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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Breaking Down The Gen Y “Quarterlife Crisis”: A Generation’s Expectations in Context

This weekend I spent some time at happy hour listening to a Millennial friend of mine – who is 34 years old, talk about how she is unhappy in her current career path and experiencing a “mid-life” crisis.   After pardoning myself for the eye-rolling, we had a conversation around self-actualization, goal setting, etc.

And I was able to empathize on some level as I have done a lot of ethnographic work with Millennials:  exploring lifestyle context, dreams, fears and the general ecosystem of the modern teen to twenty-come-thirthy-somethings. I am particularly fond of the concept of the Quarterlife Crisis – whereby Millennials seems to be going through their panicky self-actualization phase just a little earlier than their boomer parents.

I have also spent a bit of time looking at the degree to which this generation can relate to / diverges from other generations at similar points in their life-cycles.   You can find a good amount on Generational Cycle’s Theory, which explores these relative contexts in great detail.

In any case, my wife found this article below on Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy which I felt was a great POV on the dilemma and that my readers would enjoy.  So – do that and gain some insight in the process.

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy

Posted: 09/15/2013 12:05 pm

Say hi to Lucy.

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Lucy is part of Generation Y, the generation born between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s. She’s also part of a yuppie culture that makes up a large portion of Gen Y.

I have a term for yuppies in the Gen Y age group — I call them Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies, or GYPSYs. A GYPSY is a unique brand of yuppie, one who thinks they are the main character of a very special story.

So Lucy’s enjoying her GYPSY life, and she’s very pleased to be Lucy. Only issue is this one thing:

Lucy’s kind of unhappy.

To get to the bottom of why, we need to define what makes someone happy or unhappy in the first place. It comes down to a simple formula:

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It’s pretty straightforward — when the reality of someone’s life is better than they had expected, they’re happy. When reality turns out to be worse than the expectations, they’re unhappy.

To provide some context, let’s start by bringing Lucy’s parents into the discussion:

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Lucy’s parents were born in the ’50s — they’re Baby Boomers. They were raised by Lucy’s grandparents, members of the G.I. Generation, or “the Greatest Generation,” who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II, and were most definitely not GYPSYs.

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Lucy’s Depression Era grandparents were obsessed with economic security and raised her parents to build practical, secure careers. They wanted her parents’ careers to have greener grass than their own, and Lucy’s parents were brought up to envision a prosperous and stable career for themselves. Something like this:

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They were taught that there was nothing stopping them from getting to that lush, green lawn of a career, but that they’d need to put in years of hard work to make it happen.

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After graduating from being insufferable hippies, Lucy’s parents embarked on their careers. As the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s rolled along, the world entered a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. Lucy’s parents did even better than they expected to. This left them feeling gratified and optimistic.

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With a smoother, more positive life experience than that of their own parents, Lucy’s parents raised Lucy with a sense of optimism and unbounded possibility. And they weren’t alone. Baby Boomers all around the country and world told their Gen Y kids that they could be whatever they wanted to be, instilling the special protagonist identity deep within their psyches.

This left GYPSYs feeling tremendously hopeful about their careers, to the point where their parents’ goals of a green lawn of secure prosperity didn’t really do it for them. A GYPSY-worthy lawn has flowers.

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This leads to our first fact about GYPSYs:

GYPSYs Are Wildly Ambitious

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The GYPSY needs a lot more from a career than a nice green lawn of prosperity and security. The fact is, a green lawn isn’t quite exceptional or unique enough for a GYPSY. Where the Baby Boomers wanted to live The American Dream, GYPSYs want to live Their Own Personal Dream.

Cal Newport points out that “follow your passion” is a catchphrase that has only gotten going in the last 20 years, according to Google’s Ngram viewer, a tool that shows how prominently a given phrase appears in English print over any period of time. The same Ngram viewer shows that the phrase “a secure career” has gone out of style, just as the phrase “a fulfilling career” has gotten hot.

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To be clear, GYPSYs want economic prosperity just like their parents did — they just also want to be fulfilled by their career in a way their parents didn’t think about as much.

But something else is happening too. While the career goals of Gen Y as a whole have become much more particular and ambitious, Lucy has been given a second message throughout her childhood as well:

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This would probably be a good time to bring in our second fact about GYPSYs:

GYPSYs Are Delusional

“Sure,” Lucy has been taught, “everyone will go and get themselves some fulfilling career, but I am unusually wonderful and as such, my career and life path will stand out amongst the crowd.” So on top of the generation as a whole having the bold goal of a flowery career lawn, each individual GYPSY thinks that he or she is destined for something even better —

A shiny unicorn on top of the flowery lawn.

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So why is this delusional? Because this is what all GYPSYs think, which defies the definition of special:

spe-cial | ‘speSHel |
adjective
better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.

According to this definition, most people are not special — otherwise “special” wouldn’t mean anything.

Even right now, the GYPSYs reading this are thinking, “Good point… but I actually am one of the few special ones” — and this is the problem.

A second GYPSY delusion comes into play once the GYPSY enters the job market. While Lucy’s parents’ expectation was that many years of hard work would eventually lead to a great career, Lucy considers a great career an obvious given for someone as exceptional as she, and for her it’s just a matter of time and choosing which way to go. Her pre-workforce expectations look something like this:

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Unfortunately, the funny thing about the world is that it turns out to not be that easy of a place, and the weird thing about careers is that they’re actually quite hard. Great careers take years of blood, sweat and tears to build — even the ones with no flowers or unicorns on them — and even the most successful people are rarely doing anything that great in their early or mid-20s.

But GYPSYs aren’t about to just accept that.

Paul Harvey, a University of New Hampshire professor and GYPSY expert, has researched this, finding that Gen Y has “unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback,” and “an inflated view of oneself.” He says that “a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren’t in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting.”

