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Desperately Seeking Grit

Many young adults today  need a double dose of “true grit”  to deal with the lack of opportunities wrought by the recession.  That fallout is painfully evidenced by their laments in an Atlantic piece, “Profiles in Unemployment: What It’s Like to be Jobless in Your 20s.”

The 20-somethings who write letters to The Atlantic are likely among the nation’s best and brightest.  Many of them are bitter and angry, feeling betrayed that they did “everything right” only to find there was no pot of gold waiting after college graduation.  One young woman, an outstanding athlete and graduate of a top tier school, writes that her morning jog is the best part of the day.

When I finish, I will face a day without structure; a day marked by unanswered emails and phone calls and desperate Internet scouring.  I have never known this desperation.  I foolishly did not think I ever would.  I believed that I was uniquely gifted, and uniquely focused.

The Atlantic received so many letters from Gen Y that it published a second round.  These letter writers reflect the same feelings of betrayal. They were told by their parents to work hard, get good grades; they did that only to hit a dead end in terms of employment.  Even those who do find jobs are deflated by the mindless, bottom-rung work.  “Miss 4.0 Honors,”   as one writer describes herself, found a job after two years of searching but is deeply disappointed:

I feel as if I am wasting my life, sitting here at this desk, doing trivial work and browsing news articles all day. When people tell me that I’m lucky for having a job I want to cry. How can this mundane existence actually be envied…my optimism about the work world has been severely damaged.  I did not work this hard in order to obtain this outcome.

Does this young woman need grit or a reality check or both?  Where did she get the notion that her first job would be intellectually challenging and fun?  Those beginner slots often entail mindless drudgery.

What can we as parents do to encourage our children who are in the same position or still  looking for work?  Our role now is not to solve the problems but to provide the support—emotional, maybe some economic—to help them tough it out, perhaps learning some true grit in the process.

That seems to be the case with a  20-something, quoted in The Atlantic piece, who writes that the difficult journey though unemployment resulted in some positive lessons:

…something unexpected happened:  I began to appreciate anew the people and fortune and honesty around and within me.

The experience of unemployment made me a better person. But if it had been an informed choice, if I could have seen in high definition the desolate canyons and wastelands before me, I’m not sure that I would do it over again…. For better or worse, with a little prognostication, the sky fell on my head, and I had to crawl my way out….I started a new job this month, and we are feeling each other out.  I am grateful for it and the chance to resume a measure of order.

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