GenY and the Marxist revolution
August 30, 2009, 11:40 am
Filed under: Life | Tags: , , ,

There is a cultural skirmish taking place between Generation Y and the Baby Boomers. Boomers say Gen Yers are a bunch of lazy, self-entitled brats. Gen Yers say that Boomers… well it’s funny really, Gen Yers don’t really seem to give a shit about the Boomers and are content simply to disappear onto the interwebs when the issue arises.

Either way, there’s a clash of culture and values and one of the places it seems to escalate to actual conflict most often is in the work world.

Managing Gen Yers has proven to be something of a challenge for Baby Boomers and the topic often pops up on forums like Brazen Careerist or Punk Rock HR (sorry, couldn’t find the post I wanted for this link, but trust, me, it comes up in the comments all the time) or in books such as Bruce Tulgan’s Not Everyone Gets a Trophy.

Here’s a promo for a show on PBS that deals with the topic and nicely illustrates some of the complaints that the two groups have about each other.

Ultimately, the Boomers’ position seems to come down to their perception of Gen Y as, well, like I said above, lazy and self-entitled kids with no work ethic who show no gratitude or loyalty to their employer and spend all day engaging in social networking rather than doing their jobs.

These impressions are absurd (if not offensive) for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they’re hopelessly historically blind – weren’t the Baby Boomers the ones who said “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” and called themselves the “Me Generation”? And AS IF nobody ever slacked off at work before Facebook.

But history has another parallel that makes this generation gap far more interesting than a matter of one generation having trouble identifying with “the kids these days”, and I’m just going to come out and say it – Gen Y is fomenting the Marxist revolution.

Think about it this way – Camus sums up the gap between the bourgeois and the proletariat (as perceived by Marxism) as that between one group that uses their influence to maintain a status quo in which they retain the privileged position as owners of the means of production and another that resists said status quo, not because they hope to usurp the privileged position but because they want to return to a state where day-to-day life involves something more fulfilling than turning pieces of yourself into commodities for exchange.

Like the Marxist proletariat, Gen Y expects more from their jobs than a paycheque. They want a degree of fulfillment and all the things they do that annoy Boomers at work – bouncing between jobs to avoid getting bored, having high expectations when it comes to the type of work they’ll be doing, and just tuning out when their expectations aren’t met – are, for better or for worse, strategies for achieving that fulfillment.

Sure, Gen Ys don’t have it all together yet – crying because your boss asks you to do something tedious is silly and short-sighted – but I like to think that if this trend of demanding more from your career continues, we may be witnessing the revolution that Marx was talking about, except without all the messy violence.

Also, I’m not sure what Marx would have thought about iPhones. But whatever. Either way, it’s a bit of a revolution and it will be interesting to see if it catches on or simply falls flat when Generation Z – whatever that is – hits the workforce.


Penelope Trunk says we need less travel – I say we need fewer after-school specials
August 25, 2009, 10:27 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

I’m a big fan of Penelope Trunk’s blog – it’s insightful, sometimes racy (which is always fun) and it talks to 20-somethings like they’re thoughtful, intelligent people rather than a generation of spoiled, irresponsible, self-entitled laze-abouts.

Last week, Penelope posted this article about why travel is a waste of time. And I had a really odd reaction to it.

I don’t disagree with it – in fact, I think there’s merit in everything she says, though I personally really enjoy travel and find that you can get a lot out of it.

No, my odd reaction came specifically from item #4 in Trunk’s list, which essentially boils down to the idea that it is far more productive and rewarding to build an every-day life that is so fulfilling, you don’t need to get away from it to find satisfaction, which makes travel kind of pointless.

In a lot of ways, this makes perfect sense. Why only enjoy your life for two weeks out of the year when you could enjoy it year-round with a bit of self-knowledge and a very small dose of enterprise? But here’s where things got interesting for me – my gut reaction to that idea was crippling anxiety.

Then I thought to myself, what the hell? Why on Earth would the thought of self-knowledge and self-fulfilment cause anxiety, of all things? Why would the thought of figuring out what makes me happy, and then doing it, make me want to run screaming from my computer?

And I don’t think it’s just me that has trouble with that idea. I sometimes wonder – moreso after today – whether the 20-something identity crisis is more a product of anxiety than a lack of options. It’s not that we don’t know ourselves – it’s that we’re afraid to admit to ourselves what it is that we really want out of life and that anxiety makes it very difficult to move forward. But none of us has any idea where that anxiety comes from, let alone how to deal with it.

Fortunately, I have a theory – and it’s just one, and very unscientific, so do with it as you will. But here it is nonetheless.

