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Brian Till
27 Jan 2010
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The Forced Sabbatical


The class of 2009 seems to have been blessed with something American graduates have severely lacked in recent years: a bit of Zen. Those with certain futures are no longer the majority on graduation day, and those without them are no longer forced to mince words as they try to explain to parents and professors "what they plan to do next." Fewer than 20 percent of those in the undergraduate class of 2009 that applied for jobs managed to secure one, down from 51 percent in 2007, according to ABC polling data.

The financial crisis has radically changed the landscape of post-college life. Many grads have done all that they can to find a job and, having failed, have peacefully resigned that there's little more to try at the moment. It's not their fault, and there's little they can do to change the situation.

It has given them the unapologetic opportunity to take on anything available without shame or the imperative that it be part of a broader, meticulously mapped future. For many, I contend, it might be a blessing in disguise, even a liberation.

Teach for America has seen applications rise by 42 percent; the Peace Corps has seen a 16 percent bump. The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported that many university career counselors have found themselves spending hours as more general counselors, consoling those that are dead set on locking up jobs in an economy that vehemently disagrees.

The pressures for Generation Y have always been anchored by an expectation of inevitable successes. The baby boom became the hover cocoon, which gave way to a demographic of young Americans largely unable to consider the premise of failure.

For decades, it has been subtly preached that there's a single track to happiness in the U.S.: The gold brick road winds through the arches of reputable universities, into swivel chairs behind pressed wood desks, and on toward weekends and vacations that make all the tedious toil worthwhile.

But, as a fellow member of Gen Y with a few more miles on the tires, let me tell you: They just may have gotten it all wrong. A few weekends ago, the New York Times magazine ran an essay extracted from a recently published book titled "Shop Class as Soulcraft" by Matthew B. Crawford. Crawford repairs motorcycles; they are often of antiquated, rare European design that presents a challenge that no book can provide clues for.

He also has a Ph.D. in political science form the University of Chicago, where he held an office next to the Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee as a post-doctoral fellow.

The piece juxtaposes Crawford's early work in more traditional, coveted white-collar offices with the mental and physical challenges and rewards of jobs that are often considered low class, perfunctory, even menial.

Such is transcribed a mirror to the careers we've been taught to worship; careers that themselves, we should note, were shoved down our throats for the wrong reasons. Nobody suggested we pursue law degrees for the gratification of weaving new, cogent arguments based in precedent and philosophy, or for the vindication of successfully representing an innocent client.

Medicine, as well, was never espoused for immense satisfaction of mastering a complex procedure, nor the power of emotion one experiences working each day in such proximity to both death and new life.

For business, it was never the thrill of competition that parents and others emphasized — no, it has always been the financial comforts, security and prestige of these positions that put them atop the ladders.

Crawford puts the value of unique human contact with customers and fellow craftsman alongside the tethered and wired relationships many build in the jobs we've been told to seek. He describes the judgments placed on particularly talented students of science who choose to work with their hands, rather than pursue advanced degrees.

The notion of searching for a job one will love, rather than for a job that will provide the financial freedom to do what one loves outside of work, has hardly figured into the picture Gen Y painted for itself.

But now there's an opportunity to reassess for many members of the class of 2009. After months of pushing resumes and cover letters, I'd urge you to take pause as you retreat to familiar waitress jobs, lifeguard stands and landscape companies.

What is it, exactly, that speaks to your soul and kindles your ambition? If you were to spend each of your remaining days working, what would you assign yourself as a career?

And why has no one asked you that question until now?

Brian Till, one of the nation's youngest syndicated columnists, is a research fellow for the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington. He can be contacted at To find out more about the author and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



1 Comments | Post Comment
Comment: #1
Posted by: Ed Cool
Sat Jun 13, 2009 10:35 AM
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