Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I’ve asked that question of a slew of potential AmeriCorps candidates over the past month or two. I’d say 98% of them say they want to go to graduate school. Probably about 80% say they’d like to travel or live abroad. If you’d asked me five years ago where I thought I’d be in five years, I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have predicted where I am right now. As a matter of fact, I probably would have responded much the way they respond – I’d go back to school, because school was what I knew, or thought I knew. I’d travel abroad, because not doing so remains my single biggest regret from college. I’d work in a nonprofit. One out of three isn’t so bad.

Where do I see myself in the next five years? Married. Homeowner in Minneapolis. Mother or soon-to-be mother of one, maybe two, not yet three kids. These three things I believe to be certain, unless something totally unpredictable happens. What is life if not unpredictable?

I’d say I’m currently pretty disillusioned with the workplace. I’m not quite sure where the proper balance is between feeling connected to what I’m doing, liking coworkers and having a peer group, having adequate time off and earning a decent living, and being stimulated by what I do from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Ideally, I’d have all of those things. Realistically, there seems to be wild differentiation from place to place between any and all of those criteria.

Depending on which web link you click, I’m either a member of Generation X or Y. As a group, Generation Y employees in particular are commonly viewed as idealistic, with a high level of social consciousness. They’re frequently anti-establishment and are concerned about stress on the job among other things. Generally outspoken, they make up the largest pool of young people in the job market today. Promises of monetary rewards and overtime pay may not interest them as much as time off to attend a party, concert or just hang out with their friends. Members of Generation X supposedly aren’t motivated by money, either. They also have a social conscience; as one website I checked out points out “many are vegetarians and consider themselves free spirits.” They demand benefits and time off for recreation over bigger wages.

I heard on MPR this morning that members of Generation Y can expect severe social impediments as they enter the work force as a result of their profound sense of entitlement and self-importance. I’d say that probably my biggest problem out of college was, in fact, a profound sense of entitlement and self-importance. I had gotten my degree; I wanted my job. When that wasn’t a guarantee, I sunk into a depression that didn’t lift for a long time. It took me years to feel as though anything would ever make sense, and sometimes it still doesn’t – I think the difference now is that I’m not surprised or impaired by the fact that it doesn’t make sense.

I don’t see going back to school for me anytime soon. It seems like an awfully popular route to take, with many people ending up with a ton of education and little to no work experience, which ultimately makes them unemployable. Not to mention the mountain of debt. I have a high level of social consciousness, but I’m frustrated by the stereotypes nonprofits and their employees endure. I like having casual, flexible hours, but I’d trade that for doing work I enjoyed and am stimulated by.

What life has taught me over the past five years, I think, is that things happen pretty slowly and imperceptibly, and it can take you a number of years to arrive at anywhere resembling where you’d like to be. Fulfillment comes in a variety of forms. You can’t do nothing and expect things to happen, but it takes a series of pretty small somethings, tiny twists and turns, a lot of patience, a willingness to be wrong, and some initiative to change things when you need to.

Oh, and time? Speeds by.

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