I’ve done two things thus far in my adult career. How they ended:
First job: Fired after 9 months (via email), June 2010.
Graduate school: Withdrew with 8 months left, December 2011.
On paper, there is a lot of negative to be derived from that stat line. Things that come to mind: lack of commitment, not driven, hard to work with, replaceable, hasn’t fully adjusted to the real world, immature.
This is not how you start a career.
Then again, not everyone is fit for a career, especially when you want it all.
The generation that I call myself a part of, for lack of a better phrase, can be described as “those that grew up with the Internet, but not with iPhones”. We are a generation that is filled with individuals that want it all. We want it all, because through our mastery of the fad-turned-reality called “the Internet”, we understand how much there is to be had. And if you’ve seen what the promised land can look like, it’s hard to erase that image from your head.
We want it all, but we are either 1) confused about how to get there or 2) knowledgeable about how to get there, but fearful of the failure that could (and probably will) meet us along the way. Because of this, many of us settle, in the hopes “having it all” in 20-30 years.
Perhaps this is due to my intimate relationship with failure, but that just cant happen anymore. The more it happens, the more they win. “They”, you ask? You know, the individuals that see our generation as lazy, as self-righteous, and as lacking all of the characteristics necessary to have a career.
Talk of “They” vs “My Generation” is an interesting one, because most of the things written about my generation and what we believe in and how we perceive the world are written by “They” who turn out to be scholars and pundits in their 40s and above. Yes, I am sure they did their proper research and conducted interviews with 20somethings about a variety of issues to come to their conclusion, but still they are of another generation. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just stating that I’m over it and ready for us to start talking about us. It’s time.
Case in point, this past Thanksgiving, my uncle raised the question “who are the Black Intellectual leaders in today’s society”. The first two names to come up have been the same two names raised for the past 15 years: Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This is problematic and the blame is split down the middle. One one side, no one younger has taken that “title” away from them, so their Lakers/Celtics-esque dynasty on intellect and influence has remained. On the other side, however, I get the sense that neither man wants to relinquish their standing as “Co-smartest Black man in America”. Personally, I’m over it. I’ve read Future of the Race probably 4 times and it’s fantastic. But it’s almost 2012 and I’m about ready to hear from the living, breathing future of the race, instead of recycling ideas from the past.
My point here is not to beef with my elders. The way those two men, along with many others of their generational cohort, made it as far as they did was by being “exceptional.” A generation ago, if you were a “first”, you were doing it big. But once you became a first, almost as a survival tactic, there was something to gain by staying an “only”. While “firsts” eventually turned into “seconds”, which turned into “fourths” and so-on, it was still a slow process, due in some part to a reluctance to actively pass the baton. That still prevalent mentality, however, has to end immediately. Not only do we have to pass the baton, but we have to somehow obtain a 3D printer and make hundreds of copies of that baton, as to bring more people in our generation along.
If you acquire that baton early, bravo. There will be a cake waiting for you. Feel free to eat it alone, but the idea of sharing it with eight others seems much more appealing.
Even though I started to drift into a conversation of race, I will continue to bring it back to our generation. Our generation is the first with the wherewithal to discuss mattes or race and class openly, to the extent that we can start referring to our generation as an entity. And because we are the first widespread generation capable of talking about things of this nature, it’s about time we did the talking.
I’ve done my fair share of talking this past year and I would be an overly-modest jerkface if I said it wasn’t a big deal. I know this blog has connected with people and I know it has made a few people take that leap of faith towards responsibly broadcasting their beliefs for all eyes to see. I’m very happy about that. Having said that, I do feel as if I’ve gotten more love than I perhaps have deserved. While it has felt great, at times it has reminded me of the shockingly sincere “thank yous” I would get in college for simply being an active member of the community and showing up. Yes, there was some selfish good that came from being thought of as one of the invested Black males at your college, but that’s also a critique of the greater, more problematic state of affairs.
I use this example to say that we need more people out there, communicating the way we live, struggle, and succeed in this world. Don’t get me wrong, they are out there, but we should be everywhere. We are everywhere, but what we’re producing isn’t always for the benefit of anyone. The tool at our disposal that we know better than anyone should be our greatest ally, but more often than not we just use it 24/7 because it’s there. As long as this continues to ring true, the prophet S. Carter’s “We don’t believe you, you need more people” line will continue to describe the current state of affairs. The masses haven’t been heard in a positive light yet, and things have to be done to change that. Baton holders need to meet other baton holders and a youthful, critical mass of smart individuals with beliefs to communicate need to be given the proper platforms to write, speak, design, create, and influence.
We can’t wait any longer. In politics and other bureaucratic entities, the idea of just waiting on old people to die is a popular belief. In some cases, it’s an unfortunate reality. It doesn’t need to ring true across the board, however. Those that are holding up progress, don’t wish death on them, just be better, savvier, and again, better than them. Will you be able to do this alone? Probably not. But imagine if you have surrounded yourself with people that you are constantly helping and are constantly helping you. When you have that, it’s almost too easy.
I think about this when I think if home. Not knowing at what point I will return to Atlanta, I am fully sure I will because I’m excited to have that aforementioned scenario become my reality. If I want to run for Mayor when I’m 38, I’m not going to come back when I’m 28 and spend 10 years trying to get the blessing of every Civil Rights Leader, former Mayor, and wealthy businessman with a 404 area code. That’s the behavior required of someone who has been going at it alone for sometime now. Our generation has to break that cycle of “me first, y’all later… much much later”. It’s got to be about us with everyone doing it big and being a part of something important.
If i had to say one thing I was most proud of in 2011, it would be not getting the job with Obama. It would have been a monumental step for my “career”, but a huge step back as an active member of my generation. During the writing portion of the interview process, I learned that I was completely incapable of writing like robot. I tried and tried and failed and failed. Even with that true, I started to get the feeling like i might get the position anyway, which worried me. The idea that the words under my name might not represent me in the slightest was horrifying. In the end, what most likely stood in the way of me getting the job? My words, this blog, and whatever honest, yet appropriate Internet presence that I have that could potentially embarrass the current President of the United States of America.
That’s a big win for our generation.
I’ve always said, in 10-15 years when people from this generation start really being the main people in the public eye, be it politicians, business leaders, and other types of influencers, the people we as a culture should be most wary of are the ones who’s lives were hidden from age 18-30. We need to stay putting ourselves on blast. While always remaining respectful in our tone, this is the time to just air it all out. Be proud of the way you think. And be excited that for the rest of your life, someone will be able to remind you about how you viewed the world I’m your 20s and early 30s. That’s fantastic.
In closing, to use perhaps my favorite phrase of 2011, for those of you who aren’t “about that life”, be it in a very active way or in a function of providing support, just get out of the way. There is work to be done. Once out of the way, will you reap the benefits provided for you by those of us that are “about that life”? Absolutely. Congrats on that, just don’t expect to be invited to the holiday party.
Thanks for listening.
December 9, 2011