Monday, October 15, 2007

My Generation

I've come to realize that I belong to a most interesting peer group. While I cannot comment on other peer groups or past generations (not having lived in them), the people I am surrounded by can be defined by two traits: 1) preparation and 2) action. These are two very positive attributes, but there is a downside, which I will talk about in a little bit.

First, though, I'd like to say why I think these two traits define the people I grew up around. PREPARATION. We have been preparing for (or more appropriately have had a plan for) our lives since the day we were born, and this is one thing that is definitively a result of nuture (vs. nature). Our parents were the first generation to live in the suburbs. Most of my peers grew up in fairly well-off neighborhoods. At Kellogg, during my orientation, one speaker asked how many members of my class had attended an urban high school. I believe 4 hands were raised. That is less than 1% of my class. Our parents also had less children than previous generations, so there was greater incentive for them to invest in us (i.e. plan our future). We were raised by parents who defined a much larger percentage of our childhood activities than previous generations.

Thus, the second defining characteristic of my peers, ACTION, was born. Our parents had plans for us, and then they pushed us to implement them into our actions. Our parents were not content letting us play in the yard all afternoon. We had to participate in youth soccer, music lessons, and community service. We had to aim for leadership positions in clubs. And as much as my generation likes to believe our parents didn't dictate our actions, it's very hard to find evidence to the contrary.

So picture my generation entering the college setting. We have had a great part of our lives planned out for us, and now for the first time, we have some discretionary control. So what do we do? We play out the plans that we know so well from high school. We get involved on campus. We engage in community service. And this is excellent because we feel good that the world is better because of our actions.

College graduation. The "real" world, or something like it. Our previous framework of plans and actions don't translate so well. Where are the clubs to join? Is there a community service group in my company? It's no fun when I can't be elected president of my group. And thus my peers fall into a mentality of discontent and confusion. So what is the best thing for us to do? Go back to a setting where we can live our lives the way we know how. A place where clubs are ways to stay active and community service groups help us feel good about ourselves. Ohhh...that is a place called business school (or law school, or grad school).

We can all see where this is now heading...we have been planning and acting in such a rote way for so long, it is very difficult for us to break out of this mold. Our goals in the end are to be happy and successful, but it is unclear how to get there from here. The best way we see how is to move forward with everyone else. Our thoughts are subliminally, "These people around me have been successful in the same ways I have been. So as long as we are all moving in the same direction, we will all end up in the golden land of happiness and wealth."

Yet in these best laid plans of mice and men, something goes awry. I am not sure how things will progress, but seeing how we as a group move in mass, something will pass us by. My fear is that something is our passions. I fear that we, who have so much to offer, are putting aside our passions for our pre-planned futures. A plan which our parents created for us, but one that we don't understand. A plan which dictates that we do the "safe" things, but has no real meaning behind it. I liken this future to a diamond. It looks good, feels good, and everyone else says it is great. But when you really think about it, is it really worth anything if the only value in it is defined by others?

So an update on CoNotes...things have progressed slower than I would have liked. Since launch, I have had little time to work on the site, which has been frustrating. That is not to say I have not been doing anything productive. Just more that I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day.

I expect to launch some minor revisions to the site in the near future. I would like to thank all of you who have given me feedback on the site. It has been tremendously helpful and valuable. Please continue to email me and be on the look out for future enhancements...

1 comment:

Ash Bhoopathy said...

Hey man,
Thought provoking post. I *hope* the 2 paragraph suffix doesn't mean you're hankering to give up.

You may perceive your experiment is moving slow, but remember you're learning from it. moreover, you just need to be around people who get you excited about your ideas, rather than excited about an alternate future.

On that note, you've worked hard enough now to solidify your entry into these alternate futures-- bain bcg mck google y! etc are waiting with bated breath for you to enter their doors.. now is the time to be introspective about your passion, your 20 second elevator story about your service, and continuously churn new ideas through it.. just making stuff.

also, when I feel the way you're feeling now, I read one of Paul Graham's essays and feel much better.

good luck--i'll be in Evanston this weekend if you want to chat.

ash