Share or Die: Youth in Recession

Liz Kofman is a graduate student in sociology at UCLA. Please note that the views of our guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect the views of the Sloan Network.

In college—like many of my peers, at least those stowed away from the real world for four years—I was blissfully ignorant. I was going to have one of those nifty high-power careers, and a brilliant partner, and a cozy apartment in Greenwich Village. Maybe, one day in the distant future, a kid or two. Of course, throughout most of my college years I had no idea what a “cozy” Greenwhich Village apartment would cost or how my brilliant partner and I would manage to combine those high-powered careers with kids or even sleep.

The truth is, college students have a poor sense of the options and limitations they’re likely to face or how best to prepare for the work-life gauntlet. Real World 101 is conspicuously absent from college course offerings.  And in a country without guaranteed paid parental leave, sick leave, vacation time, or public child care that’s downright irresponsible of our alma maters.

Internet to the rescue! A new ebook called Share or Die: Youth in Recession, the first collection of writing from Generation Y about post-college work and life in the 21st century, offers valuable insight from the twentysomething perspective. In Share or Die, young writers offer heartfelt dispatches about their successes and failures, from moving back home with mom and dad to quitting a job, from being fired to getting engaged.

A friend and I, having interviewed dozens of people about their working lives in New York, Stockholm, Madrid, Paris, and Moscow, contributed a chapter called “Get on the Lattice or Die.” In it, we share our thoughts about how to avoid the naiveté of our co-ed selves. Our hope is that Gen Y emerges from the haze of frat parties and final exams ready to tackle real world challenges.

These are some of the first steps we’d recommend (excerpt from the full article):

Step 1:  Become educated about the realities of the workplace and the career you would like for yourself. You should do this early, preferably when you’re still in college, but it’s never too late. Research the hours and conditions required of the particular career you’re interested in and weigh that against what you want for your personal life… Talk to people you admire. Don’t just ask them about what graduate school they went to and how they got their first job, ask them about the challenges, ask them about how they balance their work and family lives practically and emotionally. You may not love what you hear, but you’ll learn.

Step 2: Decide what is really important to you. Whether it’s being geographically mobile, or working in the outdoors, or having control over your time, or being in a position of power, or being a very present part of your children’s lives, or living lavishly. Be honest with yourself. Make sure you know what it is you want so that you don’t find yourself, ten years down the line, with a life that doesn’t fit you. Again, be realistic. If having a flexible schedule is high on your list, for example, come to terms with the fact that you may not be able to have a professional career that gives you great deal of managerial power. If you want to be a very hands-on parent, don’t count on being able to balance that with a 60-hours-a-week gig.

Step 3: Talk openly with your partner about all the tricky stuff early on– what you expect from one another, who’s going to do what and earn what. It can be a pretty awkward conversation to have, but it’s necessary if you’re going to be serious about somebody. Love works in mysterious ways, but love may not be enough if you find out, too far down the line, that your spouse has wildly different expectations when it comes to division of responsibilities at home.

Step 4: Don’t be afraid to ask. Do your research, make a good case, and you may be surprised how much your employer will be willing to accommodate. You create value and employers really are loathe to lose a solid worker. Workplace culture can change. But it will take a critical mass of employees demanding more flexibility. Let’s each take one for the team, Gen Y.

Read more here:

I hope you’ll consider passing this article and Share or Die along to a young college student or recent grad in need of some reassurance or inspiration or an (e)shoulder to cry on.