Generation Screwed: On Bryan Goldberg’s Article

Finally, Somebody Said It!

It’s been almost a year since I’ve responded at length to any current events through my website. So, imagine my surprise during my daily Facebook skim, when a sudden desire to do so occurred after happening upon and reading Bryan Goldberg’s PandoDaily contribution on January 9th. In his article, “Young People Are Screwed… Here’s How to Survive”, the San Francisco entrepreneur paints an inauspicious future for today’s generation, hinged on projections derived from the events of the 2007 recession.

Light references to Suzanne Collins’ best work in the beginning does not even placate the gravity of the situation. Goldberg’s article may not imply hopelessness in education and career, but it does not contain good news, either. He does impart four critical lessons, though. But, the frank delivery and pointed jabs towards pre-Millennial generations leave a bitter taste afterward are very likely the reasons behind a handful of the criticism pointed at him.

A lot of statistics in the article cater to the landscape of the United States, so I cannot fully empathise with the country-specific issues. Like the global scope of the recession, a lot of the general principles enumerated by Goldberg resonate with me, and as a Millennial creative, I mostly agree with the gist of his message.

Lesson 1: Make Something

… guess what isn’t bullshit… making things. There are millions of unfilled jobs… and most of them are careers where you actually have to make and build stuff. If you grew up in an affluent environment, then you see your software engineer friends getting jobs easily. But it’s not just them. There are countless labor jobs — everything from HVAC to plumbing — that still pay big dollars. But rich kids don’t even know what those jobs entail.

My advice to young people is to figure out how to make something. That means either working with your hands, or learning how to type code with them.

I live by this. I mention it in my “About” page, and reiterate it after being interviewed via email last August: create. Seriously, do it.

The school I attended during my secondary years provided electives like art, woodshop, computer programming, sculpture, information technology, and the like to provide a well-rounded variety to the required English, science, social studies, and maths classes. I credit all my art and technical drawing classes as springboards to the creative industry. Other places may go as far as having automotive repair and home economics, which are subjects many of the previous generation enjoyed in their formative years. Schools need not forget the importance of these skill-building classes. They act as early exposure to the virtue of having marketable practical skills honed through time, and should take the necessary steps to restore the depth of their study.

Goldberg exemplifies programmers as patrons of acquiring skill sets to kickstart their careers, but I believe other lines of work, such as architecture, engineering, and design also follow suit. Unfortunately, many post-secondary institutions place emphasis on hoarding textbook tidbits that will surely become malleable to the changing trends of the larger world. It will lead to starting a post-graduate life with a head full of memorised theories, and four years of experience in regurgitating information. It brings the distorted view that the exercise of raw skills and creative talent connote arrogance. It will then result in the stark hope to enter the corporate world as a mid-level headcount, but damned unaware of the basics of crafting something worth selling. Anyone can learn where debit and credit goes on a ledger quickly enough, but to employ the full faculties of ten fingers takes years of work, and evolves as the industry does.

Lesson 2: Education is Not the Answer

Goldberg writes that the ‘value of a law or business degree is becoming more and more questionable each year’. While I admittedly agree — for business degrees, at least — I do not believe that foregoing a university education is a good idea. To be completely fair, I can understand how the mitigating factor of student debt can affect one’s capacity to pursue further studies. But, from a perspective of someone who was born, raised, and educated in Asia, it is different.

I speak purely on behalf of my own upbringing: anything less than a bachelor’s degree is generally not an option. Degrees may not guarantee immediate placements in the workforce, but it does open doors, and a large part of social acceptance is dependent on having one. In fact, for most societies of the region, studying is not over until a degree is received, framed, and mounted on the wall. In some cases, things don’t stop until a master’s hangs nicely next to the former.

In terms of discipline, so-called ‘practical’ courses are preferred, such as business, law, medicine, computer science, and engineering. This is often through the counsel, and sometimes, commandment of the parents. It is only recently that creative pursuits like design are starting to become accepted as viable career paths. A degree in Spanish probably still has a long way to go, though I wouldn’t immediately knock it.

Regardless of attainment, it is common practise for candidates who have a bachelor’s degree to be paid higher than associate degree holders. Job vacancies area also sorted by level of education, meaning that it is possible to be barred from a position for being inexperienced, or overqualified. Also, the cost of education is less than the average of USD 210,000 ‘in tuition and living expenses’ in the United States. When I studied in Singapore, I attended a private school, and this was certainly the case. However, costs seems to be increasing over at the island state, though not yet close to the amount handed over to American universities and colleges every academic year.

Lesson 3: Parents and Grandparents Won’t Get Us

Your parents and grandparents want what is best for you. But they do not understand your world in the slightest. You should probably ignore them.

They grew up in a world so unbelievably different from your own, that they couldn’t possibly understand what things are like for you.

Harsh, yes, but I understand where Goldberg is coming from. Has any twenty-something in, say, digital advertising, tried to explain the profession to their parents? If so, is their grasp of the industry more than just “dicking around on the internet”? If not, well… it happens.

My mother and father are a Boomer, and a Boomer with Silent tendencies, respectively. As a result, I often get queries about the sustainability of my creative career. They generally come from the belief that anything passion-driven, or outside the conventional careers of their time are impractical and do not make money. (Which is odd, considering that my personal experience begs to differ.) My parents have since warmed up to what I do, but paraphrased versions of the question persist, re-hashing school day anxieties of quickly hiding my drawings underneath algebra books.

