those who say so are ignoring the fact that the social forces in today’s young adults’ lives are not the same as has been for other generations.

 In fact, I keep saying we are setting young people up. We are under preparing young people for the challenges of our nation’s neo-diversity, which includes the impact of new technologies. We are undermining young people’s ability to develop an adaptable skill set. 

 I have been saying all that for some time. Well, here is another voice saying some of the same things.  In a recent column, David Brooks wrote:

 “…one of the oddest phenomena of modern life [is] childhood is more structured than it has ever been, but then the great engine of the meritocracy spits people out into a young adulthood that is less structured than it has ever been.”

 Mr. Brooks goes on to say: “When I graduated from college, there was a finite number of career ladders in front of me… Now college graduates enter a world with 4 million footstools. There are many more places to perch…but few of the footstools pay a sustaining wage, seem connected with the others or lead to a clear ladder of rungs to climb upward.”

 Then Mr. Brooks makes his major point: “And how do we as a society prepare young people for this uncertain phase?  We pump them full of vapid but haunting praise about how talented they are and how their future is limitless.”

 And there you have it.  Limitless, you see, is a far greater truth that it used to be, and that is not all positive.  I have been pointing out, and Mr. Brooks seems to agree with me when he writes:

“Before there were social structures that could guide young adults as they gradually figured out the big questions of life. Now, those structures are gone.”

 Social structures?  I mean do people even remember “Blockbuster Videos,” “Borders Bookstores”?  And now Sears is fading away; whole malls are closing down all over America.

 That is the challenge young adults face today that no other generation has ever faced. No, Millennials are not whiny, weak, cry-babies. Today’s young adults are living in a new and newly unstructured work-life situation.  And Mr. Brooks is right about the psychology of that new work-life situation when he writes:

“Young people are confronted by the existential questions right away. They’re going to feel lost if they have no sense of what they’re pointing toward…”

 I say, it’s no wonder that all of a sudden a new word has been introduced to the American vocabulary and its, “adulting.”  And the given word is, “adulting is hard.”

 Look, to manage the new work-life situation, a more flexible and nimble skill-set will be required from here on. Psychologically, the first part of that skill set must be awareness of this new situation.  And that awareness must include understanding that much of what your well-meaning elders tell you is the answer doesn’t fit the shaky, wobbly, earth-quaking-with-change 21st century situation of the world of work.

 And to be of any help to young people, those of my generation, the elders, must accept, admit and tell that truth.

 Reference: David Brooks (2017, June 25), “How today’s youth navigate their 20s.” News & Observer (p. 17A).

 New York Times (post):



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