Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Shift in Generations

What did you want to be when you grew up, before you grew up? I remember when I was a kid (ten to twenty years ago) it seemed that people used to dream big about professional careers. Everyone wanted to be doctors, lawyers, scientists or high-powered executives. After about the age of 5 or 6, nobody really dreamed of being bakers, poets, or carpenters.

Now it seems to be less true. We've all heard stories about highly-paid, highly professional bankers or marketing executives who, mid-career, get disillusioned by the whole deal and suddenly quit the rat race. They leave their jobs, uproot their lives and move to the south of Spain and start all over as a florist. Or they paint. Or they write. They do something they've always wanted to do and never did because they were so consumed before by the paycheck at the end of the day. But now, instead of individuals, it seems like an entire generation is becoming disillusioned and making that shift.

It seems now, that instead of dreaming big about making their mark as elite doctors, lawyers and executives, people are dreaming big about freelancing, opening their own B&Bs or restaurants, setting up their own studios and becoming yoga instructors. Instead of wanting to be politicians and veterinarians, people dream of being firemen and dancers. Instead of managing teams in established industries, people are dreaming of ways to make smaller, yet more unique, imprints on the world.

In a way, I wonder if it's a sign of the times, the reckless consumption and drive for money of the 80s and 90s being tempered by people of the new millenium questioning themselves about what they really want in life. Do they really want the bigger home or do they want to have more vacation time with their loved ones? What makes them really happy: the size of their 401(k)s or the chance to try something they've always wanted to do? People are taking stock, and maybe some are deciding that when push comes to shove quality of life is outweighing quantity in life.

In that sense, maybe some good can come out of this economic downturn. I hear that many people, now faced with unemployment, are taking the opportunity to pursue higher education and degrees they've always wanted to have but, for whatever reason, never had the chance to pursue before. People are branching out and trying new things in an effort to pay the rent and keep busy. But they would never have put themselves out there if they hadn't lost that crappy, but stable job with the decent pay. It's of course idealistic to think a surprise happy ending will come out of all, or even most, of the layoffs, but it would be nice to know if the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit is being revitalized. I wonder what it would mean for our economy (and perhaps general health) if people relied less on mega corporations and started afresh at the grassroots.

So of course my observation is in no way based on any empirical, scientific evidence, and perhaps is even wildly skewed given my present location. We all know the dangers of extrapolating from a non-random sample! But what if it were true? What if we saw significant shifts in how people thought about their careers and desires in life? What kind of changes would we see?

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