But maybe things aren’t as grim as they first appear.
A few years ago, a graduating senior could stumble upon a good job more easily than she could stumble across a drunken person at a frat party. So she didn’t need to carefully examine all her options and question her passions and values. There would be time for that later. A few years down the line it would be possible to think through career paths, skip from gig to gig, and eventually settle into something relatively satisfying.

Flash forward to 2007: an immensely qualified student finds herself fresh-scrubbed, degreed, honored, and unemployed. A long summer of b-hunting stretches before her. As the job search begins, she’s forced to answer some of life’s bigger questions. What do I value? What do I want from life? What will my contribution to this world—this new, altered world—be?

Without free-flowing jobs, we’re being forced into a period of reflection, of assessing our values and questioning our options. The luxury of accepting plush employment with a golden parachute is gone. A job is precious, and it can’t be discarded. The stakes in the job market are high, and we, as a generation, know it. We’re learning it the hard way.

It seems to me that instead of accepting any odd job, we’re now more likely to consider the ramifications of our work. We’re increasingly ready to harness our values and work for that non-profit group, join the Peace Corps, or accept the less-than-generous paycheck that accompanies public service. This isn’t out of desperation, but after sincere reflection about what we truly want to contribute to the world and extract from life. It is forced reflection transformed into positive, productive energy.

Time and again, our generation has been touted as one of the most driven and focused in memory. We’ve succeeded wildly in school and sports and volunteer work and internships.

We’ve developed strong values and beliefs, and now is the time to harness them for a greater good as we confront times of trouble. Sure, it’s going to require a little more growing up than we bargained for. But we’re strong enough to face some unexpected tough times and reshape them both to better ourselves and to improve the world while we’re at it!