All our lives we’ve been told “if you can dream it, you can do it! :D”

This is a nice thought. But it inspires people to take a very goal-oriented approach to happiness. In other words, it’s a way of thinking in which your only interaction with your potential happiness is to imagine some kind of end result.

Now, having the goal in mind is crucial, even essential, to success. But being so focussed on the goal that you lose sight of the process makes the gap between where you are and where you’re trying to get absolutely enormous. Not just enormous – insurmountable. And since nobody has been saying anything about the process – just about “Dreams!” and “Shooting for the Stars!” and all that nonsense, everybody is completely focussed on the finish line with no idea how to even get to the starting gate.

So this is where the anxiety comes from – we’ve all grown up dreaming about all the things we’re going to do when we grow up and now we’re suddenly in our 20s and in a position where we have to actually do something to make them happen. But nobody really knows what that something is. And that makes the gap between where we are and where we want to be so intimidating that many of us simply don’t bother. Instead, we get an unfulfilling 9-to-5 job and try to fill the gap with toys (sometimes literally, since much of the market for escapism right now is based on nostalgia for when we were kids in the ’80s, e.g., the new Transformers and GI Joe movies). Or alcohol. And we work and hate our lives and take two weeks vacation every year to try to get some fulfilment when what we need most is an honest examination of what we want and a practical look at what it takes to get there. And a serious reduction in this “If you can dream it, you can do it! :D” BS.

But I’m still going to travel. The world is neat.

Advice on life and career from Wolverine
August 10, 2009, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Really good advice is rare, especially when it comes to figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I’ve received really good advice on either of these topics.

One of those times, the advice came from the father of a friend of mine, who told me that no matter what you do for a living, there will always be moments of boredom and tedium.

Even the most exciting job in the world has days where you’d rather be doing something else. This is a phenomenally and necessarily sobering idea that has kept me from getting discouraged when I hit those “dip” moments, when the excitement of some pursuit starts to (temporarily) give way to those phases when it just feels like work.

Another time was a bit of insight on rejection from Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’ve mentioned before.

Most recently, I found some great advice in, of all places, an issue of Amazing Spider-Man: Extra!, released this past winter. The advice comes in the form of a story that the character Wolverine tells Spider-Man after the two of them get into a bar fight together.

The story is about dating and the advice is about fighting (I’ll let you make your own pithy observations about that little juxtaposition), but it could just as easily apply to starting a writing career or, indeed, just getting your life together.

The bar fight was a fairly pointless one: Spider-Man and Wolverine weren’t really foiling super-villainy, they were just – as Wolverine puts it – “blowing off steam.” Spider-man, being an eternal worrywart, asks Wolverine why he would take the risk of getting in a fight when there was so little to gain.

Wolverine responds with this story, which an old army officer once told to him:


“It’s about a good guy, like you (Spider-Man). He grew up poor, though around people like him. People who dressed a little shabby but good people nonetheless.

But he decided he was meant for somethin’ better. He wasn’t gonna settle for any plain woman like his pops had. He was gonna marry a beauty… nothin’ short of a knockout.

So he stayed away from the neighborhood girls, even though some of ‘em woulda been happy to show ‘im a thing or two. But he waited.

Months of waitin’ turned into years and people started to talk. But he didn’t care. He was waitin’ for his perfect girl. A stunner.

And one day, what do you know, he found her. Everything he’d hoped for. Smooth skin, big eyes…a knockout.

He chased her like his life depended on it, and she must’ve seen something in his enthusiasm, because eventually she relented.

This was it. His big moment. And you know what? He had no idea what to do. He kissed her with a dry mouth, fumbled with things he shouldn’t have, and before he knew it, the whole thing was over.

The beauty, unsatisfied, left him stunned and alone, wishin’ he’d let a few of those plain janes teach him a thing or two.”


What a great little analogy. The point – as I see it – is that nobody ever got anywhere by sitting around waiting for conditions to be perfect. Because even if – by some unlikely cosmic convergence – the perfect conditions DO present themselves, if all you’ve done is sit around waiting, you’ll be completely unprepared to capitalize on them when they do.

Progress comes from movement. Whether you’re trying out a new career or trying to get your work in the public eye or even trying to make sense of your dating life, taking risks by starting down a road you can’t necessarily see the end of is a good in itself – because chances are, the experience you gain will far outweigh anything you might have lost by taking it and finding out it was the wrong one.

The only wrong direction is no direction – as long as you’re moving, you’re on the right track.

Thanks for the good advice, Wolverine.


Wells, Zeb. “Birthday Boy”. Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! No. 2, March 2009. Published by Marvel Publishing Inc.