Chase the Rainbow

When I was growingrainbow up (picture the place where Generation X meets Y), “unrealistic expectations” did not exist.  There were no limits.  Nothing was unattainable.  The only boundaries were those enforced by the furthest reaches of my imagination.  The only career advice I ever received was “follow your heart,” “follow your dreams,” “you can be anything you want to be.”  And I believed it. 

Nothing was too ambitious (or not ambitious enough).  I felt not one ounce of pressure: to become a doctor, a lawyer, a banker, an engineer.  Only to figure out what and who I wanted to be, and to pursue that with everything I had.

There was no talk of money.  There was no talk of responsibility.  There was only talk of passion, and pleasure, and happiness.

And now look at me.  What a mess!

I’m kidding.  But that’s what the media would have you believe (see Word-Count-Defying End Note (1), responding to Huffington Post article suggesting that all Gen Y’ers are unrealistic, whiny babies, here).

Here’s what I’d like to know?  What’s the message our parents should have given us?  And that we, in turn, should pass along to our children?  Don’t dare to dream?  Don’t do what you love?  Get your head out of the clouds and major in accounting already?

I don’t think so.

I never doubted my parents loved and wanted what was best for me.  If you can’t follow your heart and dreams when you are a kid, when can you?  We are all destined for decades of boredom and dreariness.  Does knowing what is coming from earlier on make it any more sufferable?  Is the lawyer who always knew he would grow up to be a lawyer any less miserable than the one who once thought he would grow up to be a professional puppy rescuer instead?  I say nay!

Chase the rainbow for as long as you can, my fellow Gen X/Yers.  There is nothing else.

17 thoughts on “Chase the Rainbow

  1. As a fellow x/y border-town-dweller, I can relate. Sometimes I’m conflicted, though. Sometimes I DO wish my parents had sat me down and said “Alright, now realistically, if you’re going to be a puppy-chaser (writer), you’re also going to have to eat a lot of ramen noodles. Is that a balance you are willing to strike?”

    Nice piece of writing. I like the different perspective on the whole ‘gen Y’ discussion.

      • Because here’s the thing. I majored in English. And it was four years of sheer bliss. I could not have been happier. Sometimes I look back and think “gee, Mom and Dad, how about a heads up? Couldn’t you have warned me that there are no jobs for English majors, and that I would be better off getting a more actual-job-applicable degree, like business or something with computers?” But if they would have told me that, I would not have felt the love and support that made those years so happy. Also, I probably wouldn’t have listened anyway. And if I would have listened, I would have spent those four years begrudgingly loathing computer programming or accounting or whatever pre-med people study instead of absolutely loving all the truly mind-opening literature and poetry and philosophy I read and discussed instead. Plus, I graduated the year of 9/11, so there were no jobs in anything anyway. And not much has changed in the interim.

        That writers struggle and live on ramen noodles and many never “make” it in any real sense of that term is a fact, whether your parents warn you or not. But some make it. Some succeed. What kind of parent tells his kid he is definitely not going to make it, in advance, so don’t even try? And when does this conversation take place? Should we all just sit all our kids down at the age of two and say “look, this is how it’s going to be. You can be a doctor or an accountant or an engineer, but we, your parents, refuse to encourage or entertain any other possibilities. Also, there is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, or Tooth Fairy. Also, you’ve been dying since the day you were born, and there is a 100% chance you are going to die some day. And so are we. And so is everyone.”?

        Maybe I am just a sad and sappy and naive product of my generation. I don’t think so, but then how would I know any different? I’m not so naive that I think there is no such thing as “average.” But I still don’t think the only message kids should get is you are NOT unique or special, there is no point in trying or dreaming because the best you can hope for is mediocrity. Practicality has a place, but I see no value in preemptive child dream squashing.

    • I’ll give it to you now, Draug. Dare to dream! Follow your heart and passions, even if it kills you! You can do anything you want to do, be anything you want to be! Don’t take “no” for an answer! Money is NOT everything! There are worse things than not being rich! You only live once, so make it count. Find what makes you happy and hold onto it with everything you’ve got!

      [See how that works?]

  2. I’m right smack in the middle of gen X, so I can’t speak to the life of the X/Y borders. My parents always made it clear I was going to college (not an option to skip it) and they wanted me to be able to support myself. I went to college and showed them…I got a Psychology degree. Good thing I ended up working in the IT department at an insurance company because the degree I chose leads down a path of near starvation and tons of therapy!

    • Way to show them! But seriously, if you could go back and talk to your college-bound self, would you have her change anything? Tell her to stop being so impractical and major in astrophysics or something? I think we make the mistake of thinking we would enjoy our jobs more if we would have pursued a degree that would make us more job ready/hire-able? But this ignores the possibility that we are maybe destined to hate our job no matter what it is, and we need to take what joy we can when we can. There is no rush to “grow up” and be responsible. There are plenty of years for that. If you can’t enjoy college, the forecast is grim indeed.

  3. My parents DID give me the talk. I announced I was majoring in English, and when I then admitted I had no interest in teaching, I was about run out of the house. The interesting thing is that we are making it work, and it’s working beautifully. I agree–rainbows are all we’ve got. Keep chasing them until you’re forced to stop. Thanks for linking up.

      • Also, I have read a few articles here lately, including one in Harper’s, talking about how universities are systematically getting rid of their liberal arts departments to focus their energy and resources on more practical degrees in math and science to make America more globally competitive. What???? College teaches you how to think. No matter what you study. If all we want is maximized efficiency automatons, we should give all our toddlers aptitude tests at the age of three and then send them off to work camps to be trained as computer engineering drones. How efficient would we be then? Think about it!

  4. English major here. Tail end of the baby boom. I always knew what I loved to do would never ‘get’ me anywhere. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. I learned how to type. It’s allowed me to make money in any number of ways, none very lucratively. But my kid just graduated with a degree in ‘Humanities’. Long proud line of ‘useless’ : )

  5. I enjoyed reading this and the comments. I’m a baby boomer and…shhh…a lawyer. I’ve been very happy with my work so I guess I’m lucky. But we always taught our kids they can do anything they want and one is an aspiring movie director, who actually has made some cool short films and (mostly) makes a living doing film editing and another who is an actor. She is still in school. They are very resourceful and I know that whatever happens, they will figure it out. I am proud of their career choices.

    • Lumdog, I never would have suspected! You are so laid back and cool. Never would have suspected the J.D. Your secret is safe with me, though. That your kids are an aspiring movie director and actor fills me with no end of joy. I needed to hear that. Rock on!

  6. Ah,so heartening to read the piece and more so the comments!No,am not an English Major- but I followed my heart too-my parents ,God Bless their souls-were liberal enough to support me there and as a result I have an M.Phil in Sociology:-)My only daughter(17),though encouraged to think and follow her rainbow,almost went astray ,trying to follow the herd-thinking she would major in Economics,as that’s where money is!But,I had a heart to heart with her-advised her to speak to her friends and better sense prevailed and just two months back she joined one of the top Universities here and is majoring in English-which has always been her forte and the right path to pursue if she wants to fulfill her dream of becoming an author:-)

    I despair when I see educational institutions and the job markets tooting their horns selling Engineering and Science Degrees or Business management courses while pooh poohing fine arts and /Humanities & Social Sciences!As a result we have hordes of reluctant Engineers/Accountants/Business Managers etc who hate their jobs and many are not even fit for it.What about the richness that English or other languages bring into our lives-what about entertainment?Ah,but hardly anyone reads -excuses like lack of money,time just slip glibly-no one really cares that language is going to the dogs in this era of sms/whatsapp/viber/twitter and what not!Sad that minds are supposed to be filled with technological data and that’s the extent of “enrichment”-no wonder humanity itself is slipping and sliding into dark hole of savagery and unrefined,crude behaviour!

    • So pleased to hear that you followed your heart (I’m not saying all hearts need to lead to English, but they should all be followed). And I am delighted to hear about your daughter. Wonderful!

      Amen to “hordes of reluctant…[whatever].” What about the richness of genuine thinking, feeling, appreciating? It’s called the “humanities” for a reason. We are not robots (yet). Fight the power!

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