“Don’t Try to Keep Up with the Joneses. Keep Up with the Indiana Joneses.”

Indiana Jones.

What does that name conjure up for you?

C’mon, eighties kids, you know this one: snakes, temples, death-traps, idols, desert chases, melting Nazis, human hearts, a map with a red line on it.

Lucas’ marketing men did their homework: “If adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones.”

My boy, Indy.

But the eighties were a long time ago, and the thirties that Indy lived in never existed. You had to grow up, go to school, get a proper degree (not something useless like English, or history, or archaeology), rack up student debt, find your first real job, and, generally, keep up with the Joneses. It’s the right way to do things, and it might be a little harder now, but I’m sure you’ll get through it.

Let’s look at the numbers. I’m not studying social sciences for nothing. The economic unemployment rate is based on the labor market, which is the civilian noninstitutional population 16 years or older (1). That is, everyone over 16 who’s not in the military, in prison, or in a home. The jobless rate for Americans between 16-24 is a whopping 16.4%, damn near double the national average at 8.6% (2). Oddly enough, college kids in that cohort also have 8.6% joblessness, again double the unemployment rate of their elders.

Or, to put it another way: Look at your freshman English class. If it was anything like mine, there were forty people there, some of you standing in the hall. By the time you graduate, four of you will be unable to find a job. If you can only spot three people who will never work, guess what.

And you can back this one up with anecdotal evidence. All of you know someone who sent out a few hundred resumes, collected a few dozen rejections, and have moved back in with their parents “temporarily” to save money. They’re sending out a few hundred more. It’s been six months, or twelve months, or two years, and their grace period for their school loans ran out a long time ago.

What’s worse, they’re telling us that we’ll be feeling it in forty years. According to Business Week, those of us with the temerity to graduate into a bad job market (England in the early 1980s, Japan in the 1990s, America in the late 2000s) will be making 93% of what we could have if only they’d been born about five years earlier (3). This will stick with us, in the form of reduced pay over a lifetime, chronic holes in our resumes, and increased rates of depression and mental illness. Income in the form of purchasing power has been dropping steadily since we were born, since the first Indiana Jones film came out.

Still, there’s nothing you can do. If you want to live a comfortable lifestyle, you’re going to have to move out, get straight to work, and pay off your debt. Except, you can’t find work, you can’t afford it, and, well, frankly, that makes you a bad person. A failure. And it’s because you spend too much time online, and you have the attention span of a goldfish, and you have no idea how the real world works.

I’d like everyone under thirty to join in here: Fuck that!

This is a wonderful time to do something insane and awesome, because you have nothing to lose. No, really. If you could spend the next year living in your parents’ basement, collecting rejections, or teaching English in the heart of Asia, making ramen money and getting life (and work!) experience, which one would you choose? Willingly?

This is the kind of time, and the kind of place, where the insane becomes practical, and the accepted becomes insane. Expecting to find any kind of work after graduation is pretty much batshit insane by now, given that you’re competing against Baby Boomers with forty years of experience, sullen Gen-Xers trying to make mortgage payments, teenagers, and that one guy in your year who was class president, captain of the swim club, valedictorian and held down three jobs while working his five internships.

Since that’s looking more insane, the previously insane options look pretty tame by comparison.

Besides, starting on “the old straight track” keeps you on the old straight track. You know, the one where you listen when your friends explain why it’s a good idea to flip the “starter castle” you bought after working a few years out of college? Where your neighbors snicker when you show up in your old reliable beater? The one where you start seriously paying attention to those “debt consolidator” commercials on the big-screen TV you bought with a credit card?

That’s life keeping up with the Joneses. Fuck that.

Try spending a year in Nome, Alaska, operating a radio station. Or joining the Peace Corps and head for Mozambique. Or volunteering to work with inner city kids for a year in New Orleans. Or starting your own business, right there in your parents’ garage. Or start a Kickstarter project to see if your band really is as awesome as you tell people at the bar. Or anything on this site. Or, or, or.

If you want to try again when the American job market doesn’t suck as badly, you’ll have something worth talking about on that resume. You may even have acquired valuable skills, like these transferable skills, or learning to speak Chinese (or Spanish). If, as Colleen Kinder points out in her book Delaying the Real World, people who start out adventurous stay that way, I’ll see you on the road and buy you a drink. And if it doesn’t work out, at least it beats mailing resumes every goddamn day.

How are you going to raise money for it all, you ask? Well, a lot of these ideas pay money. Almost none of them pay great money, but teaching English in Korea or Russia should make enough to keep your student loan payments going. I couldn’t have spent a year over here in China if I was paying for it out of pocket. Starting your own business, according to Scott Gerber, may be the sanest option of all (4). A lot of them defer those payments, like KNOM or the Peace Corps. The price tag on most of these is $5000 or below, total. That’s cheaper than one semester of college. A lot of them are just the price of a plane ticket. If you’ve got a car, sell it. Sell your old crap on eBay. Work a McJob if you can find one, and apply for a few-hundred-dollar loan at the Bank of Mom and Dad (5). McJobs become a lot more bearable when you’re saving up for something and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Live your crazy. Live the life of adventure. Nobody died regretting the summer they spent in Paris or that time they taught skiing in Aspen. And, frankly, it’s not nearly as crazy, by comparison, as expecting to find a job with a medical plan or that your 401k will be worth shit in forty years. Your 401k will be raided, but they can’t raid your experience, your skillset, your friendships, or your memories.

Would you rather keep up with the Joneses? Or would you rather become Indiana Jones?

Show me which one you would rather do.

  • 1 – Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/cps/cps_htgm.htm#nilf

    2 – New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/11/06/business/economy/unemployment-lines.html

    3 – Business Week. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_42/b4151032038302.htm

    4 – Never Get A “Real” Job. http://www.nevergetarealjob.com/hey-gen-y-its-get-real-time/

    5 – Portfolio.com – http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/entrepreneurship/2010/11/16/serial-entrepreneur-scott-gerber-urges-millennials-to-burn-their-resumes

    6 – Delaying the Real World. http://www.delayingtherealworld.com/ten.html

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    About R. Jean Mathieu

    They say he speaks five languages, was conceived on a chess board, and once seduced a tong boss' daughter and lived to tell the tale. All we know is, he's called Roscoe. You can find more scurrilous lies at rjeanmathieu.com and buy his books at fedoraarts.com. View all posts by R. Jean Mathieu

    One response to ““Don’t Try to Keep Up with the Joneses. Keep Up with the Indiana Joneses.”

    • thalass

      I agree. I’ve mostly gone the jones path, but i came out of high school ten years ago, and have had a bit of luck along the way. If you’ve got nothing to lose, why not go a bit nuts and give in to the wanderlust? Or pursue that impossible dream? I mean… if it falls in a heap, you’ll just end up at the 9-5 job anyway. So why not have a go?

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