The Generation of the Confused Working Class

yay for cheesy stock photos!
I read articles that say my generation doesn’t want to work. That we expect a lot in return for giving very little to a job. We like to run from job to job. That we have no idea what we want to do with our lives so we act indifferently towards our work. We spend too much time socializing at work. We spend too much time on the Internet.  We bitch and moan and complain about how much we hate our job and don’t understand why we dread going to work every morning.

I’m no stranger to these statements. Uninspired, unmotivated, disillusioned, and distracted are all words I’ve experienced at various employments. So much in fact that I’ve had to step back and ask myself, “Is it me or is it the jobs I go after?” (the jobs being in various creative fields, but mostly the film industry).

Tired of being constantly stressed and hearing myself complain, I began analyzing my various employments. I began my career life as a personal assistant. I did that for four years working for two different employers. Needless to say, personal assisting is typically not a lifelong job. Agreeing to be someone’s , for the lack of a better word, slave, with the occasional perk is not what most people view as a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. I then moved to Austin where I continued working in film/tv/commercial production. I’d like to add that all my jobs in the entertainment business have been full-time salaried jobs through the respective employers’ companies. I was never freelance.

At various times in between employment I worked odds and ends jobs (mostly retail) because I don’t like not having money coming in. You will never catch me free-loading. What I discovered is the happiest I’ve been with work has been at the odds and ends jobs (particularly working at the Apple store for four months).

The odds and ends jobs came at a time when I would get disappointed with my “career job” and leave. I then would feel inspired that now, now I can work on my writing or whatever personal creative goals I’ve wanted to work on but had been too stressed and exhausted to do. What then happens is that after a few months of doing working a “whatever job”, and realizing that I’m getting older, not younger, I start to feel disappointed in myself for not having a “career path”- even though I’m making headway on my writing or creative endeavors.  I then question if I should have left my previous “career jobs”. I look at my friends working at large corporations with 401k plans and accrued time off and I think, “They are doing it right.” The funny this is, most of them hate their job and think, “I’d like something a little more inspiring, a little more relaxed.” They want what I have and I want what they have. Then we switch and then we want to go back.

In other words, it’s a never-ending cycle of confusion about what to do with one’s work life.

So what is it about my generation that makes these decisions so difficult?

We are the grandchildren of a dedicated working class. We are the children of their rebelling children,  that taught us to ask questions and to seek more out of life. We are the children of a vast and changing technological world. Somewhere deep down we hope that we will love our job, like our grandparents did. We hope that we will connect with a work situation and want to stay there for awhile. We will grow there. We will stay dedicated to our job and we get the same amount of employer dedication in return. That we will wake up in the morning feeling good about the job we do. Somewhere along the way we realize that is idealism. Somewhere along the way, after reading stories of recession, corruption, and disloyalty we realize that the man doesn’t have our back and that they maybe never did. We realize that we’re part of the machinery and our hopes are deflated. Somewhere we realize we have other options, too many options and we get paralyzed. Somewhere along the way we get distracted with constant in-your-face information.

We are the generation of the confused.What we think exists and what we actually want does frequent battle.

So what do we do?

This is a question I’ve asked myself off and on for the past seven years. Do I stay on a path of working at “career companies”, having average health insurance, questionable vacation time, being salaried and working overtime with no extra pay, a steady paycheck and the constant disappointment in the realities that exist nowadays or do I leave it all behind, work to get by, and focus on my true joy- writing- but dealing with the idea that I’m 27 and not working in a “career environment”.

What did you decide for yourself? Or are you one of those lucky people that has managed to find both?

*note- this is not a reflection of my current employment but rather commentary on a broader topic that has been brought up amongst my peers as of late and something i’ve dealt with in the past myself. 
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  • Reply HISdaughter April 20, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    I am in the same place, and I am almost 34. I started my career in graphic design two years ago, after staying home to raise my son for 5 years. I love what I do, but the 9-5 office life is wearing on me. I have a studio where I paint, and I find myself wanting to be there all day. I don;'t know if the restlessness ever goes away. Maybe we are just people who like change and new things, and there is nothing wrong with that.
    I'm not sure where i'll be in five years, but I know I'll always be an artist, whether I am at a desk through the week and weekending my art career, or I'm tending bar so I have free time to paint more.

  • Reply Jenn - There's Your Karma April 20, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Guuurl, get out of my head!

    I, too, am 27, and have had four jobs since graduating college. Some were in my "career" (advertising. marketing.) and some were not (retail. radio.) — but none of them fulfilled me as much as writing did, does.

    The last time I remember being TRULY happy was when I was unemployed, throwing myself head first into creative endeavors. Alas, as the only daughter of two hard-working, baby boomer parents, I started thinking, "You can't just live on unemployment forever, Jenny." So I took the "stable" job, with the benefits, the 401k. And while I'm living comfortable financially, I come hope completely uninspired and creatively tired.

    Yesterday, I entertained the idea of WWOOFing (WWOOF = World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), where you can travel around the world by helping organic farmers in exchange for room and board. I can't wait to tell my parents at Sunday's Easter dinner that I'm thinking about traveling to Tuscany to work on a vineyard, and NO, DAD, there is no 401k.

  • Reply kellynD April 20, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    This sounds just like me! I dropped out of college after my first year (I unfortunately ran out of funds) and started working as a secretary. I make really good money but I hate my job. I never get to think for myself, it's so mundane and routine I could scream and customers tend to be assholes. The only things I like about my job are the steady paycheck, consistent hours and two weeks paid vacation.

    Other than that I dread going to work every single morning. I feel like a "career job" can suck your soul right out of you.

  • Reply Johanna April 20, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Breaking news this happens still way into your 30's unless you are fortunate enough to live and work doing what you love. I also think as technology advances we have increasingly become a society of immediate gratification.
    I love security but I also need change and constant motion, but that may be a personality thing. In my 30 something plus years I have had various jobs in fashion and film, none life long full filling employment. Hoping to find that "passion" before retirement. Good post LM.

  • Reply Kryger April 20, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    Nice post! I tend to get bored pretty quickly with whatever job I am doing if it gets at all repetitive or mundane. Not sure if that is a generational thing or I inherited it from my mom.

    I would love to be able to live much more of a freelance lifestyle and do what I want that pleases me, when I want. Two issues with that though are loans/bills, and the fact that with a hyper competitive job market, the opportunities for self-fulfillment are less and less

  • Reply Cathy Benavides April 20, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    You know what I do? I drink a lot. That really numbs the pain and frustration associated with the disparity between what I do for a living and what I want to do for a living. Yup, alcohol is definitely the way to go…..

  • Reply em g April 20, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    After a few years of struggling through underpaid entry level or slave jobs, I finally found something I really love– being a tour guide. Writing walking tours, performing, sharing my knowledge and getting to know random strangers in an intimate way excites and inspires me. Now I've taken what I feel is a step up and work in the education department of a museum. However, people always ask me what my ambitions are, if I'm a student, if I'm a volunteer… and all of these puncture my ego slightly. So even though I am 100% happy and love my life, I feel like to the outside world what I do is not enough, or is incongruous with my class responsibility– I should want more money, benefits, power. And sure, I do, but I also don't want to stop loving my life. So the pressure is there, to change and fit in a mold, even though I'm happy outside the mold.

  • Reply M April 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I think I have found a good balance, but we'll see what happens. I moved to NYC to be an actress, and found that living like a gypsy is really difficult here, so I took an assistant gig. I now have a really great boss, my job is easy and not stressful, and I get to do theatre on the side. Would I love to be a working actress with tons of money? Sure! But in the absence of that, I'll take the easy "straight" job that allows me to work 9-5 and then use my evenings and weekends to pursue the other things I want to do. I realize I am super lucky, but I worked for a great number of a-holes before getting my gem of a boss, so that's my good karma payback. Good luck finding your balance, L! I think these days it's easier to leverage opportunities that arise from having an internet/blog presence, so hopefully you'll get a book deal or some other fulfilling employment out of it. 🙂

  • Reply K. Syrah April 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    I'm a writer, and my part time military gig handles the health insurance and life insurance. I'm in the delightful position of being debt free by the end of this year. I have a good life. I'm doing the job I want – the job that satisfies me…

    Yet I'm still discontent, and I don't know why. Maybe it's what you said – grand children of a dedicated middle class, children of their rebellious children that taught us to never be satisfied and to always question.

    Something feels unfulfilled, though, and I am grasping at straws to find it. I think that it's not just about jobs and career; it just manifests that way because we all need money.

    Our generation has just continuously been screwed over by the govt, banks, and every other corporation that's supposed to take care of us, that demands us to be loyal to their conveyor belt of school-job-retire and it's completely unsatisfying, no matter what.

    I'm still looking for that path.

  • Reply Chris April 20, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Great post as per usual – but I think you're overlooking one generational aspect.

    Our grandparents generation may have stayed at their jobs per life, but our parents (and us) didn't quit doing that because we decided to. Those permanent stable careers just plain ceased to exist a generation ago. Factory work was outsourced; and technological change, competition, and mergers/acquisitions/layoffs mean that even office jobs aren't permanent. So…. find a way to hustle and do what you love, or revel in fake job security with a great benefits package and vacation days doing something you don't really like….biding time until the economy contracts and you're inevitably laid off. There's your choice!

    One last side note… And were our grandparents happy working in factories for 40 years? I mean, were they…really? Christ, no. Mine counted down for a whole decade before retirement!

  • Reply One Blonde Girl April 20, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    I came to the conclusion awhile ago that I am one of those people who must work, for the sake of my own sanity. Boredom and time-off are bad, bad things. I have also come to the conclusion, for me personally, that a job is not worth doing unless you enjoy doing it. I never wanted to be one of those people who bitched day in and day out about having to go to work (you know those people. I'm sure, like me, you see them every day on facebook).

    I once quit an office job with excellent pay and good benefits because I couldn't stand the work I was doing there and dreaded going in every day. Instead I started substituting during the day and waiting tables at night and on the weekends, and I loved it. Years later, I am now one of those fortunate fools who loves going to work every day, gets paid well enough (for me) and has great benefits in my current position (elem. art teacher). It took me a bit to get here (finally, after 8-9 other jobs since undergrad, a Masters degree and at the ripe ole age of 30), but I'm so glad I am.

    Will I still like it as much in 5 years? Eh, who knows. But I know that where ever my career path leads, I will never compromise my happiness for a paycheck.

  • Reply Randall April 20, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    I will admit, I don't really like traditional jobs, and I don't really care for the tedium of most steady employment. It's not a good fit for me, it's not that I can't do it, it's just that it frays my nerves and I can't handle the abuse, and there are aspects to it that I've never been able to acclimate to. A lot of people take this to mean I'm lazy, I'm a slacker, etc. That might be kind of fair.

    But closer people to me have always said "well, of course you don't like that. You're a writer."

    So I don't know. I do feel badly about being almost 26 and not having a career. I cringe when family members absently ask if I'm using my degree. I hate to break it down in stand-up comic terms, but I once heard a comedian say a "career is just something that you do to fuck a better class of people." I do certainly sacrifice a level of social life by not having that drive. There are a lot of women who probably wouldn't even think I was worth the time, because I don't clock in at a nine-to-five, that I don't have a long term plan yet.

    And they might be right. Again, it does get to me. I am both lucky and unlucky that a series of certain happenings has allowed me to stay in environment that allows me to write, do some freelance work, and not worry too much about bills. But this won't last forever, and again, I sacrifice a lot because it, since I have to stay in an area I don't particularly care for, and occasionally feel tied down because of what I'm needed for. I don't have insurance. I just started discount dental care, and public assistance mental health care, the latter probably because of the anxiety caused by this.

    And it's hard knowing people I might get on with, or already care about, think poorly of me for it.

    But… I just can't believe yet there's one way to be successful, that responsibility only looks like a traditional nine-to-five. That success is only achieved by following the same path as everyone else. And I'm still working on that, I know I'll never have the hustle needed to be a real freelance writer, which means finding some practical ways to apply my writing skills creatively, and will probably involve more school, and a lot more people saying I'm a dreamer and that I don't have it, and that I should stop being a slacker, get another suit, and a real job. And if I don't have any real skill at it, if I'm just playing at this, I guess I have to admit they might be right.

    Not going to concede that yet.

  • Reply Brooke Farmer April 21, 2011 at 12:48 am

    You already know my take on this. Be happy.

    Sincerely, The Starving Artist

  • Reply tennysoneehemingway April 21, 2011 at 4:17 am

    Guess again; I'm 45 and still have no career path, a daughter coming along, health and life insurance that I have to come up with money for every week and the dreams of making a living as a writer in a country that so devalues creativity the term 'writer' is still used pejoratively. Nothing really changes. My dad was the only person I knew who loved his job. He was a musician but still compromised by joining the AirForce to take care of the regular paycheck. I'm not really sure that our grandparents were any happier in their jobs than us; they just did what we do, use the job to pay the bills and whatever's left over, try to enjoy as you can. No one but you has the answer. I sure as hell don't.

  • Reply dull boy April 21, 2011 at 7:54 am

    i'm lucky enough to have had only 3 jobs in 20 years. having a decent stable job has taken care of the provider/financial aspect to my life so i don't worry too much about those things,- which in turn has enabled me to have a free mind.

    (& what is a 401k plan??)

  • Reply Tim April 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I'm someone on the other side. Fulfilling job with 401k. Still find time to write plays on the side. But..

    First off. When you hear the "workers are lazy" remark, fuck that. What they're saying is they want the same docile workers who are committed to a lifetime working at the same job like they had in the fifties, but with the ability to lay them off at a moments notice. They'd probably like a thank you when they lay you off too. Just ignore it. We work ten times harder now then they did in the fifties.

    Secondly, stay away from the admin assistant job. That's a dead end. If you do your job well you'll be rewarded with being stuck in it. Your best bet is to figure out how to finagle your way into an entry level job in ANY industry with a career path. Suck it up for a few years. It is actually worth it. The thing no one talks about is that you generally work fewer hours the more you're paid, and you'll have more brain space at the end of the day for your art.

    Or just keep doing entry level jobs to support your art. It's not lazy. It's the hardest work possible.

    I'm the lazy one.

  • Reply T.C. Sprencel April 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    We've all heard the old adage, "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."

    Such an idea, for the longest time, was nothing more than an idealistic platitude, and for many people, the notion that one could find the greatest fulfillment in doing what he/she loved was simply unrealistic.

    Our generation is perhaps the first, however, for which the dream of making a career out of a passion is well within reach for many.

    We all have the tools to be self-made (think of how easy it is to start a blog, for example). The tricky thing is knowing how exactly to position oneself (think of how difficult it can be to know exactly what to do with that blog you started).

    I guess ultimately what I'm saying is that almost all of us have the resources to do what we love for a living, but there are SO MANY of those resources out there, it can be quite a task finding how best to employ them.

  • Reply Joan Threat April 21, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    ok first off I despise my generation's work ethic and I think 99% of people our age are lazy and slackers and I usually fire them if they turn out to be my asst. because I can't stand their poor attitude and what they think they deserve; most of them do not know what's it like to climb the ladder of success nor they want to know, they want to get to the top right from the start–and that's just not cool with me.
    With that being said, somehow I'm one of the luckiest people in world, I LOVE my job…although it comes with no 401K and little vacation, but its a steady paycheck and its exactly what I wanted to do and said I was going to do since the age of 10. OH, and I've been here for 8yrs, since the day I moved to NYC.
    I started as a crappy asst. to whomever needed my help and worked my way up to being head eveningwear designer, and therefore this is why i dislike lazy people my age that don't want to work but want the benefits of having a job.
    goodluck with whatever you decide, I hope you can be as lucky as I am to be happy with a job you're doing, and to do it well, and do actually enjoy what pays the bills. Ok I'll get off my hoity toity working high horse now 🙂 Have a good weekend!

  • Reply Your Host April 21, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Something I have to remind myself as I go about my life (26 years old, 2 degrees in theatre, no "stable" job to speak of) is that 1) the people I most want to be like had lives full of uncertainty and 2) life is uncertain until after you've lived it; only then do patterns emerge.

    I am not lazy, I like to work, I like to work hard. I don't, however, think my life is supposed to pass in a cubicle. Some people can do that, and if that works for them, magnificent.

    Great read, thank you!

  • Reply cj Schlottman April 22, 2011 at 1:59 pm


    At 63, I never experienced any of the employment roadblocks that your generation must deal with. In my early years as a nurse, tough, I did change jobs several times for a better salary.

    After losing my husband, I almost immediately began to think about going back to work. I need a purpose, and I need to feel grounded, and working does that for me. I think your generation and mine share this need.

    The playground, however, is more dangerous for your generation. A fragile economy coupled with a dearth of scrupulous upper and middle management – no matter what the field – has you all in it's clutches.


  • Reply YoungUrbanAmateur April 22, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    With my recently acquired job that takes up a lot of my time, I check your blog about 10% as much as I used to, so I get even more excited when you write a post like this one, which was awesome.
    When it comes to having jobs for the sake of impressing (or feeling less embarassed around) other people, I feel like you can't win (this is more a comment on the commments than on the original post). I feel like I got more respect when I was poor and struggling and had an easy-as-hell job but wanted something better.

    Now I have a stable office job and people write me off more quickly as a boring average dude. I feel like the people who are most WORTH impressing, and will make the best friends/companions/connections will see past your job- they won't judge you harshly based on your job, nor will they think highly of you only because of your job.

    I actually feel like our culture needs to change its attitude toward work. Statistically speaking, our economy is creating far more "shitty" jobs than "good" ones, and I think we'd be happier if "shitty" jobs didn't have such a stigma.

    I also have to wonder if our grandparents really were as happy in their jobs as they appeared, or if they just grew up in a less overwhelming, more human-scale society (without many of the benefits we have today) and that's why things were different?

  • Reply Laura April 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    As they say in Fight Club: "You are not your job." To me, that doesn't mean that what you do for a living doesn't matter, but that you do the work that pays the bills so that you can do the work that fulfills you creatively.

    The "starving artist" myth is not good for your health, and it's not good for your art. Stable jobs are not the enemy; jobs that require you to commit (i.e. "career" jobs) and do a bunch of extra work for no extra pay ARE. If you can't write for a living (and that's another choice you have to make; do you want to write just *anything* for the money, or are you only interested in writing things that will fulfill you?), then take a job that won't require you to think about it outside of working hours. You know the kind: entry-level, retail, secretarial, janitorial, etc. You do the work while you're there, keep busy, but do not sacrifice your soul for the company. You go home and write. Or paint. Or make music. And let that time spent in the office roll off your back.

    The job isn't you. It's just a job. Your career is being an artist. Simple.

  • Reply James Morningstar April 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Do what you love. The rest will follow.

  • Reply two difficult girls April 26, 2011 at 7:33 am

    I totally feel the same way. I'm 21 and barely a year into my first (corporate) job yet already seeing myself quitting and getting a string of jobs that will never be able to satisfy me not just financially. Our generation feels this entitlement to careers that will not only feed mouths, but also souls and more importantly – egos.

