Welcome To The Age Of Professionalism

Leigh Alexander recently wrote a piece called “Welcome to the Age of Feeling,” in which she declared that the millennial generation was such a victim of the times that it should be called the “Why Me” Generation. Her reasoning? The hands of history have dealt us such an awful set of cards that we are adrift, lost in how to define ourselves and where to go. We have been cheated of the prosperity we were promised. The Why Me Generation’s only solution is to declare our identity through unabashed narcissism, to ease our woes by focusing only on ourselves.

Indeed, Leigh, why me? Why us? Why should we have been born in a country filled with opportunity in the most advanced and wealthy period of history? Why should we have been given all of life’s necessities (and probably then some), yet still, have the privilege to complain about the plight of working at a coffee shop or an administrative job?

Why? Leigh painted the background of our entitlement. We’re the coddled generation, the kids who were raised and praised for both our talents and our faults. We’re the kids who were told anything was possible, that we could achieve whatever we dreamed of if only we wanted it bad enough. Enormous amounts of money and energy were invested in making us feel special, in putting us through packed schedules of sports and music and SAT prep so we could check the boxes on a college application.

And look at us now, as we step off warm, sheltered campuses under mountains of debt. Education, the supposed bulletproof train to salvation, has failed to get most of us further than the interview room and the loan repayment office. The economy isn’t growing to make room for us, and the press ruins our mornings with headlines about national debt and how it will crush our future. We feel like we were lied to; we were robbed of our chance to shine.

But what actually makes this age so dark? How naïve or solipsistic do we have to be to believe this is such a terrible point in human history? Our forebears told us we could accomplish anything because they had already achieved the impossible. They broke free from a tyrannical government and started a new world founded on the idea of freedom and opportunity. They annihilated the Nazis and Communists with awesome force. They put a man on the moon and floated above the earth. They built the internet so we could learn anything, developed vaccines so we could live in health, engineered a green revolution so we would not know hunger. It’s a hell of a foundation to work with.

There are difficulties to be sure. We face rising costs of living as our cities get more crowded, an unforgiving job market, and the challenge of defining ourselves in an economy that requires us to make our own niche. The American dream of the middle management job and the white picket fence slipped through our fingers, left as the factories closed.

But from the long view, the reality is that the United States is still one of, if not the greatest, places on earth to live. And we millennials are one of the most privileged generations ever to live. Sure, there are new challenges that our parents and ancestors never knew, probably could have never dreamed of.  But it’s up to us to take advantage of the incredible society that they left us. Like no other generation before us, we have the power to decide how we want to live. Do we want to exploit this privileged position for our own narcissistic desires, as Leigh seems to suggest? Just smoke drugs everyday on the top of fancy hotels and not give a damn? Or do we want to stand together and work toward promising ideas, continue building a better world by finding the next Higgs boson, protecting civil rights, perfecting microfinance, curing cancer?

The choice lies in the professionalism with which we attack our goals. Leigh describes our generation’s negative view of being professional: “[W]e don’t have to put on some business costume, some tidy LinkedIn page, and lie.” But being professional never meant lying. It’s about taking on a demeanor which tells the world “I’m focused and ready to work.” Professionalism doesn’t destroy individualism as much as it channels it more efficiently into a collective effort where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. So while Leigh celebrates narcissism, unprofessionalism, and a world “where we can be wanted just by being ourselves,” I celebrate ambition, professionalism, and a world where I am wanted because I can contribute something of value; where we work toward building not a strong personal identity, but a strong collective identity capable of world-historical accomplishments.

Let’s turn pro, Millennials. Screw narcissism and start building something bigger than yourself with your peers. And please don’t retweet or share this on Facebook, just go meet the challenges of the day. And get to work. Please, please. TC mark


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  • http://redlipsandcitylights.wordpress.com nnekaayana

    Gonna make this my next cover letter.
    Employment, ho?

  • Alex

    Leigh Alexander for the win!

  • Sarah

    *bows down* Thank you!! You are so damn right!

  • http://twitter.com/emmatzeng Emma (@emmatzeng)

    YES, and thank you.

  • http://datebynumbers.wordpress.com datebynumbers


  • http://twitter.com/heronkady10 Kady Heron (@heronkady10)

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  • jnt838


  • J

    You write as if your last paragraph wasn’t narcissistic….

  • James

    You’re a journalist. laughingschoolgirls.png

  • scott

    Is “let’s turn pro” a nod to Steven Pressfield? If not, you should totally check out his books! ‘Turning Pro’ and ‘The War of Art’

  • Andrew

    “They put a man on the moon and floated above the earth. They built the internet so we could learn anything, developed vaccines so we could live in health, engineered a green revolution so we would not know hunger”

    Actually, a few smart people did this. The rest benefited from an economy that made room for them and smaller national debt.

  • http://shewastheyoungamerican.wordpress.com shewastheyoungamerican

    I live abroad and it has certainly put into perspective how much we as Americans are among some of the most privileged citizens of this world. We whinge about our government but forget that we actually do have the right to stand up and say something, to vote, to protest, to speak freely. I’m so over this whole 20-something attitude of “woe is me, life is hard right now.” Adapt to the current condition and make goals that will make your life fruitful beyond a job title. Ok, so you hate your job at Starbucks. Save up, buy a cheap flight on Southwest and go somewhere you’ve never been. Our nation is one of the few in world where you can experience nearly any climate or terrain…without needing a passport to get around.

    Now social politics…that’s a different story…

  • Danielle

    Just what I needed to hear. Thank you!

  • Aly

    Sorry, Morg.. Leigh Alexander knows what’s up

  • PRZY

    Thank you!! I know it’s hard out there for many many individuals of the millennial generation, but it’s not impossible to succeed in this day and age. I worked my ass off during college, with 20+ credit hours every semester, in addition to working 40+ hours a week, and getting up at 6 am to go to an internship every weekday while everyone I lived with pretty much partied every night. Believe me that was not an easy task but now I have a full time position right out of school due to my internship, which mind you I hate but it pays the bills, and I’m getting the majority of my loans paid back. I know I had a few lucky breaks, but I put in a massive amount of hard work in as well. It may not be as ‘easy’ to obtain the ‘American’ dream for today’s young adults as it was for our parents and grandparents, but it’s not impossible. We just need to work a little harder! As Morgan said let’s get it together and get to work!

  • The Lady

    This article is extremely narcissistic and shows you missed the point of the original article.

    We annihilated the communists? Are you brainwashed? There has never been full on communism in a government, and we certainly never “annihilated” anybody (except a good portion of Japan with our weapons of death). We did not single handedly kill the nazis and the war would have been won without us at that point. There is a continuing pride issue with the older generation, which believes that America is this great flawless country and we are privileged to be here.

    I will admit that I prefer America to a place like Libya, but we’re one of many first world countries and let’s face it, for such a “free” country we fall staggeringly short in terms of quality of life and education. In fact, on many lists, we’re not even in the top ten. Our health care is awful, our government is extremely corrupt, our education is not even close to the top ten, and we have more criminals than any other country (yet a strict prison system?). America gives you the illusion of freedom and choice. We’re free, but only for as long as the corporations are kept fat and happy. We’re free, sure, but we can’t actually change or control anything the government does. The majority of our tax revenue goes towards unnecessary “defense” and the development of weapons that kill.

    If you want to talk about professionalism, we can talk about that. We can talk about how we’re expected to play dress up and put this air of “I take myself seriously” on when in reality we’re all still children. I don’t believe for a second that the 24-year-old in an ill fitting suit is actually professional. We can talk about how people are under-paid and overworked and expected to be perfect angels because if we’re not, we’re replaceable. We can talk about how America completely destroyed its factory industry and now exploits third world countries, all the while there are plenty of people begging to work those factories here. We can talk about how I have to put on a dress suit when interviewing for a retail position and try to pretend like I take that job as seriously as they do, when in reality it’s all a fake act because it’s not the job I wanted.

    Personally, I don’t really care about “perspective”. The fact is that we live in a society where we have been conditioned to accept that this is “good enough” and the ignorant older generation continues to tell us how good we have it all while ignoring the real problems. Our education system is horrible, we’re not taught to think for ourselves, we’re taught to follow orders like little ants in a line. Critical thinking is dead. This is not good enough. The condition our country is in is quite frankly unacceptable and I am sorry if I am so “spoiled” that I want to fix it and point out the fallacy of “everyone is a special snowflake” and do something about it.

    Good day.

    • N

      thank you.

    • Ron

      The Lady, your conservative viewpoint is not welcome here.

      • Luck

        You cannot be serious. That is about as far from the US conservative worldview as you can get.

      • KRose

        I’m sorry. Conservative?

    • The Chosen One

      I personally appreciate The Lady’s perspective. It is not conservative in the slightest. It’s refreshing. I agree, this article didn’t seem to fully grasp the point of Leigh Alexander’s piece. It portrays success as an entity devoid of indivudality, a fundamental issue with the corporate/professional world today. A ltitle narcissm does not only appear to be a breath of fresh air from the polished business suits, but necessary to have long term success. If we don’t find a way to showcase ourselves in small ways now, our identity will, indeed, be diminished to our LinkedIn profile.

      • The Lady


        The problem with the corporate world right now and the definition of success is that in the vast majority fo jobs in America every single person is replaceable. They’ll probably have your replacement in the day after they fire you or let you go. It’s no longer about having personal talent or skill, it’s about following rules, dressing appropriately, and doing whatever your boss says 100% of the time because the one time you slip up, there’s already a long line of people better qualified than you waiting to take your place.

        Everyone is a business man. Everyone has a 9-5 job. And everyone is competing for these jobs out of college. The individual has been lost and in this generation we are struggling to keep our identities. Things just aren’t the way they used to be. Maybe if someone got lucky and worked for a really good company, then he or she would not realize what America is like right now. Because of the influx of overqualified people all applying for the same jobs because nobody is interested in the apprentice/working type jobs anymore (and school doesn’t tell you how to get those, because if you have a labor type job that makes you a “failure”), almost every single person in the job world right now is replaceable.

        That is why our generation is so desperate to stand out.

    • duncansomerside

      girl, you got it. Perfection. They were trying to put a positive spin on our country and the idea of if we work hard enough, we can all make it. Are you fucking kidding me? The only way we will “make it” is if we have a fucking revolution, stop corruption and work together.

  • lil bear

    No one is going to “make it” in the long run when our planet’s temperature is increasing faster than scientists expected and severe and catastrophic weather patterns are becoming more and more common. Doesn’t that scare your generation? Don’t you feel despondent because of that??

    • The Lady

      Actually, the world has been much hotter than it is right now and it survived just fine. We might not survive as a species if we don’t adapt, but the world? It’s not going anywhere. Did you know that there was once a time when we had no ice in the polar regions?

  • gg

    Why does everyone seem convinced that there’s no such thing as being both a super special snowflake with lots of interests/feels AND a functioning, responsible hard worker who gets shit done during the day?

  • Olive

    fantastic article

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    Reblogged this on Something and commented:
    This quite possibly could be my entire life philosophy in word form.

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