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To a 25-year-old, across the generational divide

Assessing the quarter-life crisis: Young people are reinventing themselves.

When one of my daughters was 2, I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She pondered the question thoughtfully for a few moments, then answered, her brow scrunched in concentration: “A horse.”

It was a great answer. Because, unlike me, she had yet to corral future aspirations into the rigid parameters dictated by adults and society. She remained free to give reign to whatever flight of fancy spurred her imagination, unfettered by notions of what she should be. Even what she could be.

The anecdote came to mind when I read Joey Albanese’s lyrical yet penetrating reflection on turning 25, published here at NolaVie. Why, he muses, should young people be ushered into predictable paths, even by well-meaning adults concerned with their success?

On the other side of the generation gap, that hits home. I always thought that, if I gave my kids great educations and tried to instill in them a sense of self-worth, they would be OK in life. And if that involved encouragement to excel in school and on the sports field, to stretch for the best college, to aspire to a lofty career … well, that would make them happier adults, right?

The thing is, the world is a different place now. And I’m not talking technology or global citizenship. Back when my generation hit the streets, we knew we would find a job. Not the perfect job, perhaps, but a good one, concomitant with our education and desires. And if it wasn’t the perfect job, well, we could punch a clock and pay the rent and party on the weekends.

This generation wants more in a world that gives them less. They don’t want just any job, but one that means something. One that makes a difference, that provides them with something other than a paycheck. They want challenge and fulfillment and a yardstick to measure success that isn’t just monetary (though that helps, too).

According to New Impact’s Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012, two-thirds of graduating university students say that making a difference through their next job is a priority. The me generation is giving way to the you generation.

With three daughters in their 20s and a host of young writers and editors working with NolaVie, I have observed the Millienials across my generational divide, and I like what I see. More and more, like Joey, they are rejecting what society tells them they can or should do, and reinventing themselves.

My youngest daughter is taking a post-college gap year as a professional babysitter … in France. She’s writing a delightful blog called Louisiana Eaux Pair in Paris, meeting crazy people and learning that French chic is more a matter of attitude than product. It’s not Wall Street, but what she gains from living on the Rive Gauche may well teach her more, about herself and the world. In a sweet bit of irony (to me), she found the job through the career board at her Ivy League college.

Like Joey and my daughter, many young people are sampling jobs, taking time to decide what they savor and what they reject. According to Forbes, job hopping is the “new norm” for Millenials, with most young people expecting to stay in any one job for less than three years.

Conversely, I worked for 32 years at the same job, with the same company. The Times-Picayune was both family and vocation for me. Yet this year, the corporation reinvented itself, ceasing daily publication, going digital and adding many young hires in the process. I daresay that they, too, are interested in a job that makes an impact.

Ultimately, the parameters of success are shifting. A job is no longer measured by salary or stature, by 401-Ks or health benefits, but by more abstract -- and more cerebral -- standards.

New Orleans fits this new direction better than most cities. As Joey points out, it’s a place where opportunity arrives without competition. Where it’s OK to not have a life plan. Where people don’t judge, and don’t condemn.

I guess it’s also a good thing that rents in New Orleans are relatively cheap. Still, all in all, I think the world is a better place when you can grow up to be whatever you – and not your parents or society – want.

Even if it’s a horse.

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie.

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]