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Gen Y's opt-out vision

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Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day (April 27) would be a great idea if the contemporary workplace was actually a place where we wanted our daughters and sons to end up. Unfortunately, for the second-wave feminists who created it, and fortunately, for the third-wave feminists who aren't having it, this "special day" is about as relevant as a traditional Southern coming out party.

The "opt-out revolution," first coined by Lisa Belkin in her New York Times Magazine story in October 2003, has since been discussed by feminists and antifeminists alike in countless news features and opinion pieces. The trend of young women rejecting the traditional workforce is, indeed, real. But this trend isn't limited to young women. What social commentators are failing to point out is that both young men and women are not just opting out, we're not even buying in.

Five years after collecting an Ivy League undergraduate degree, I look around at my crew of brilliant and promising young friends and see only a few of us who are willing to slave away 12 hours a day for the security of a 401(k). It isn't that we're impractical - I'd give my pinkie finger for the comfort of health insurance - or adverse to hard work. It comes down to this: We have watched our parents waste away in drab cubicles and count the days to retirement. We have heard them whine about the work/life balance. And we're not having it.

Call me idealistic, but isn't work supposed to be part of life? In other words, a vital, joyful activity? Do I have to accept the idea that "real life" begins when I punch out at 8 p.m. each day? Am I supposed to settle for being alive only on the weekends?

I don't mean to say that my peers and I are spoiled brats who don't want to pay their dues. We do want to contribute to society, but we want to do it in a way that doesn't drain the life out of us. That is why the majority of my friends have gravitated toward self-employment, freelancing, consulting, and part-time work. According to Working Today, a national nonprofit that advocates for these outside-the-box thinkers, 30 percent of the current workforce is independently employed. I predict that this number is heading nowhere but up.


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