For those hiring members of Gen Y, Harvey suggests asking the interview question, “Do you feel you are generally superior to your coworkers/classmates/etc., and if so, why?” He says that “if the candidate answers yes to the first part but struggles with the ‘why,’ there may be an entitlement issue. This is because entitlement perceptions are often based on an unfounded sense of superiority and deservingness. They’ve been led to believe, perhaps through overzealous self-esteem building exercises in their youth, that they are somehow special but often lack any real justification for this belief.”

And since the real world has the nerve to consider merit a factor, a few years out of college Lucy finds herself here:

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Lucy’s extreme ambition, coupled with the arrogance that comes along with being a bit deluded about one’s own self-worth, has left her with huge expectations for even the early years out of college. And her reality pales in comparison to those expectations, leaving her “reality – expectations” happy score coming out at a negative.

And it gets even worse. On top of all this, GYPSYs have an extra problem that applies to their whole generation:

GYPSYs Are Taunted

Sure, some people from Lucy’s parents’ high school or college classes ended up more successful than her parents did. And while they may have heard about some of it from time to time through the grapevine, for the most part they didn’t really know what was going on in too many other peoples’ careers.

Lucy, on the other hand, finds herself constantly taunted by a modern phenomenon: Facebook Image Crafting.

Social media creates a world for Lucy where A) what everyone else is doing is very out in the open, B) most people present an inflated version of their own existence, and C) the people who chime in the most about their careers are usually those whose careers (or relationships) are going the best, while struggling people tend not to broadcast their situation. This leaves Lucy feeling, incorrectly, like everyone else is doing really well, only adding to her misery:

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So that’s why Lucy is unhappy, or at the least, feeling a bit frustrated and inadequate. In fact, she’s probably started off her career perfectly well, but to her, it feels very disappointing.

Here’s my advice for Lucy:

1) Stay wildly ambitious. The current world is bubbling with opportunity for an ambitious person to find flowery, fulfilling success. The specific direction may be unclear, but it’ll work itself out — just dive in somewhere.

2) Stop thinking that you’re special. The fact is, right now, you’re not special. You’re another completely inexperienced young person who doesn’t have all that much to offer yet. You can become special by working really hard for a long time.

3) Ignore everyone else. Other people’s grass seeming greener is no new concept, but in today’s image crafting world, other people’s grass looks like a glorious meadow. The truth is that everyone else is just as indecisive, self-doubting, and frustrated as you are, and if you just do your thing, you’ll never have any reason to envy others.

 

 

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Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, Generation Y, Millennials, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Best of The Best Street Art and the Role of Art In An Urban Context

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My favorite thing about street art is that it puts art, literally, in context.  Rather, it creates art within a context: expressing something about local and / or popular social mores in a forum that allows denizens of  that context to be disrupted with a different kind of conversation starter. It addresses issues relevant to specific populations and brings unexpected creative inspiration to the urban grind.

Music is a great forum for bringing pervading issues related to the human condition to the masses – but street art takes a different tack.  It discusses human and cultural issues in a memetic format – using imagery to evoke a depth and breadth of meaning.  And it does so by allowing everyone to participate in the conversation – rather than limiting the appreciation of an artistic message to a select few museum-goers.  It speaks by showing without telling in a fleeting space of time. You can walk by a piece of street art and bring a lifetime’s worth of personal and social meaning into a moment.  It’s an opportunity to meditate on life without going to church or finding a quiet “happy place”.I suppose my passion for street art is really rooted in it’s context.  It’s an accessible, grassroots commentary on the human condition.  And we all know that this human experience can be beyond words sometimes.

Thanks to my friend and colleague Katarina for sharing the following link of some of the best street art examples, to prove my point:

The Best Examples of Street Art from 2012

Enjoy!

 

Categories: Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

DragonCon In Context

About four years ago my wife and I met at DragonCon: a Fantasy/sci-fi/comics/all-things super-nerdy convention held annually in downtown Atlanta.

While both of us are needs at heart (and in-practice) in many ways – we were there as mostly observers that year – hanging out at one of the host hotel bars observing hundreds of conventioneers decked out in their finest superhero fantasy attire (although I was also playing Scrabble with A friend which made me more of a “participant observer”;) ).

In any case – we decides this year to take a day a d actually attend the conference – see a few exhibits and sessions. And of course – enjoy hours of people watching and getting excited to see our favorite nerdy obsessions and movies / books / childhood memories come to life and coexist in magical temporary ecosystem where he inhabitants survived on making the imaginary real.

It got me thinking about the objective so social co text of this gathering as well as the cultural ethos shared by the thousands of people who flow through it each year.

For example: after four years if attending this thing in one way it another I have been told by numerous nerd friends that it would be more appropriate if I came in costume next year. Why? Because this is not a place for observers – it is a community of participants. People from age five to eight five commit to being the hero, outlaw or other fantastical superpower or character they feel the human world is missing and revel I. Te sense if community that brings

This collection of self-identified and nerds and geeks who may have grown up (or still are) on or near the “outside” for believing in things the human experience does not count as “real” come to celebrate our dreams by creating living totems in their honor.

It is among this same group of fringe believers that MOST if the people who invent and create the thing a that change our world for the better come from. The science. The art. The innovations. The inspiration.

We are entering an age where we are finally teaching our children (and our adults) to be proud of the parts of ourselves that think different and embrace our imagination: that seeing is not believing, but believing is the first step in making something real.

So, in honor of my DragonCon soul sisters and brothers I thought I would share some of my favorite moments of the characters I encountered being “real”. Enjoy!

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Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Ethnography, Participant Observation, pop culture, Rituals, sociology, Television and Media, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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