Last night, I was reading a post from one of my hitchhiker friends on my Facebook feed. In that post, he explained that he had traveled 200 miles that day and was flat broke. He used a gift card to buy dinner and coffee, and then cashed out the rest for beer money.
When I see posts from him that sound like that, I get jealous.
Wading in the Shallow End
I’m not ignorant of the fact that being poor and broke is a struggle. Anyone in that situation has very real concerns about how they will eat and where they will sleep. They frequently find themselves in compromising and dangerous situations. To say that I am jealous will – no doubt – trigger some people to accuse me of being privileged, insensitive, or naïve.
Yeah. Maybe I am.
But I also know that having money makes you cautious. Whereas a man with nothing has got nothing to lose. Here I am now, 7 months after my retirement, still living off of the money I made by selling my house. I’ve been dragging my heels in making the tough decisions I need to make to move on to the next chapter of my life. Because I still have something to lose, I’m terrified of taking a wrong step.
Some of my friends think I’ve jumped off the deep end. Quitting my job to travel the world? They think my decisions are radical, irresponsible, and reckless. Compared to the play-it-safe lives they’re living, I suppose they are. But for all of the adventure I’ve had in the past few years, I know that I am still just an amateur voyeur. There is a higher level of adventure out there that I haven’t experienced, yet. I haven’t yet graduated to that stage. I’m still wading in the shallow end of the kiddie pool.
For all of the hardships they endure, my hitcher friends live life liberated in a way few of us will ever know. I envy them. Where other people see laziness, I see contentment. Where other people see poverty, I see courage. They inspire me.
Hatred for the Millennial Generation
Then, this morning, one of the comedy channels I subscribe to – IFHT – posted a satirical video making fun of millennials. (Note: That video seems to have been taken down already. I can’t find it on the channel or in my YouTube watch history.) A little later, a news article discussing millennial work ethic popped up in my Google news feed.
My eyes roll to the back of my head whenever I hear someone referring to Baby Boomers, Generation X, or Millennials. I’ve always felt that these labels are the worst kind of over-generalization and stereotyping. One grows bored listening to older generations complain about how privileged younger generations are. And one grows bored listening to the younger generations pretend that there aren’t societal factors that have shaped us in a manner different than our ancestors.
But I’m also aware that – for the first time since the hippie movement in the 60s and 70s – younger Americans (Millennials) are increasingly rebelling against existing corporate and consumer culture. While there is widespread dissatisfaction among Millennials, very few are actually resisting and rebelling against the existing system. We dissidents are very much in the minority, and our cause is one whose time has not yet come.
(In the interest of honesty, I should point out that I, born in 1981, am technically a member of GenX, and not a Millennial.)
I believe very strongly that there is more to life than servitude to corporate interests and the mad dash to accumulate wealth. I tend to disregard arguments that younger Americans are lazy and entitled as the grumblings of people who either (a) are jealous that we swallowed the red pill or (b) are desperate to keep us trapped in a consumerist system for their own benefit and interests.
But I decided to do a little research into the actual sociological studies of Millennials as it pertains to work ethic, attitude, and consumerism. I found this video which – in my opinion – seems to analyze Millennial attitudes from a relatively neutral and unbiased perspective. And most of what is said in this video seems to be spot-on. So I’m going to embed the video below for you to watch, and I’ll discuss my thoughts on the other side.
Simon Sinek Makes Some Good Points
My generation is impatient and entitled. But it’s not just because we can place an order on Amazon today and have a package tomorrow. Nor is it because we have high speed internet and on-demand videos. We’re impatient because there is societal pressure and expectation on us to be overnight successes.
Or to put it more accurately – there is tremendous pressure on us not to fuck up. Ever.
Everyone makes mistakes, but with an ever-growing population fighting over limited resources and jobs, our mistakes tend to be costly. Our parents scrutinize our performance in school and our teachers turn academic performance into a competition. How we perform in kindergarten may have repercussions that follow up all the way up until we apply for admission into Harvard. The decisions we make in high school and college have ramifications on the rest of our lives – so you better get it right, or there is no turning back!
We don’t see the mountain before the summit. We are conditioned to believe that there is a path that gets us to the summit in an instant, so long as we make all the right decisions. Anyone and everyone can pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they just work hard enough. This is simply not true. Even the hardest work and the smartest decisions can be waylaid by forces beyond our control.
I’ve spent the past few years trying to figure out how to make a living as a haunter. Even though I’ve had somewhat realistic expectations of what my salary potential is (or isn’t), I’ve also believed that I could just land the right gig and be where I need to be. Worse than that, I’m convinced that I need to land the right gig. If I don’t – how will I be able to afford to pay rent or buy groceries?
It occurs to me now, more than ever, that I need to be prepared for a long, hard journey between where I am and where I want to be. I’m going to fuck up a lot along the way and have some miserable days ahead of me. That’s okay. I don’t have to be an overnight success. But I do need to constantly work to improve my life and inch myself closer to where I want to be.
What Is the Solution?
I believe it would be a mistake to think that the solution to the Millennial problem is to fall in line, conform, and do things the way the Baby Boomers did them. I do not think that’s what Simon Sinek is advocating. BUT, I do look at what his advice – brilliant as it may be – with some skepticism because he is a part of the corporate, consumer world. He may be a different type of corporate player, and his intentions may be good. But his end goals appear to be for corporate benefit.
Reconsidering the Pacific Northwest
I still live the Pacific Northwest. And I still hate Wisconsin. But what the past 24 hours has brought to my attention is that moving to Portland may not solve any of my problems.
Since I returned to Green Bay, I have lamented this “caged animal” feeling of being back in an apartment. Whether I’m living in an apartment, a cabin, a trailer, or any other sort of fixed home doesn’t matter. I’m still going to feel like a caged animal.
A month before I left on the North American Road Trip, I wondered if I was allowing myself to be seduced by the romanticism of the road. You know what? I was! And that’s okay. Because in exploring this romantic idea, I discovered true happiness, for a time. I discovered a new passion.
I don’t yet know how to square my passion for nomadism with my passion for crafting corpses and props. Conventional wisdom suggests that crafting corpses and props requires a fixed base – a workshop.
A friend suggested to me that I explore other ways to be involved in the haunt community that will allow me to continue to be a nomad. Specifically, he suggested being a professional haunt reviewer. I’ve also considered using my prior professional background to be a financial consultant for haunts. But the thing is – neither of those activities really speaks to me.
It would be a mistake to abandon the crafting passions I’ve discovered, and it would be a mistake to move to a new fixed location. I may be in for a very bumpy road. I may just get my wish and find out what it’s like to be homeless and penniless like my hitchhiking friends. Even though I can’t see it now, I have faith that there is a solution for me out there somewhere. A solution that won’t force me to compromise my values and passions for money.
So I’m going to put everything back on the table. I need to figure out exactly what it is that I’m going to fight for and come up with a more coherent statement of beliefs, goals, and motivations. Only then should I try to tackle the question of how I’m going to make it work.
Most importantly… I suspect my true values are more aligned with that of my friends than I realize. If I can come up with a coherent focus, I may be able to rally them around common goals. It would be great if I could move on with my life without having to leave my friends (who are, incidentally, exceptionally talented haunters) behind.
I’ve got my work cut out for me.