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Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. Headshot

Generation Vexed: Have Young Adults Given Up on Their Dreams?

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A recent Los Angeles Times article coined the term Generation Vexed, referring to the young adults who are putting their career and life plans on hold due to this stalled economy. The article talked about pessimistic polls with fewer than half believing this generation will have a better life than the last one did. July's 17.4-percent unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds (traditionally the strongest employment month for that age group) has one 20-year-old saying, "You can't reach for the stars at this point." That really hit me because I grew up reaching for the stars or, at least, wishing upon them.

As a kid, I vividly remember a top-hatted, tuxedoed little cricket named Jiminy from the Disney movie "Pinocchio" singing, "When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you" -- a syrupy song, yes, but it won the Academy Award for best original song on Feb. 29, 1940.

February 1940 was a "when you wish upon a star" world. Back then, happy-go-lucky movie-watchers could flock to cartoon films and sing dopey little songs with unrealistic lyrics like "anything your heart desires will come to you." Not anymore. That was 70 years ago, before cell phones, computers and the Internet. To this current 16-to-24-year-old generation, 1940 probably seems like the Stone Age -- as distantly removed and as currently relevant.

Forget about computers: back in 1940 there wasn't even wide-scale use of television; people sat around and listened to the radio. The country was still feeling the effects of the decade-long economic fallout known as the Great Depression. In 1940, I imagine that 16- to 24 year-olds had to make a few adjustments to their career and life plans, as well. Then, in December 1941, all hell broke loose, raining down from the skies over Pearl Harbor. I also imagine that the 16-to 24-year-olds back in 1941 had to make a few adjustments to career and life plans because of World War II.

I shudder to think what this country would be like if the people back then had stopped dreaming, had decided that there was no point any longer in reaching for the stars. In 1940 and 1941, did they need to make adjustments, try harder, try again, and again, and maybe even again, to reach those dreams? Absolutely, but they didn't stop.

Those 16- to 24-year-olds who grew up during the Great Depression and saved our civilization during World War II kept going, kept reaching, kept humming that silly little song on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. They had the courage to nurture their hearts' desires, and they clung to the belief that it was possible to realize them. Call it quaint, or old-fashioned, or unrealistic, but I think I'll stick with the example of those who are now known as the Greatest Generation.

To the current group of vexed 16- to 24-year-olds, who envision all they've ever dreamed of going up in smoke due to four years of a crummy economy, I say yes, it may take more time and effort to achieve your dreams than you thought, but don't give up on your heart's desires.

If you want to experience what life was like for that Greatest Generation, you should talk to one of them in real life. Don't put it off, though; the dreamers and wishers are dying out. We owe it to them to keep the faith and believe that the stars are still up there, even on a cloudy day.