Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Ben Domenech , whose morning email I find invaluable, links to this article , entitled “Are Twentysomethings Expecting Too Much?”  Written by and for young high achievers in Washington, D.C., the article poses the question:

They were raised to believe they could do anything, and now they’re demanding more from work than previous generations ever did. Will they change the world or have to lower their sights?

While my students are somewhat more modest than the Ivy Leaguers and fellow travelers who are the subjects of the article, they display some of the same attitudes, at least before they “settle down” (giving full force to both words).  They want jobs that are intellectually and spiritually fulfilling, that engage their ambitions, their talents, and (to use the expression loosely) their missionary zeal.  As a teacher, I kinda sorta like this in my students.  Where they exist, such aspirations can be enlisted on behalf of high and noble enterprises.

But (you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?) . . .

The young people in the article seem to describe family as a burden when it comes to having a fulfilling career, or at least as something to be put off as long as possible.  And a fulfilling career is understood either in terms of something that gratifies ME (to borrow my friend Peter Lawler’s way of writing that pronoun) or of something that changes (or has the prospect of changing) the world. 

Instead of a steady job, they want a meaningful one that serves a larger purpose or fulfills a personal passion. And instead of settling down with a spouse and mortgage, they want more years of freedom to chase career dreams and explore different paths before they have to make tradeoffs.

Supporting a family apparently isn’t good enough:
As a friend recently mused, “Iwish I could have had my kids at 22 when I was nothing in my career. Of course, I wasn’t married or financially secure then.” Now she’s 31 and married, and she recently got a big promotion. “It’s just a really inconvenient time to have kids.”

There are obvious downsides to getting married and having children young—for many women, it short-circuits their careers entirely—and women have made huge gains in the workplace since my grandmother’s time. But the cruel joke of modern womanhood is that my career will probably peak just as it’s time to start a family.

 Might it not be the case that we expect too much from our jobs and too little from the rest of our lives?

And then there’s this precious passage:

Thorman is part of the 25 percent of twentysomethings today who say they have no religious affiliation. “What people in the past might have gotten from church, I get from the Internet and Facebook,” she says. “That is our religion.”

But blogging isn’t just about community and connectivity. It’s fundamentally about the individual. “I like blogging because I feel like a mini-celebrity,” Thorman says.

It’s hard not thinking that church and family would make it less about ME and more about us, not us in the grand sense of some abstract cause (loving someone across the world so you don’t actually have to love your neighbor, to paraphrase Jean-Jacques Rousseau), but in the sense of real people with whom one can have real relationships and toward whom one has real responsibilities.

I wonder what would happen if I challenged my students with these sorts of aspirations.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles