Generation Manifesto

2009 September 30

The need for a GenMeh manifesto (or mehnifesto if you prefer) has been on my mind almost from the inception of this project. I knew how I felt, knew how the people I’d shared this idea with felt and knew the vision I wanted to share with you. All that was missing were the words themselves, the burst of  passion needed to spill them out and the pedantic mood needed to arrange them into a coherent platform. I was content to bide my time, because I knew that eventually the perfect storm of motivation and meticulousness would hit. It did. That was last Wednesday while trying to fall asleep and this is the end result.

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Photo by hebedesign

I am so damn sick of the corporate, political and social cult of the middle-aged white man. And I’m so damn sad for the cult of the aspiring, future middle-aged white men (of which there are plenty of female members too, FYI). And I can’t stand reading one more well-meaning screed from one more earnest, bright-eyed 24 year-old who pontificates about hustling and getting ahead and marketing one’s self and networking and personal branding (especially ones who truly believe that they’re being innovative and iconoclastic with their hackneyed how-tos). I cannot do it. Because, you know what, folks? You can follow all of this advice, you can read every career manual, you can plunk down big bucks to see Tony Robbins, you can even sew your own damn parachute in whatever color you’d like, but it won’t make you happen.  And it’s never going to make you truly content. Never, never, never. NEVER. It’s smoke and mirrors and lies and 30+ years of devoting your energy and creativity and personal investment to a thing, a process, an institution that will never love you back, will never acknowledge your sacrifices, will never give you pride of ownership, will never reward you in any form beyond that of  your pay check. And there is no point on the ladder high enough that reaching it will negate this feeling. It won’t happen when you get your own office, your own executive assistant, a $10 000 raise, the title of VP of International Operations, a write-up in Forbes. It will never be enough. And you will never arrive. But don’t take my word for it, give it a shot. Dive head long down the rabbit hole after that carrot on a stick and then give me a call from the Island of Personal Fulfillment where you spend your yearly five-week vacation. Hell, you can even call me collect. That’s how sure I am that I’m right.

I’m not some anarchist/ Marxist/ libertarian/hippy/generic crackpot. Heck, I’m not even a card-carrying member of the “Up with entrepreneurialism! SMEs for all!” club. I’m just sick and tired. Sick and tired of everyone operating under the assumption that this is the way things are and if you disagree or don’t like it, you’re a whiny, entitled misanthrope, instead of an individual with the guts to call BS on the “Life is a hierarchy and money makes the world go round. Get used to it, cupcake.” model of life as we know it, forever and ever, amen. I want to kick down the door, but not so I can seize the power of the corner office for myself, no, I want to kick open the fire exit and make a break for the light. And by God, I want to take you ( yes, you, and you, and even you) with me.

You can follow all of this advice, you can read every career manual, you can plunk down big bucks to see Tony Robbins, you can even sew your own damn parachute in whatever color you’d like, but it won’t make you happen.  And it’s never going to make you truly content. Never, never, never. NEVER.

I want us to start working to rule. If we have to be part of the system, I want the system to steal as little of our spirit as possible. I want us to opt out. Opt out of office politics, opt out of gaming the workplace, planning career trajectories, letting ourselves become immersed in the empty language of accountability, customer-facing experience, global supply chains. I’m not taking about dismantling the machine from inside, because frankly, I don’t care about the machine (and it will always find people to keep it running; the illusion of the attainability of the traditional American Dream ain’t gonna fully shatter any time soon, folks). I’m talking about you putting yourself first. Figuring out who you are other than the job title you hold, have held or aspire to. And if you have to start excavating this identity from buried childhood memories or cobbling it together from the ground up, I’m imploring you to do it.  Build a damn tree house if you have to. Go outside and throw a tennis ball against the garage door (or, more realistically, the side of your apartment building) for an hour. Got to the park, find some ducks, feed them. Do whatever it takes to start feeling something. And once you have, once you’ve figured out what joy and happiness and contentment feel like (hint: Your 401K is not involved), I’m imploring you to hold onto these feelings with a white-knuckled tightness. Think about them before you fall asleep at night and wake up to them first thing in the morning. And I’m pleading with you to divorce your person-self from your worker-self. To only give your worker-self as much of your time and energy and focus as is required to do a competent, honest day’s work. And then let him or her go. And let the guilt of “failing to meet your potential” or to “live up to expectations” go. Let it go. These are tricks. And they only work if you let them. They only work if you believe in the hierarchy , believe in the machine and its rightness, its seemingly comforting sense of order, of regularity, of predictability.

I’m telling you to stop looking for the 9-5 panacea. Stop believing that there exists your soul mate in bullet-point job description form, that you just have to find this one true fit and then all of your angst, your apathy, that achy feeling in the pit of your stomach that you think a promotion or a career change could fix will finally go away.

There is only the space we make (or don’t make) for ourselves. The identity we create and sustain by living and thinking and connecting outside of the system. This is the most we get and it isn’t even a matter of receiving it, we have to forcibly take it for ourselves. I’m urging you to do just that. Take your energy, your passion, your individuality, your talents and devote them to yourself and the people you choose to share them with. The machine will still be there and it only will take as much (or as little) of yourself as you choose to give it.

Choose wisely, my friends.

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Related GenMeh goodness:

In Praise Of Stopping The Clock
Generation Guinea Pig
Why Low-Hanging Fruit Will Poison You