The solid moral foundations that once gave our lives clear purpose and direction are now fading. Like lines drawn in the sand, the waves of modernity wash away traditional moral maps that guided our life-course from infancy to old age. While freeing us to pursue our individual passions, this freedom also leads many to feel isolated and directionless, especially in times of transition.
Traditionally, transitions throughout the life-course have been guided by clear social expectations or rites of passage. These expectations still exist, but are not nearly as clear-cut as they once where. A post-secondary student is often expected to seek employment and an eventual marital partner after graduation, but unlike the times of highly gendered courtship rituals and readily available local careers, there are often no clear paths to follow in the transition from studenthood to professional life.
Rather than a handful of job offers, many recent graduates are forced to get creative, volunteering, moving away, or picking up applied skills with extra college courses. The strict codes of conduct that guided the life-course have been reduced to a single moral imperative: to offer value to society without harming others. This is the imperative of modern liberalism.
Modern liberalism is a double edged sward. Its benefit is that it allows for greater social mobility, equality between diverse lifestyles, and a wider array of opportunity for individuals to pursue their unique passions. This is the modern idea of the ‘life-project’; though unlike work projects, the project of life has very little direction and the only deadline its end.
As long as the individual does not pose a too much of a risk to others, they will have an infinite number of opportunities to restart or change paths. This can seem quite liberating compared to the traditional one-size-fits-all life-template. Although it is liberating, the drawback is that individuals are tasked with the responsibility to figure out the direction of their project on their own, without being prepared to take on this responsibility.
Each generation experiences a gap between themselves and their parents. Just as the baby boomers experienced a significant change from the courtship expectations of their parents, children of the baby boomers are experiencing their key distinction in the transition to the work world.
The traditional school-system taught this generation’s children and adolescents that is they follow rules and perform well on tests, everything will be okay – but this is far from the case in today’s entrepreneurial economy where the rules are minimum, factual knowledge is readily accessible by simple Google searches, and success is strictly measured by the amount of value you can offer an organization. Rather than the ability to memorize factual knowledge and follow rules, creativity and the ability to put knowledge to work are the prized possessions in today’s work world.
There is a gap between what is required to succeed in the professional world and what is taught in elementary school, high-school, and even many university programs. The ability to sit attentively through lectures and memorize facts for an exam are not the skills we should be instilling in a generation whose major challenge is finding a creative way to offer value. The professional world requires more than obedient automatons who can regurgitate a benign set of facts they will shortly forget after an exam.
I very frequently encounter students in the social sciences struggling with the idea of writing an essay based on their own analysis of a problem. Far too many students are deeply uncomfortable coming up with an innovative idea – even in their final years of university. Today’s professional world requires innovators and problem-solvers, people who know how to use knowledge to make a positive change.
In a world where morality no longer acts as a clear road-map to success, we are the artists of our own lives. In the wake of large-scale economic uncertainty, education at all levels needs to support the new moral imperative to creatively offer value by taking responsibility for one’s individual life-project. Traditional education creates anxiety for individuals thrown into the professional world ill-equipped for the conditions. Since the world is making the transition to entrepreneurial-societies, education needs to catch up and prepare young adults for the transition from studenthood to entrepreneurial-life.