“How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are thirty-five? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family, and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.”
Sapiens: a brief history of humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
This passage in Harari’s excellent book went straight to the gut. I’m a recent university graduate torn between making money or achieving dreams. I’ve always wanted to write for a living, not sell people insurance, or produce marketing schemes for an investment banking company. I want to make stories, not cold-call people for ten hours a day. Call me an idealist, because I am one.
We all should be.
I was close to folding to the demand of modern society to make money. I even went through some interviews. There was a lot of clapping on backs, and lots of terms like “business cohesion” and “brand to brand.” More importantly there was a focus on money. If you tell them you want to make money, and make money at any cost, they’ll hire you. If you’re willing to beat a colleague to death with a telephone, get drunk during the day and work in your free hours, you’ll be able to make enough money in ten years to – to what? Harari sums it up. Commitments arise, life carries on, this life is not designed to let you leave.
Like I said, call me an idealist. A lazy millennial. Don’t get me wrong. Money’s great. You can buy exclusive coffee, go on a nice holiday, own a shiny car. There are people to whom this means everything. I can’t deny these things. I don’t judge. Finding a job you enjoy is even harder. I don’t profess to know any secrets. Working, in general, sucks. Though, there is always an answer, and that’s not to give up, not to stop looking for something that intrigues you and keeps your curiousity alive.
Harari talks in his book “Sapiens” about the first affluent class, the original foragers who roamed the idyllic plains of the prehistoric world. This all seems very romantic, but he has a good point. These were human beings much like ourselves who shared relationships in similar ways and expressed ideas in methods not too dissimilar to our own. They moved around a lot, had few material possessions and focused on creating an intimate bond with their immediate group. We can learn a lot from our common ancestors.
When I was 17 I would’ve said something like, explore the world, live freely, don’t become tied to those corporate elites! Love! But now I understand the world is a lot more complex than that. I understand the systems in place, and I understand why they exist. I understand why a lot of my generation will fall right into the square-shaped hole for their square-peg. It’s simple. Money means things, and things mean happiness. That’s what we’re all told, right? Day in, day out.
There’s no reason for us not to consider the world more like our ancestors. Sixteen-hour work days are not conducive to healthy relationships, nor to your personal health. Owning a tower of wealth doesn’t represent happiness. Working hard to barely pay your rent will only make you sad. Millennials are having less sex and taking less drugs than their predecessors.
This isn’t because we don’t want to.
It’s because we’re upset with the way things are.
It’s not like we grow up quickly, either. Even though we’re forced into the world of work to pay off student debts and face the rising costs of housing and foodstuffs, we’re no more adults than the next human being. Growing up in the age of modernity meant excitement. Things were new. Nothing is new anymore. This is post-modernism. A rehash of an old society; a society that is old, tired and broken.
I don’t want your fucking Transformer’s FIVE, and please don’t remake Ghostbusters. Stormzy’s alright, but he’s not exactly fucking Led Zeppelin, is he? We voted for a man who doesn’t believe in climate change? He wants to renew the coal industry? Am I losing my fucking mind, have we literally stepped into the past? Awash in a frothing, foaming sea of mad nostalgia?
No, I don’t want to be recruited by you to lead me into a job where there’s a leader-board on the wall to compare my performance with others – no, I’m not a fucking number.
I have little hope of owning my own home unless I slave away day after day in a job that I hate. Before you say to me, oh, but that’s what everyone has to do, shut the fuck up. Please. The promises to the youth of today are not the same promises made to the youth of yesterday. We’re in the seat of deep economic recession, faced with the unstoppable rise of global corporations and an ailing political system that can barely keep its shit together.
We spend days and days as a generation swiping right, looking at memes and chatting inane bullshit to thousands of people online.
We communicate in bursts. We fight with online petitions no-one listens to. We protest on the street for an evening, and go home to our Facebook and vegan dinners.
We forget, because we’re meant to, that once, humans roamed on open plains, and talked to each other, face to face, and touched and gossiped. People who worked hard were rewarded accordingly. Healthcare was free. Education was a right. People paid their taxes.
There was threat of nuclear mutual destruction, sure.
There were pointless wars fought where thousands of people died, pointlessly, of course.
It’s no better today.
Don’t get sucked in.