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Josh Burstein

Josh Burstein

Posted: November 11, 2010 03:15 PM

The Generation in the Bubble

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When I was in utero, Paul Simon recorded the song "The Boy in the Bubble." It bounces, it prophesies. It tells the story of modern times: of life-saving technology and still unremitting violence. Simon was talking directly to the Millennial generation when he sang out: "These are the days of miracle and wonder/And don't cry baby don't cry."

Twenty-something years later, the Millennial generation consists of 20-somethings trying to find a place in the modern world. We are trying not to cry when every day and everywhere we're being told that we have graduated into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. But then, in another sense, perhaps we are in a crisis of our own (and our parents') making. Most Millennials are afflicted with something unrelated to the economy: a case of chronic dissatisfaction. We're a fortunate group that grew up being told that we were special and could do anything. Facing post-graduate reality checks and re-education for the working world, I suspect that all the unmediated encouragement actually did some harm.

Simon's got a euphonic lyric: "A loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires." How are Millennials supposed to get into that circle -- and fast? A lot of us imagined the corporate ladder really worked like an escalator. Stand around long enough and you'll eventually get to the top. We expected to be the ones that rushed right up, but now we know it's a narrow, crooked staircase with an enormous first step.

And how are we to deal with this wake-up call? Kudos to those graduates who are currently applying their talents in some area not too terribly remote from their major; but the rest of us are still knocking on doors, shot-gunning resumes into the ether and hoping minimally for a service job that keeps us off our parent's couch.

A Millennial's 9-to-5 rarely aligns with his or her primary interests, so we scramble to take best advantage of our 5-to-9. With a dearth of entry-level jobs, the most talented unemployed people apply to graduate school to delay the inevitable. Their unfocused talents and aptitude for multi-tasking make them ripe for a wide spectrum of industry sectors, but they become discouraged by minimal financial payoff.

This state of affairs has led to the rise of the green entrepreneur -- passionate in the environment perhaps, but more green in experience. They have bucked the system that failed them and become socially-conscious hustlers. A little entrepreneurial zeal can rebrand a person; a form of funemployment can convert into a promising enterprise. Taking this leap is the most rewarding, stressful form of self-education. It is a process of improvisation and trial and error that breeds dynamic businesses.

We're young, foolish, and hungry. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were the baby-faced entrepreneurs of a generation ago. Now is the era of Zuckerburg. What some of us have nicknamed "the new graduate school" is an industry happy hour, where folks sit down with draft beer and draft a business plan on a cocktail napkin. Our ability to connect to like-minded individuals is unprecedented in the digital age as we dwell in the niche, and if very lucky, find accidental success by pioneering a new space in the mainstream. If stability is not an option, luckily for our generation, we grew up thinking that chaos is comfortable. As rookie business-types we wear as many hats as possible, hoping we have the right blend of humility and ambition to get ahead and bring others along.

"Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts."

Yes, we're different. We wallow in a suspended adolescence, fiercely independent and at the same time living on an iPhone that's part of a family plan. On the other hand, we're just like our parents, whose 60s was an unprecedented time of plenty -- unprecedented comforts and plenty of angst. We walk around with music in our ear-buds and march to the beat of a related indie band drummer.

"These are the days of miracles and wonder." Thanks, Paul Simon, for being relevant to a new generation. We face a stationary escalator at the moment, so we'll build rockets to take us to the top. If we're ever to be a loose affiliation of would-be millionaires and billionaires, we'll have to strive first to be worthy. We're learning new ways to burst out of the bubble, Paul. Really, we are.