Living in Limbo Land

There’s been a lot of talk lately about my generation being the “limbo generation,” a group of college educated twenty-somethings left putting off their dreams and careers due to the bleak economic state inherited upon graduation.

One of my DePauw peers, Ladan Nekoomaram, recently wrote a Huffington Post piece about Gen Y’s existence as the limboers. The post was in reaction to a New York Times article the week before on the same topic, profiling how life looks very different than twenty-somethings expected. Those in the article were graduates of top-tier universities and had turned to a life of waiting tables, joining bands, and volunteering because of the lack of job opportunities.

In her piece, Ladan takes issue with those floating in limbo, pointing to the life and economic implications such a state can create. She writes:

While touring through Europe, playing guitar at coffee shops, not having to pay rent, and picking up unrelated jobs may sound romantic for your quarter-life crises, most of the time they end up becoming excuses. You end up right where you started after graduation and a few years behind others in your field who are getting ahead. Especially in an economy like this one, it’s time to wake up from the dream that your “real” life is waiting for you when you’re finally mature enough to start it…[I]f more people wait to get their lives started, it will take longer for people to make money, get promotions, and start families for our future generation of workers. Fostering a culture of dependence — one that doesn’t believe self-made success is the best way to achieve your goals — will reverberate throughout the future economy.

Being a limbo-er is tough. It’s confusing. And it wasn’t what we were prepared to face. I agree that those of us stuck in this awkward in-between need to look toward the future and try to figure out how to pick up the pieces of the world we were handed. But I also feel that Ladan asserts that we are settling for lowly jobs because we’re uninspired or just believe that there is nothing out there for us, that we enjoy living at home with our parents. I for one, do not (sorry Mom and Dad). I think the biggest issue we need to look at, though, is how recent college graduates are prepared to go out into the world.

After applying for over 40 jobs—and being told by my university’s career center at the beginning of my senior year that I should have no problem finding a job—I’m giving up on the traditional job search. Instead I’ve decided to figure out how to utilize the skills I worked so hard to develop and find a way to explore my interests in a profitable manner. In other words: venturing into entrepreneurship.

I don’t think that college was a waste of time. My school instilled a lifelong passion to learn (my nightstand currently houses a stack of non-fiction books) and an ability to think critically about anything and everything. But the school of thought still exists that working for someone else is still the best thing to do, at least right out of the gate. Never once did they offer an information session on what to do if you found that the corporate world didn’t like you back, if you found yourself eating potato chips on your parents’ couch at 25. But it’s not necessarily my school’s fault. I don’t think anyone knows what to tell a generation that has been told their whole lives that if they work hard, get good grades, and earn the diploma they will be rewarded with a good job offer by graduation.

Fortunately for me I grew up in a business-owning household. I’ve personally seen what it takes to run a business. I’ve been operating Quick Books since elementary school. If I have a question I have a live-in reference. And I also have parents who accept and encourage the entrepreneurial lifestyle. When I’ve mentioned starting a business to other individuals, I sometimes get a baffled look, like it’s not the right thing to do or that it’s too risky, too crazy. But in this economy, there aren’t many options. And with continuous layoffs, who’s to say a traditional job doesn’t have just as many risks?

As Ladan said, those in limbo can’t wait. We don’t know how long it will take for the economy to reach stable ground and for the job market to be fruitful. However, I also think that alluding to laziness is somewhat unfair.  We’re trying. We’re attempting to figure it out. But few people are willing to offer alternative solutions and continue to push us down the traditional resume-sending path. What can we do to solve this problem? Those who found success on the traditional path need to accept that the game has changed and that there are alternative methods to finding financial independence. Colleges should find ways to educate their soon-to-be-graduates on the way the world looks now, not how it looked for the graduates ten years ago. Encourage looking for a job but also acknowledge the possibility it may not happen that way. It’s not pessimistic; it’s realistic in helping grads reach their full potential.

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