NPR logo Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost


Metaphor. Source: BarrieJH hide caption

toggle caption Source: BarrieJH

I'm a Generation Nexter, part of the group born between 1981 and 1988 ('84 to be exact). Our rentals,* the Boomers, raised us with one clear message: do what makes you happy. Previous generations were largely told to find a stable job in order to make money and support a family. But now there's a new requirement thrown into the mix: pursue a career that you enjoy, nay, that you love. Easy, right? So naturally, it's taking us Nexters a little longer to figure things out. And social scientists, cultural analysts, or whatever you want to call 'em, have even come up with a term for this period of discovery: The Odyssey Years. They are years marked by uncertainty and fluctuation. Many of us bounce around from job to job, trying to figure out what "fits." Some may go back to school for a second (or third) degree. And the lucky ones travel in search of some larger life purpose, or just for a good time. But it's not laziness or even procrastination. We're sifting through life's possibilities. We're trying to discover who we are and who we want to be. It's a genuine effort to be happy, rentals' orders. And anytime I'm hit with the "slacker!" insult, I just come right back with J.R.R.Tolkien's "Not all who wander are lost." So, humph.

What do you say TOTN bloggers? Is there a shred of truth to this, or am I just romanticizing?

* That's my new term for "parents," derived from "parental units." It'll catch on. Trust.



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As someone who was lucky enough to land on their calling first thing, I haven't experienced the wander lust, but I do understand the need to be happy. In my opinion, as long as one accepts the consequences of pursuing happiness instead of monetary gain, i.e. living within your means and not expecting your parents to bail you out, "slacker" doesn't apply.

Sent by Amanda | 2:50 PM | 10-31-2007

Perhaps a little bit of romanticizing.

I was born in 1976, my sister in 1983. Right now I have a good job working for a big corporation, living in a tiny apartment in a big city. I worked several jobs for 1.5 years or less (for each job) to get to this state; I wouldn't say that I am working a job I "love," but I have achieved a level of social and financial success that I find comfortable.

My sister, on the other hand, travels from place to place attending music festivals and skiing and hiking. When she's not on the road, she works as a waitress while living with family or friends -- sometimes living with me, sometimes living with her fiance's parents. Am I jealous? Yes. I spent those years working hard just to support myself -- keep a roof over my head and food on my table.

But I can't escape the thought that my sister's life is possible because of my own success. Don't get me wrong -- I would do anything for her, everything I have is hers. But I could not do what she is doing because who would be there to have the stable household for me?

And this wanderlust is partially due to employers' labor practices that discourage young people from seeking 'careers,'-- fewer companies offer healthcare, or offer only prohibitively expensive or barely useful plans. Companies lay off people in our generation at a whim. Young workers are expected to aggressively market themselves and treat their careers like small businesses. "Following your passion" is famously non-remunerative, and is sometimes even penalized -- don't show initiative or independence until you've established a reputation as a reliable worker. Communal action is very difficult in these circumstances -- especially for those young people who want to do more than have a roof and food, such as start a family.

I'll probably switch jobs again before long; will I be finding my passion? More likely, I will be making sure that I can live in the way I like and support 1-2 others while I do it. Who knows when my sister will need to crash with me again.

Sent by Rachel N H | 3:29 PM | 11-1-2007

Great post, and of course, there are no easy answers. I'm one of the baby boomers, born in the mid 50s. The term "Wanderer" disturbs me, but perhaps "explorer" is better--explorer with a purpose. I've been exploring for 30 years, and I still can't say I've found exactly what I want, but the journey has been interesting. I've had the chance to write for national magazines, publish a book through a major publisher, and been on tv and radio hundreds of times in the 90. So I've had some fun following my passion, but I've also had to work for corporations (mostly marketing) and in jobs I'd rather forget, going back to working in college in the oilfields through more recent times working for Fortune 500 companies. I re-invent myself about every 7 years. My point with all this rambling is you should develop some a skill set--writing, sales, engineering, etc)--so you're at least employable. Then try to figure out how you can use them to follow your passion. I knew a guy years ago who went into marketing in banking--boring to me. He was also an avid golfer. Years later I heard he'd joined one of the national golfing tours as a marketing director, eventually connecting with his passion (sorry, I hate golf too).
Easier said than done, but wandering by itself will likely lead to a life of loose ends. Looking forward, I see huge opportunities in education on many levels, and the environment (ex: energy efficient buildings, water conservation). YOu have youth and energy on your side, but time passes quickly and every minute counts. Good luck

Sent by Mark | 8:14 PM | 11-1-2007