Words of Sympathy and Hope For Class of 2020 From Class of 2006.
We understand your fears and misery, but we are here with you to work toward a better tomorrow.
Photo by ATC Comm Photo from Pexels
We understand your fears and misery, but we are here with you to work toward a better tomorrow (and safety nets).
Congratulations! You graduated college, or grad school, or high school and are ready to enter the job market. You should be proud of your hard work, or hard enough work, to earn a degree.
The economy is total shit right now, and for that, those of us who are older than you, especially those of us who are in charge, apologize. Yes, a pandemic is out of our hands, but the social safety net that may not exist to help you right now, that wasn’t.
If you’re not feeling a safe net to catch you until you’re on your feet again, it’s because we didn’t build it, or we eroded one that was built in the past, or we specifically excluded you for crazy reasons.
Hi, I graduated in 2006 with a biology degree from a liberal arts college. Two years later (2008) is when our global economy was said to tank, but it actually started earlier, especially for those of us who had just graduated and were trying to enter a workforce that seemed plush with unpaid internships and temp jobs without health insurance.
At that time, even if our parents had health insurance, we couldn’t get it because the Affordable Care Act had not yet passed and many of our parents, as may have happened to your parents, also lost their jobs. Which has now happened again to a lot of us at this time. But enough about me.
This article is about you. It’s not meant as elderly advice; it’s meant as a commitment, or pledge, that we are doing our best to look out for you, we are looking at you, we are watching and listening, because we truly do hope to see you get a step up or a foot in the door and do well in life and do well as a member on our team. You have a lot to contribute and a lot to gain; and you will find a way to be a valuable part.
My only advice — whatever luck or misfortune comes your way, don’t beat yourself up, build yourself up.
Our team of adults is at the widest age difference it has ever been in human history. Like my silent generation grandparents just retired a handful of years ago because all 4 of my grandparents are alive and I’m middle-aged.
It is something to celebrate, but it also means that communicating across realities is harder. When my parents entered the workforce (they didn’t graduate from college), all of their grandparents were dead and almost all of their friends’ grandparents were dead. The largest communication gap was the one that remained between them and their parents.
A 3–4 generation age difference today between you and other people’s grandparents and great-grandparents, has stark contrasts in where you grew up, ethnic diversity, ideas of equality, parenting and management styles, religious views, etc. It’s hard.
Entering the workforce at a young age is going back in time while those much older than you feel like they are being propelled forward too quickly. We are all on the same team, though. Communication is exceptionally hard, but it’s valuable.
Your voice matters and so does everyone else’s. If it’s important to you to find a team you like, it’s harder, but it’s often possible. If it’s important to you to be valued on whatever team you end up on, it’s harder, but you will find a way to make room for yourself on the team.
Consider what it is that you value about teams and your role in them. Sticking to those values is harder than just taking the easy path of following whatever the company/organization/leadership values are, but if your values are important to you, you can find a way to exist well inside the team.
Rolling With Financial Hits and Economic Loss
Someone I was close to lost an important job when I was a kid because his temper got the best of him. During certain times in history when the economy was ripe, it seemed like that was the only kind of way you could lose a job, was bad behavior or not doing a good job. That’s not true at this time.
Entry-level and lower level workers in hierarchical organizations (vs. flat) constantly take the brunt of economic losses because they are often the first to be let go. While tech startups continue to grow, they are often the first to die or eventually be bought out if they are successful.
In an economy with a wide wealth gap, the problems of those on the lower end in a country with few safety nets are great, but only those with financial room can pay for non-essential services or even contribute to non-profits. This kind of economy can split your heart and your paycheck.
Financial security is important. So is doing what you care about. Finding a way to do both, is hard and usually takes time if it is possible, unless you have connections to get you in the door immediately. Just remember, if you lose, you’re not alone and often, it wasn’t your fault.
It’s always helpful when a job ends to think about what you liked, what you didn’t like, what you could have done better, what you need more of from your next job, etc., to learn and grow as a person and a good citizen, but more than likely, it’s not your fault if you lose a job or can’t find one.
If you do what you got to do to get a paycheck and care for yourself (and your family) financially, that’s great. The things that you find valuable and care about in life, you may not get to that immediately from your job, but if you really care, you will get there in the way you can get there.
Bad Advice, Opportunity To Be Helped
Older people like me, especially much older people than me, love giving advice to younger people they know nothing about (look at me calling myself out!). Most of the advice I got was bad advice, not because the person was dumb or ill-intentioned, but because their framework of advice no longer existed.
The world is changing at an increasingly fast pace (Thomas Frideman’s The World is Flat) and the things I learned or know may just literally not exist anymore in the next generation. But older people are certainly trying to be helpful.
Bad advice can actually be an opportunity to ask for something you really need from someone who may be in a better position to help, they just don’t know what you need.
Like, Kyla, stop trying to tell a younger person who is going to make a million more dollars than you about the harsh world we live in, and just follow them on Snapchat? TikTok? and tell all your friends about it. (The stereotype I have of people who just graduated, sorry). The person giving you advice is trying to be helpful — they are open to helping you and you don’t have to be afraid to ask for what you really need.
The Long Game
The greatest thing I ever learned from both civil rights activists and rich business people in Orange County was it’s a long game. It’s no secret that our society has been going through fundamental changes we haven’t kept up with in our institutions and businesses.
When I first graduated college and recognized the state of things despite having a college degree and what hardships my generation would face, it was heartbreaking. I wanted things to change and I wanted them to change immediately.
If you are looking for that change, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen immediately. It means, protect yourself, because you might be in it longer than you imagined. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for it immediately, it just means it might overwhelm you if you fail.
Fight for what’s important, contribute, take action, discuss, negotiate, etc; just know if you have to step aside or work fewer hours (when you can afford to) or if you have to sell out or if you have to shut down to just focus internally or on your personal life, it’s a good sign that you need it. Whatever you need to stay in the long game, do that when you can.
We Are Here
I’m really excited to finally hit the age when a new generation is coming into the workforce. It’s our first time being in a pandemic too, but it’s not our first time graduating into economic chaos. It’s really hard and our sympathies go out to you. We’re here with you.
We’re on your team. We’re listening and we’re still trying to figure out how to cross this communication divide too that you’ll now be added to. The problems of the 21st century, we can’t face them alone because they are global and therefore, enormous. We’ve been working really hard for things to even get to this point, and those older than us, have been doing it for longer.
The world can both be predictable and surprising, but either way the outcomes will sometimes overwhelm us with joy and sometimes overwhelm us with grief. Even the parts of the world that are predictable are changing more and more rapidly, faster than what human beings have been asked to accommodate in our history before.
It’s hard on people and requires a gentle approach to keep moving for so long. We’re excited for what you have to bring to the table. We’re excited for your contributions. What you are graduating into is not a hiccup.
It requires all hands on deck for fundamental change to match our reality. It may be a somber time to graduate, but just remember, regardless of your job title or unemployment, you have now graduated onto a team that is looking out for you and wants to help.
PhD student for health services research; past start-up operations; mental health advocate.