Job Relocation and “the MP3 Generation” on the Move

By EMILY MEEHAN, From The Wall Street Journal Online

At times, being a twentysomething is like being a kid crashing the big adult party of health insurance, 401(k) plans and direct-deposit paychecks. You can’t believe it’s you amid these trappings. But now that you’re there, it’s time to find your way around, maybe even ahead.

As twentysomethings quickly discover, sometimes getting ahead in a career – or just getting started – can mean crossing time zones, moving to far-flung places. What happens to friends and family? Conversations are long distance, and held after 9 p.m., when our cellphone minutes are free.

I live in Anchorage, Ak., and work as a reporter for the Alaska Public Radio Network. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, where I’m from, finding a position as a staff reporter, even covering weekend shifts, seemed nearly impossible for an entry-level 25-year-old broadcaster. So I moved. I’ve since learned that I’m in good company.

Every week since I’ve been here, a twentysomething, or a few, has traipsed through my house. These visitors have forsaken the safety of familiar surroundings, friends and family, hairdressers, dentists, and pubs, to pursue their ambitions. In this testing stage of our careers, it’s too early to tell what all the moving will lead to.

Cole Miller, 25 years old, is moving from a small Alaska town called Homer to Fort Collins, Colo., to take a carpentry apprenticeship. “Big metropolitan areas are the only places where this kind of apprenticeship is available,” he says. “In Homer, the carpentry crews are tight knit, and you pretty much have to get trained somewhere else in order to be able to come back and work.” He doesn’t want to leave the little town with one stoplight, but he wants to advance his career, and he has family in Colorado. It’s accessible, but not ideal.

Twenty-two-year-old Ren Meinhart also sacrificed proximity to friends and family for a career goal, and it’s worked out in some ways but not in others. She graduated from college a year ago and moved from Syracuse, N.Y., to Manchester, N.H., for a job as a graphic designer at a small design firm.

Ms. Meinhart says there isn’t anyone in the entire state of New Hampshire whom she knows well enough to help her change a flat tire. “I feel completely isolated,” she says. “Its harder to meet people outside of school and that social environment. I’ve learned from this experience that a job isn’t enough, I need stimulation, and social interaction.”

Still, she says, she was working with clients right from the start, rather than making photocopies or reworking other people’s marketing projects.

Twentysomethings often lack the professional networks and the experience to strategically locate themselves and their careers in places where they also want to live. Many of us are finding jobs on the Internet, posted by anonymous people at companies we’ve never heard of.

But there’s more than the typical “pay your dues” thing going on. By some accounts, twentysomethings today lead a more frenzied life and are more susceptible to distraction than the young adults before us. We’re not just the MTV generation, we could be called the MP3 generation, where we download our lives into a gadget and take it on our way.

Peter Whybrow, author of “American Mania,” a book that explores the frenetic pace of contemporary society, partly credits economic change and technology for the mobility of twentysomethings. Americans “are the most concentrated set of migrants in the world,” he said in an interview. “If you’re educating young children not to be reflective or concentrate very much, it tends to increase the willingness of people to constantly shift their horizons.”

Are we unreflective? I must reflect on that. But we’re certainly willing to shift horizons. Beth Richardson-Royer, 25, for one, did. “While I would never do anything that I thought would actually harm my chances for success in the future,” she says, “I will do almost anything as long as my actions are either irrelevant to future accomplishment or can be written off as the follies of a young woman.”

She found a job online that took her to Tokyo last summer to work at a corporate law firm. Her international law program at Duke Law School encourages international work experience. She says the option was more exciting than staying at Duke and working as a research assistant, and enhanced her resume, but not without risks. “I was concerned before my departure about the lack of information I had received from the law firm. I had corresponded only by email, and had only the name of the hotel where I was going to live and the address of the law firm itself. I had visions of arriving in Japan and having the firm deny ever having made me a job offer.” They did remember her, and she was very busy working with corporate accounts for three months.

In addition to discovering Japanese food, sacred architecture, and karaoke hits, Ms. Richardson-Royer left Japan with professional experience that helped her realize that she doesn’t want to pursue corporate law or work overseas.

For many twentysomethings, home is becoming redefined. Here in Alaska I have a residence. The social opportunities offer none of the variety show acts or lifelong friendships that always kept me busy in California. I’m not inclined to plant a garden in my rented yard, get a dog, or add a hot tub. Nevertheless, I feel like I’ve finally found a valid mission: to write, and report. My mobility is no longer linear, it’s upward. The place isn’t the mission anymore, the assignment is.


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This article is reprinted with permission from the College Journal career site of the Wall Street Journal. is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.