the responsibility carrot

I know it’s hip to hate on millenials these days.

And yet.

Despite what all these experts on youth culture who don’t know me might say, I hope you believe me when I say that I just want to be responsible. And my friends feel the same way. As in, not entitled – but desperate to feel secure and responsible and self-made and okay.

I’m no economist, but it appears to me that we’ve just been released with our degrees and fledgling dreams into a job climate that’s unpredictable at best — far different from the climate that our parents marched into a generation ago.

If we’re agreed on this, then it makes no sense to me that we should be expected to cling to the same definitions of success.

Lest this instill panic, let me clarify that I’m still a fan of church, marriage, family, quiet evenings and meals not made in the microwave, and I even have a thing for picket fences and . . . other people having babies (give me time.).

I simply don’t understand the insistence that we do what’s impossible for lots of us right now. It’s hard to hear my friends struggle and wonder, “Did I do the right thing? Did I miss something? Why is this not working?” and pick up extra jobs, pull longer hours, try to earn another degree, figure out how to date with no money, and conclude that they must be failures.

And then — to have their mentors, pastors, and teachers confirm this out of hand? Is this helpful? Is this even true?

I’m getting weary of hearing apparently comfy, successful people criticize millenials for having to live with their parents, work at Starbucks, default on their loans. If there are people on the planet who truly desire this kind of existence and aren’t just stuck by forces outside their control, I don’t think I know them.

This isn’t just a personal insult – it’s a condition rooted in our society’s definition of success. It boils the worth of people of all ages down to their market value. As always, Wendell Berry explains it better (in a fabulous book that should be read by everyone in America who eats):

To regard the economy as an end or as the measure of success is merely to reduce students, teachers, researchers, and all they know or learn to merchandise. It reduces knowledge to “property” and education to training for the “job market.”

This is fancy talk for “there’s more to life than being a one-track marketable little cog in the machine.” If I am happy, healthy, fed, clothed, educated, employed, befriended, loved on every side, and committed to continually learning, growing, and giving back, am I entitled to some measure of feeling successful? Do I need to interpret my lack of marketability in the year 2013 as a personal failure? Does it still follow that I am less important to the planet, to the nation, and to the neighborhood, because I am not as successful in a traditional American-dream sense as a business major who graduated from a similar institution twenty years ago?

the dog and I are skeptical.

the dog and I are skeptical.

For some of us, responsibility is a mirage — a carrot yanked along just out of reach, to get us to do ridiculous things, to make us feel bad. We each read something different into the definition, be it laundry, savings accounts, or babies, buying new things or just taking care of what we’ve got. I just can’t afford that kind of responsibility.

I’m trying, but I can’t. And that already hurts enough without these rallying cries issuing from the generation ahead about how irresponsible I am, automatically, by virtue of my age. It’s enough to make you lose it — or want to actually start being irresponsible. The way I’m imagined to be living sounds like WAY MORE FUN than my real life. Maybe I SHOULD pawn the student loan payments onto my parents and spend the rest of my twenties zip lining in the Amazon.

But. Since I’m not living it up in the Amazon, but stranded instead in the desert of post-college disappointment, crawling toward an imagined destination, croaking, If I could just . . .  fold my laundry and schedule . . . a dentist appointment . . .

I’m very thankful to the great folks around us, whether they’re beating us by ten or sixty years, who treat us like grownups even though we all know we’re faking it, who can talk to us about a million things besides why we’re not reproducing (would you like to sponsor a child?), who look past our myriad failures and our bank account to our heart-deep struggles, who encourage and assist sans condescension while we navigate the quagmire that is life in the desert.

You give me hope that life might be meant to be a puzzling and wonderful adventure – something to be savored, not just saved up for.

You can expect a postcard soon from the Amazon.

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6 thoughts on “the responsibility carrot

  1. Thank you for putting eloquently the thoughts racing madly in my head. I feel a lot like I’m in the desert of post-college life too. We’ll get through.

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