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Guest: Lost generation? Not so fast

BY JOSH TETRICK - GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 18, 2010 7:30 AM

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“We are “bright, eager, and unwanted,” according to a recent Business Week cover story about the record-high unemployment rate and career anxiety among our generation.

Our generation is inheriting a damaged future and a series of problems that are of crisis proportions.

We’re coming of age in a world in which global-warming pollution is dumped by the million-ton truckload into the sewer formerly known as our atmosphere, where billions live each day in the grinding no-medicine, no-light, and no-family type of poverty. And now — a job crisis of our very own.

“For people just starting their careers, the damage may be deep and long-lasting, potentially creating a kind of ‘lost generation.’ ”

If you’re reading this, that likely means you.

We’ve seen how the potent mix of apathy and anger leads to neither effective solutions nor mental comfort. While the unemployment rate among this generation is the highest for any since World War II, our capacity to embrace the big, selfless, and profitable career paths of tomorrow has never been higher. We have no choice other than to innovate our way out of this social, ecological, and economic mess.

Ory Okolloh (24) doesn’t just use Google Maps to find a restaurant; she harnesses it to track atrocities and human-rights violations. Derek Lomoas (26) doesn’t see business as evil; he sees it as a tool to distribute interactive games for children in Africa. Mark Rembert (23) doesn’t use his mechanical engineering degree to build bigger buildings; he’s using it to repower his city with renewable energy.

We have a commitment to common good over individual gain, an ethos that reaches across traditional divisions such as race, ideology, and partisanship.

We’re radically pragmatic. We’re ecologically intelligent and socially tolerant.

And more than any generation before us, we get this paradox: Selflessness is profitable.

Millennials refuse to be constrained by past conventions. This is manifested in the thousands of young people who are creating the tools, law, vaccines, buildings, code, fashion, and food that will allow the planet to grow stronger while empowering those living their days on monthly income barely enough to buy a large coffee. Thousands of us are using bugs (and biochemistry) to beat back malaria, sending out Tweets and Facebook updates to galvanize support for genocide victims, building hospitals and homes and communities brimming with renewable energy, and installing green roofs for a new generation of American homes.

While the press (and our parents) lament the present, we’ve taken a moment to remember (and live) a story from the past. “Why the lightbulb?” a student seeking a clarity to his own career anxiety once asked Thomas Edison. “I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent.” Billions of dollars and 100 years later, Edison’s answer captures brilliantly how the “lost generation” is embracing the future in the vice grip of this economic downturn. We’re not only making Edison proud — we’re making him envious.

We — the Millennials — are not lost. We’ve only just arrived.

Josh Tetrick, 29, has led a U.N. business initiative in Kenya, worked for both former President Clinton and the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and taught street children as a Fulbright Scholar in Nigeria. He blogs about world-changing career ideas at blog.33needs.com.


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