When there’s no crowd to follow, make your own map.

“Generation Limbo” are out of luck. They have to make it on their own.

The twenty-somethings who invested in their university education to springboard themselves into a good career have found there are no jobs. They’re on their own.

As Luke Johnson recently wrote: “People don’t have any way of getting a job. They either opt out and become a bum or they become an entrepreneur.”

These aren’t the only routes but they sum it up: You can create your own job from thin air; You can quit the rat race before you start and, say, become a volunteer… or you can quit the West. Go East. Or south to Brazil. It’s a big decision.

And it’s down to you, the individual.

And as the Western economies fart and groan in their mire of debt and as each member of generation limbo seeks to make the right decision. Where do they turn for guidance?

Not the press, not the church, not the politicians and not mammon. All the players have let them down.

They turn to themselves.

A recent US study* found that the “moral unit” is no longer the group but the individual. This means that even when it comes to making decisions about the basic things: what is good and what is bad, the individual is on their own. In other words, when asked to decide whether they approve or disapprove of something the individual has to make their own mind up; the answer hasn’t been provided by society.

Asked to comment about moral dilemmas the young people interviewed typically responded with non-judgemental views. “It’s personal,” was a standard response. “It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?”

This is new. Instead of inheriting values (which is the usual path) now there’s no moral anchor but the self and how you “feel about things”. If you hadn’t learned a moral code during your school years then you would previously have learned behaviour, virtues and rules from the people you work with. But what if the twenty-something cohort can’t get work? What if this forces them to retreat further into individualism? If that’s the case – and it is – then the pressure is back on the individual.

This generational shift from finding strength in the group to locating it in the individual was evident in the political show This Week. The 25 year old  recording artist Tinchy Stryder  was asked whether he had been ambitious when he was a kid:

“Yeah I was ambitious.”

where did it come from?

“From my heart. My family helped but it came from me.”

The 57-year old politician Michael Portillo was asked the same question.

“I think for me it came externally. Because of the school I came from.”

Of course there are bucketloads of difference in background and circumstance between Portillo and Tinchy (and indeed you, me and everyone else) but the difference is still striking.

Whether it’s making up your mind how to get work, what to do for a living or a way of life, what’s right and what’s wrong, you are on your own. To a large degree this has always been the case but, previously, you could always go with the flow and follow the answers and rules provided by everyone else.

Now there’s no flow. Now you don’t have a choice. Every act is decision time.


*Lost in Transition by Christian Smith, Notre Dame University