This in no way means that I overlook the weight of their guidance. Some of the internal processes and social norms transcend generations, and I look to their experience for advice on the finer departments of work. But, when it reverts to asking about a visible future in design, the only answer I can provide is, “Yes, and passion is important.”, and they’re just going to have to be okay with it.

Lesson 4: Successful Friends Means A Successful You

Your friends bring you up or pull you down. There’s no in-between. Make sure they are pulling you up.

This should be common sense. We absorb the ethos, attitudes, and dispositions of the people we choose to invite into our lives. Afterward, we carry them to other interactions, where the process begins again. It is important to ensure the accepted energy is healthy and meaningful. Constant exposure to people who are held down by the inability to identify good opportunities, have questionable motives, or the prefer to sit like a veal, will contribute to one’s own eventual inertia.

The value of a quality network and crop of friends is all the more imperative today, especially since the distinction of work and play is nebulous for most Millennials. Co-workers are friends, and direct supervisors can be occasional drinking buddies. Learn from the good ones, and surround yourself with quality people. Work with people with a strong desire to excel in their work. Imbibe the auras of people with a zest for life. Find inspiration in people with an ambition to grow. Converse with people with a penchant for progress. Echo the sentiments of people curious about the world around them. Energies like these are a recipe for success, and will provide the inspiration to live colourfully and well.

I can only hope that the next generation makes the right decisions for their own futures.

What About You?

Do you believe Millennials are truly ‘screwed’, due to the effects of the previous generation, the recession, among other factors? What is your stance on Bryan Goldberg’s write-up?

4 Comments

  1. Maria Celina

    @Sarai: The last lesson is indeed very important, and one of my favourites, too, Sarai.

    @Tamz: Long time, no comment, Tamz. It’s great to see you on here.

    To be fair to our parents, — assuming yours are Boomers, but correct me if I am wrong — they come from a generation where the concept of doing what you love is nothing short of unheard of. This is precisely because they are the people born to, for the lack of a better phrase, re-populate the planet after the Second World War. They jumped into the workforce with the intention of restoring societal order previously lost, and that means valuing jobs that would distance them as far as possible from the poverties of the past. They are motivated by this reality, and they work, so that their children to want for nothing. As a result, it is a very difficult mindset to put aside for Millennials, and the issue might as well always exist for them. I love them, nevertheless, and cannot begin to imagine what it would be like for us when we have to deal with Generation Z. (No, I don’t mean Generation Zombie… I hope.)

    You bring up an interesting point with the re-installment of cursive writing. The D’Nealian system was part of our elementary school curriculum as a way to teach students how to write legibly before a seamless transition into cursive. As a subject of this system, seeing the decline of handwriting as an inherent skill is saddening. Personally, my own cursive is crap, but I still go out of the way to handwrite as much as I can, even if it is in a combination of print and block letters.

    In the larger scheme of things, writing by hand may only be the scale of a single fastener, but it is integral to the greater machine of remembering what our hands are built for.

    @Krysten: I agree, Krysten, that pointing blame on certain generations is a little unfair. I disagreed with Bryan Goldberg in that department, as well as his stance on the usefulness of a medical degree. The circumstances people are exposed to have a lot to do with how they turn out, and we are no exception. However, I believe Goldberg provides a sound reminder to those who have mostly depended on their hands to click and swipe, and push them to use it for what they’re created to do: to make things.

  2. Krysten

    I think that people like to find someone else to blame for their problems. Obviously there are outside factors but I’ve always believed that if you want something bad enough you’ll find a way to make it happen, you know?

  3. Tamz

    Hello there, you found a very interesting article. Pardon if my reply would be long.

    I definitely can empathize with you on post-secondary education (I lived in Asia for two decades) and the older generation asking you about the “practicality” of your major. I’ve had people ask me why I didn’t major in the medical field or nursing. Well, I don’t like blood and needles. But I understand their position. Eve technology was not able to “sideline” the medical field like it did with “manual labor” and the health industry is still big and will go nowhere. But it is something that is not for me. I shrugged the idea of working in a hospital even at a young age.

    I don’t necessarily agree with him that a certain generation is to blame. After all, while my mom thinks that I would have a “better future” in the medical field, she also encouraged me on arts, sewing, haircut which I have brushed off in secondary school because I felt they were outdated and out of fashion.

    I would like to relate something I was reading about many months ago. I was reading about the argument on teaching “handwriting classes” to students again especially cursive. Some want to bring back the focus of writing legibly, while others think that “writing” should be foregone and be replaced by typing instead.

    I think, in general, many people in our generation overlook many opportunities. Here in my area, our local community colleges offer some “starter” technical skills for free. I started attending a sewing class for the sake of being able to adjust the length of my jeans since going to a tailor would be expensive. I am glad I did. Not only did I get interested in sewing but also pattern making which I have taken last semester and will be retaking it again to understand the concepts even more. What I noticed though is that most of the people registered in the sewing and pattern making class are retired people or semi-retired people wanting socialization or a hobby. Not many young people.

    Sometimes, I wonder if the society has gone lazy that we expect computers and technology or anything but ourselves to do things for us (sounds like were heading for “The Matrix”!).

    I don’t think we’re really screwed (yet) though the future will be bleak if we won’t appreciate practical skills like writing by hands.

  4. Sarai

    I’m so glad you shared this article and expanded on it, because it’s really got me thinking. The last lesson is in my opinion the most important. You can have all the education and success in the world, but without friends to support and guide you, it’s pretty much meaningless and empty. I’m happy that you are able to work in a creative environment where you’re doing something that you love. It’s a great thing.

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