Guest Blogger: Courtney E. Martin–Great, if not Dangerous, Expectations

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Note from Cali: My terrific guest bloggers continue to help me manage my “fit” as I care for my mom. This week you’re going to hear from Courtney E. Martin, a writer who came to my attention when she wrote an insightful article for American Prospect that included the Work+Life Fit Reality Check research. She is also the author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body (Simon & Schuster’s Free Press), and a freelance writer for the New York Times, Newsweek, the Huffington Post and the Christian Science Monitor, among other national publications, as well as an adjunct professor gender studies at Hunter College.

As someone who witnesses how the expectations of Gen-Ys for “balance” and flexibility are forcing many organizations to change, I found Martin’s commentary on how it can’t be a one-way street and how her generation needs to meet the world of work halfway fascinating. Enjoy!

Great, if not Dangerous, Expectations by Courtney E. Martin

As another class of hung over college students cross that graduation stage and grab their very expensive diplomas, I am thinking a lot about the rude awakening that awaits them on the other side. After the celebratory dinners have been eaten, the dorm rooms cleaned out, the summer adventures experienced…the prospect of job/apartment/health insurance/bills will be staring them down hardcore. They may find out that the real world is not all it’s cracked up to be. Or as I put it in my new book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, “the real world ain’t no MTV.”

My generation, called “Y” by many, “Millenials” by some, “lazy, entitled, and ungrateful” by others was raised with a perhaps too healthy dose of “you can do anything” ethos. We are the children of Free to Be You and Me, self-esteem education, and hippie parents who so wanted us and so wanted us to know that we were as special and unique as beautiful snowflakes.

As San Diego State researcher Dr. Jean Twenge asserts in her book, Generation Me (the title says it all really), there is an “unfettered optimism about young people’s future prospects.” Even when, as a 2004 survey showed, those young people’s most common aspirations are to be actors, atheletes, musicians, and screenwriters—not the most reliable professions in the bunch.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for instilling confidence and a sense of optimism in young people. My sense (I am 27 years old) that I could do anything I desired was rooted in me at a young age by loving parents and devoted teachers, and I’m eternally grateful. Without that sense of hope and possibility, I may not have gone into one of the worst of the unreliable professions (freelance writing). I think that those who have their hearts set on the arts or sports should not be dissuaded by doom-and-gloom statistics about the percentage of those who “make it.” Especially when we are young, it is time to experiment and take risks and create and scream our truths from the rooftops.

But we must be able to afford an apartment in the building of the roof that we scream from. The truth is, there are ways—even in expensive New York City—to make art and also pay rent. It requires determination, hard work, and an entrepreneurial spirit, and some resilience.
This is the key word. So many of us were raised to think we could take on the world, but we weren’t given the room to develop a sense that we could also handle its disappointments and setbacks. All kinds of terrible things happen when young adults don’t have resilient centers, not the least of which is depression, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders. The flood of books on the “quarterlife crisis” that have recently hit shelves, including a complex and humorously-titled anthology that I contributed to–Generation What?: Dispatches from the Quarterlife Crisis—attest to the fact that Gen Y is faltering in the face of a crueler world than the one our parents told us about.

We have the right to dream, no doubt, but we also have the obligation to work hard, to be scrappy, to seek out mentors and endear them to us with copy machine drudgery and authentic compliments. We have the right to think big, we must also take care of the small stuff. With sufficient doses of pragmatism and humility, our wildest imaginations and most fulfilling work will be more likely to transpire.