Brazen Career Choices

Having followed Penelope Trunk's blog for about a month, I decided to join her Brazen Careerist, a social networking site "where ideas are your resume." So far, I haven't yet done anything with my profile except set up my blog to automatically post there, not unlike how I'm currently populating my Twitter page.

Unbeknownst to me, one of my posts, on Gen Y, was pegged as a Featured Post earlier this week, generating a spirited discussion consisting of many more comments than I am used to receiving. Many of the comments focused on the notion of "paying your dues," although I did not mean for my post to center on this. But I am glad for all who have chimed in, for they reinforce for me the importance of this idea within Gen Y, whose lives have been so accelerated and whose tech skills so blisteringly advanced that the thought of "waiting for your turn" is anathema.

It is refreshingly inspiring to see folks for Gen Y speak of such a meritocracy, a sense that not only should talent and not pecking order determine who holds the cards, but that such a notion is obvious to the point of not needing to be stated, unless it is ignorantly brought up by a Gen X'er or a Boomer. We often speak of "entitlement" when we describe Gen Y, but as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his most recent book, "Outliers," entitlement has a positive aspect to it: the sense that people take for granted that they have control over their own destiny. This is the kind of entitlement I can get behind, and hope for more of, as it relates to Gen Y.

There is an important implication for inter-generational settings such as geographic jurisdictions, companies, and even family structures. When we are resigned to a sense of zero-sum game, your gain is necessarily at the expense of my loss. Unsurprisingly, people who presume the pie's size to be stagnant will contest any newbie's attempt to garner a slice; hence, in such cases, the prevalent sense from the old guard to the new to "wait your turn, kid." Again, this sort of dues-paying is anathema to Gen Y.

In a free country, the youth movement responds in one of two ways. First, it can take its slice anyway. Beautifully, we're seeing this in Philly, an old-school political/institutional/cultural culture if there was one. It used to be that everyone knew that you had to kiss so-and-so's ring in order to get something done around here (insert your favorite so-and-so here). But, between a string of indictments and a literal stall in both the state and city budgets, youngsters are deciding they needn't wait around for someone's blessing or someone else's money to organize themselves, take action, and make progress. And so we have seen a remarkable flourishing of grassroots movements in a diversity of topics from fresh food to Asian films to, yes, naked bicycling.

Second, youngsters can look at a culture frozen in zero-sum mentality and unwilling to dole out any slices to newbies and say, "Well, we'll take our energy and ideas and sweat and tears somewhere else, then." Which is why winning the "cool" battle actually does matter, since perception can become reality as it relates to attracting and retaining a critical mass of young talent. And, again, old-school Philly is starting to gain some street cred here, too, no longer automatically losing to media faves like Austin, Portland, and Seattle, but signaling its relevance via video game conventions and "Junto" gatherings and green economy activism.

I've managed and interfaced within enough Gen Y'ers to have my share of eye-rolling moments. But I also respect and admire the spirit from which that impatience and entitlement spring. The recession and other macro-economic forces have placed a huge fork in the road for all generations, but the time is especially momentous for Gen Y'ers, who are for the first time setting down their career paths, these early decisions having consequences that will follow them for the rest of their long lives. Thanks to Brazen Careerist for giving me an opportunity to hear from some of the more ambitious and articulate among them, and in doing so giving me more optimism that among this generation can be found those, when faced with this fork in the road, will make the right choice and do so boldly and brazenly.
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