Caveats, quantum physics and thoughts of a millennial

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Be the Change intern Tyler McAvoy (’12) shares some of his thoughts as a senior, a millennial and a budding journalist. His position is one that his peers will recognize and that the rest of us will wish to understand.

Caveats and fine print for the future

by Tyler McAvoy (’12)

Students are some of the most stressed people in the world. Between school, sleep and a social life, there is little time to devote to personal development and future career goals.  For an impulsive person like myself, this problem is doubly stressful, and I find myself always asking existential questions like, “Is school worth it?” or “What am I getting out of this?” or the obvious “Where did all the time go, and did I really learn anything at all?”

College used to be a rite of passage into adulthood with (as far as I can tell) a chariot to a successful life with some kids and a white picket fence.

Yet, things have changed.

My generation is vastly different from that of my parents. We were raised in the midst of the technological bubble and have seen the rise from VHS to DVD, the power of a computer from the 90s in the palm of our hands. We can do more with less, we can communicate with anyone around the world, and we’ve become so interconnected that if we aren’t on some ethereal social network, real life social exclusion can occur.

A basic college degree means less now, too. In olden days (read: 30 or 40 years ago) a simple undergrad diploma would’ve been more then enough to get a good job and live the rest of your life in relative ease.

Now, if you don’t have your master’s or other graduate degree, some employers won’t even give your application a second glance. On the other hand, if you do get a graduate degree, you could be “overqualified” for a job. It’s a possible Catch-22, and the whole “go to school to land a good job” line of thinking comes with caveats and fine print.

And this only adds to the stress of being a student looking to pursue a career, especially in a journalistic field.  Instead of simply shadowing a reporter and working freelance before landing something more consistent at a big paper or magazine, now you have to freelance, write a blog, create a website, be adept at video editing, audio editing, graphic design and quite possibly some sort of quantum physics.

The days of huge camera crews following around a single reporter is quickly going the way of the dinosaur, and now journalists are expected to be everything at all times, a veritable jack-of-all-trades. Being a good writer with a levelheaded attitude and the wherewithal to stand in the rain and snow to get the next big scoop simply isn’t enough anymore.

Of course, other careers are going through similar types of consolidation, too. Average white collar workers are being paid less but expected to work more, and since the unemployment pool is so large, there’s always someone ready to take their seat when they can’t handle it.  Instead of working a 9 to 5, some people I’ve talked to are working 9 to 9, making less than they were five years ago.

Bottom line, the future looks bleak. Not apocalyptically so, but enough that it causes me worry.

Of course, my fears aren’t unique, whatsoever. I’ve talked with a lot of seniors on campus about the fear they feel going into the great big beyond of adulthood. They all say a similar thing, “I don’t feel ready. I’m just going to move back into my parents house if I can’t find work, and then my life is over.”

But there is something I find comfort in, and that’s JMU’s general education program. I know a lot of undergrads are probably rolling their eyes right now, but I really think that it’s become one of the most important aspects of my entire JMU experience.  It forced me into classes that I’d never take otherwise and broadened my horizons.

It let me diversify and become knowledgeable in a bunch of different areas. Sure, I’m no expert in economics, but now I wake up every morning and read the Wall Street Journal after taking a few classes in the business department. I may not be able to speak fluent French, but I could hold my own in a restaurant in Paris. I may not write a research paper on plate tectonics anytime soon, but when the Great Virginia Earthquake of 2011 happened over the summer, I at least knew some of the science behind it.

This translates to my writing ability, too. Instead of being intimidated by writing about the economy, I’m confident I could write an article on the latest Eurozone Debt crisis news that’s passable. And that’s the great thing about JMU’s GenEd program — whatever you want to do in life, the extra stuff you learn will only help you. It’ll help me find a job (hopefully) and besides that, its piqued my interest in places I never though I’d be interested in before, leading me to pursue interests I never had before.

So embrace your diversification. A little extra knowledge could never hurt.


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

One Response to Caveats, quantum physics and thoughts of a millennial

  1. Interesting observation. And I’d like to add a few thoughts…
    * Learn to develop Critical Thinking skill would pay off (trust me on this!)
    * Be open to meaning opportunities, change the mind-set of 9-5…
    * Consider possible contribution instead of doing things (activities), that is, what result are you able to produce…


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