Tuesday, April 19, 2005

GenXers: Is That All There Is?

In "Is That All There Is?", Ilya Shapiro (the infamous "Purple American"), takes stock of our generation (GenX) as it "achieves" its way into the center of American society.
We were told by our parents (and Billy Joel) that if we worked hard, if we behaved, we would achieve the good life. Well, we've achieved! Achieved!! ACHIEVED!!! and now… what?

David Brooks take note: Generation X has arrived, made its presence felt, looked around, and is wondering, "Is that all there is?"

It is a conversation I keep having, or talking around, with my friends and peers -- the type of folks who 20 years ago would have been called yuppies (which label I at least am happy to wear now, if in a descriptive rather than ascriptive way). They -- we -- have everything we could ever want in this stage of life, but still we search for meaning.

Like the government lawyer who tries to have a "parallel life" as a historian. Or the reporter who's already headed up a foreign bureau and bought a condo but is looking for love in all the wrong places. Or the jet-setting consultant who makes films on the side. Or the real estate developer who used to be a filmmaker/banker/musician. Or the law school classmates who, more likely than not, will eventually be governor (or senator or attorney general) of Ohio, Montana, and South Carolina, respectively (I swear).

Of course, this overwrought tale of late-20s/early-30s overachievers' angst relates most to Purple or Blue Americans living in major cities who are at or near what we classify as the "elite" of their professions. These are the people living supposedly perfect lives (or lives on course for perfection) yet feel empty, not being able to find meaning or fulfillment in either materialism or new age spiritualism, Porsches or pilates. (Red Americans, and those with less "ambitious" lifestyles, face their own issues, which I won't presume to tackle at the same time.)

Some haven't quite found a match between vocation and avocation, or feel trapped by their jobs or paper credentials. Others feel lost without a soulmate, or in relationships held together by inertia. Some can't quite put a finger on the source of their discontent. For most it's a combination.
Yes, it is. I guess I'm proof, huh? After all, while not a lawyer, I am living a "parallel life" as a historian. Yikes! Now, Shapiro is a bit elitist, but I think what he's really saying is that GenX is forever in search of happiness. I'm not so sure that makes us particularly unique.

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