    I think this will forever be the case for Millennials! If only the jobs that will make us happy will actually pay our rent. 🙁

  • Reply Anonymous April 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    I am 30; I went to college, and grad school. Beginning in the fourth grade I knew I wanted to be a reporter for a newspaper, that remained my dream job, it never wavered. When I graduated college, I landed my dream job. A couple years later I was seriously discontent. So, I took a governmental job (something I would have never imagined I would ever consider) that paid about three times as much as my dream job, great benefits, tons of vacation days, etc., and I absolutely hated it for about six months. Luckily, I talked myself into staying for at least one year and at that point, I told myself, I will reevaluate my situation. I did, and I worked up the courage to have a frank and edifying conversation with my boss, and we worked together on creating a job that better fit both of our needs and talents, and now I have to say, I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I have a great career, my compensation is amazing, and I have developed a few relationships with publications for which I freelance for when I feel the need to step back into my “reporter” shoes. I think that with time, understanding, perseverance and some luck, most of us can find a happy medium.


  • Reply mss June 26, 2011 at 11:37 pm

    "Somewhere deep down we hope that we will love our job, like our grandparents did."

    I think you are romanticizing your grandparents' generation–or maybe you just come from an exceptionally happy family. What did your grandmother do for a living?

    Americans today (of all ages) have more choices. More choices can lead to confusion or the fear of making the wrong choice unless one has a particular talent or drive.

    If the norm is to marry at 18 and spend your life providing for your kids, that may seem refreshingly straightforward but it is not the same as happiness. It's simply sucking it up and doing what you have to do.

    The only thing that will make your work fulfilling is you. It's not what you get from the job; it's what you bring to it.

  • Reply HermiticWonderer July 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Well, it is nice to see from all the comments that none of us are alone here!

    I too am 28 years old and have had quite a cacophony of jobs since I got my Bachelors in fine art 7 years ago. Right out of college I took the retail gravy train for a couple of years, wanted to die of boredom and opted instead into going into personal assisting. I will agree with the author here and say that being a paid slave to anyone is one of the worst jobs imaginable. Now I am in the Organic industry (which i did want) but again bored beyond belief and totally uninspired. My free time is spent doing the art that I feel I should be doing all the time.

    I have been contemplating for a LONG time now how to move forward into the future. I have noticed that there seems to be a pattern between creative people and this endless cycle of unfulfilling jobs. First of all, all us creative people have to look in the mirror and realize that we already know what we want – we just need to find a way to earn MONEY doing it! I highly HIGHLY recommend looking into Stuart Wilde if you haven’t already and even more specifically in regards to money get his book “The Secret to Money is Having Some” (you can get it for like 3 bucks on amazon!). Stuart is AMAZING and has written over 20+ books about the metaphysical. After reading this book I have a completely different sense of what money (energy!) is and how I view the energy of the world.

    All – in – all I think that the main thing is to believe in yourself and have faith that the path you are following is right or wrong for you. Only YOU can determine what path YOU need to be on. The job we are in is a reflection of the uncertainty we have inside (everything is!). If you don’t like your job then something is going on INSIDE. I am in the same boat! I am now picking slowly through myself to determine what the best new route for me to go down will be. Its a tough process but we have to remember that we are all alive at this moment for a REASON – the world is changing, the people awakening, the energy speeding up. CELEBRATE! We are awakening to a sea of possibilities and to an abundance of life! Don’t be discouraged, we all are in this together!!!

    Note to add – One of the other commenters mentioned the WOOF program and I would wholeheartedly tell you to DO IT!!!! A friend of mine did the program in New Zealand and she said it was the best experience she has had! I looked at farms in Brazil and there are SO many opportunities I would DEFINITELY check it out and see your options! You can also look up a place called Eco-Truly in Brazil that looks wicked awesome! I would bring someone with you though for your first trip for safety 🙂


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