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Millennials in the Balance

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It's March, and that means the job search for college students is in full swing.

Recently, I went to an information session put on by a consulting firm. I wore a light gray suit, shaved and combed my hair. I was ready to shake hands, listen to a speech about business analytics and go home one step closer to a stable job in an unstable economy.

I am not a business major, nor do I want to work in corporate America. I am a history major who has spent his college career studying social movements and politics. But such is the state of being young in America today: We are a generation of ambitious youth looking for any elusive
opportunity we can find.

According to Michael Hais and Morley Winograd's recent book Millennial Momentum: How A New Generation is Remaking America, we are supposed to be a dynamic population. The largest generation in American history, we are outward looking and collaborative by nature. We are passionate geniuses blessed with a cutting pragmatism paradoxically mixed with a pinch of necessary idealism. According to Hais and Winograd, we are the infusion of generational talent our fossilized political system and wheezing economy needs.

And yet, coming of age in the Great Recession, the twilight cohort of the millennial generation is caught in a matrix of impossible expectations in a world suddenly unwilling to open its doors. We want to find our niche, but, due to a crumbling economy, the opportunities we were promised have proven transient.

As history would have it, we are closer to the generation that followed the Great Depression than the aforementioned Generation Hero. Today, young adults are facing an unemployment rate of 12.7 percent globally, four points higher than the U.S. national average. Most tellingly, in a 2011 Gallup Poll, only 44 percent of Americans believed today's youth will have a better life than their parents.

Instead of confidently striding into history, we are sandwiched between two generational poles. We occupy a grey area between the floating apathy of Generation X and the extreme industrious direction of the Greatest Generation. And since we can't float or drive forward, we are fragmenting.

Indeed, we are fast becoming a schizophrenic generation. We flock to the lavish world of Wall Street firms like no generation before, but we readily embrace the anti-establishment themes of Occupy Wall Street and popular music. We pursue social justice jobs with Teach for America, only to turn around and go to business school. We look to Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg for leadership. We deify Paul Krugman's intellect and respect Ron Paul's commitment.

We are a sea of individuals trying on as many hats as possible, looking for a fit.

I remember growing up and inheriting a romantic vision of youth from the Baby Boomers. We, like them, were supposed to be a middle-class generation able to explore and be young only to focus when we were finally ready.

While we haven't abandoned our world views, we never expected that we would inherit a world of famine, rising global temperatures, metastasizing terrorism and jobless recoveries. We aren't going to be a generation of reckless lovers or a generation of willing suits. Nor are we yet the quixotic, yes-we-can generation that we were anointed as in 2008. What we are is an eager generation in dire need of direction.

And yet, if the Occupy movement has proven anything, it's that the twilight of the millennial generation will not sit still. We may not stand for anything yet or have established our legacy, but we haven't stopped looking. We are energetic, educated like no generation before us, and now
we are also organized.

The youth of the Great Depression may have been called the Silent Generation, but we will certainly not fade mutely into history.