The New York Times has called us “The Go-Nowhere Generation.”
Lots of us are choosing not to venture far from home.
We’re not crossing state lines to find work—even when there are few jobs at home. We came of age at the dawn of a recession and, as a result, we’re playing it safe.
For about $200, young Nevadans who face a statewide 13 percent jobless rate can hop a Greyhound bus to North Dakota, where they’ll find a welcome sign and a 3.3 percent rate. Why are young people not crossing borders? “This generation is going through an economic reset,” said John Della Volpe, who directs polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, which surveys thousands of young people each year. He reports that young people want to stay more connected with their hometowns: “I spoke with a kid from Columbus, Ohio, who dreamed of being a high school teacher. When he found out he’d have to move to Arizona or the Sunbelt, he took a job in a Columbus tire factory.”
The authors of this article portray this as a bad thing. It’s more proof that Generation Y is defeatist, apathetic, and lazy.
“Not so,” readers retorted. Twentysomething New Yorker writer and cartoonist Tom Toro took aim at the outdated American values driving the assumption that we should blindly follow the best economies and fastest paying jobs.
…many commentators are hurrying to re-establish the status quo instead of using this as an opportunity to reimagine an American society where material possessions don’t define prosperity, and where success is determined not by one’s bank statement but by one’s contentedness.
So should you move for a job? What about for better job prospects?
In reality, moving is riskier than buying a $200 bus ticket, especially when you move away from friends, family, and familiar geography. I understand this well.
My Move to Manhattan (And Back)
I walked out of college with over $40,000 of debt. Some of it student loans and some of it credit card debt that I racked up (and would later add to). Those bills had to be paid; I needed a job. Fortunately, although we were in the midst of the post-9/11 economic downturn, I had a job offer at SmartMoney magazine where I had previously interned.
Problem was, that job was in New York City—hours from where I grew up and went to school. Hours from my friends. Hours from my girlfriend, Lauren.
But excited by the job and very much needing the money, I moved to New York.
A year later, missing Lauren and unable to live below my means on a journalist’s salary in Manhattan, I moved back home.
I don’t regret going to New York—the job and the year living there were a great experience. But I also don’t regret coming back. I liked New York and my job. But I hated New York alone.
Choosing Location Over Career
Since then, Lauren (who is now my wife) and I have juggled careers, grad school, and geography, but not always gracefully. For dual-career couples, the decision to move for a job is more complex. When one partner receives an opportunity somewhere else, either one partner must sacrifice their career or the couple faces a long-distance commute or, in some cases, separation.
We experienced all three. We commuted. We broke up for a while when she moved away for law school. Later, just before getting married, I left my job to join her in Maine where she landed a new career. This was made easier by the fact we wanted to live in Maine for the quality of life and by my preexisting entrepreneurial aspirations.
And this is why I think it can be good to move where you want to live, then look for a job. This works as long as you value contentedness and quality of life over a specific career path or highest possible salary.
Contrast my experience with that of my parents. In their late twenties, my father received a job opportunity with an American technology company that took him a to Belgium for several years. In the beginning he flew back and forth to visit my mother until eventually she moved overseas to join him. Then, after returning to the States for a while, he took a job managing a factory in Puerto Rico.
On the downside, my mother left her teaching career and spent those years somewhat alone in foreign places without many friends. On the upside, those years propelled my father’s career and gave them some unique personal travel opportunities.
When Moving For the Job Makes Sense
I am one person who chose location and quality of life over a dream job in an unfamiliar city. And if the authors of “The Go-Nowhere Generation” are right, I’m in a new majority.
This will, however, create even brighter opportunities if you’re willing to relocate for work. Because here’s some good career advice: If you want to be successful, do what others won’t.
And if our entire generation is becoming more reluctant to move for work, a willingness to do so may be an easy ticket to the top.
What about you? Have you moved for a job opportunity or decided to stay close to home despite meager job prospects? Why? How’s it worked out? Let me know in a comment.