As the final year at Yale becomes a reality for the class of 2017, seniors start to brave the relentless search for postgraduate employment. Some of us will wear our finest suits to McKinsey and Co. networking sessions, while others will secure a competitive position at a laboratory investigating the neurological functions of rodents.
For me, contemplating my future has led me to reflect on how to succeed in the 21st century workforce as a millennial seeking an authentic and holistic lifestyle. You see, while technology and globalization have given our generation trailblazing career opportunities, we’re a miserable lot. Organizations like the United Nations and World Economic Forum make us the brunt of sad articles with titles like “The Reasons Millennials Are Not Happy at Work,” explaining our unhappiness through factors such as social media, which has ostensibly set unrealistic expectations for office achievement.
Another school of thought posits that our generation’s despair stems from our gravitation away from conventional community networks. Statistics bear out this premise: In 2010, for instance, the Pew Research Center conducted a study of citizens born between 1980 and 1999. Despite coming of age at a time when the United States has been waging two wars, just 2 percent of millennial men are military veterans. At a comparable age, 6 percent of Gen X men, 13 percent of Baby Boomer men and 24 percent of Silent Generation men were veterans. Furthermore, we are the least overtly religious generation in modern America, with a 25% rate of nonaffiliation. Lastly, just one in five millennials are currently married, and, in 2006, more than a third of 18- to 29-year old women who gave birth were without a partner.
While these trends signal a righteous departure from dogma, they still leave way for dogma’s antithesis of rampant individualism to flourish. Specifically, millennials’ tendency to untether themselves from establishments such as the military, religious institutions and marriage signals a generational tendency to detach from communities. I am not staunchly pro-military, devoutly religious or “pro-family,” but I do believe in productive social structures.
In addition to being untethered from core communities, millennials are untethered from an authentic culture.
Growing up, I have admittedly been surrounded by predominantly liberal, highly educated and cosmopolitan communities ranging from State Department circles to private school networks to my society here at Yale. During my childhood, diplomats of my parents’ generation came across as genuinely cosmopolitan, if sometimes tied to old biases. In contrast, a younger generation of diplomats — 20-year-olds scrolling through “Foreign Affairs” on iPhones — seems almost devoid of old biases, yet cosmopolitan in an entirely superficial sense.
Nowadays, the foreign service is twice as competitive as an Ivy League college, yet its applicants are merely “global citizens” who participate in a tribal, meritocratic order that ignores the richness of heterogeneous experiences. They glorify Davos sessions as hallmarks of international progress yet devote little effort to interpersonal interaction with Second and Third World communities. They are untethered to real cultures.
And so this notion of untetheredness — a partition from a grounded and authentic lifestyle — comes to the forefront, demanding a solution of connection to real community and culture. I myself have struggled to remain close to a cultural context as I navigate a worldly and (laborious) transgender identity as a writer and reborn male family member. Nevertheless, I have gleaned two lessons about tetheredness through my transition to the male gender.
The first revolves around technology. Experts claim that constant likes and shares produce short bursts of serotonin but fail to deliver long-term fulfillment, inducing psychological and social stress. While partly true, sites such as Tumblr have helped me and other transgender men to share our experiences. Technology can be beneficial to our well-being at select points in our development.
The second lesson revolves around cultural elitism. Growing up, I internalized “culture” as contemporary French literature, Renaissance art or the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town.” While I retain a penchant for quality writing, “culture” is not exclusively composed of activities considered superior by high society. Yale has a tendency to shame students for not knowing the meaning of “zeitgeist” or for not caring about the latest headline on the New York Times. Pursuing elite “culture” does a disservice to our roots are citizens of this country.
True community begins with honest self-expression from our immediate horizons.
ISAAC AMEND is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. His column runs on alternate Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .