What happens when a generation has a fear of the future?

“I’m hiding from the future.”

I heard these exact words come from the mouth of an 18 year old yesterday. At a conference for a national service organization, I encountered scores of 18-24 year olds who expressed a fear of the future.

Here is the word-for-word interaction I had with one girl:

Me: Have you graduated from college yet?

Girl: Yes.

Me: Do you have much student loan debt?

Girl: No, I don’t have any. I kinda feel bad about that.

Me: Don’t feel bad unless you spend the next few years just sitting around eating potato chips and wasting the education you earned.

Girl: Oh, my parents would not let me do that.

Me: So what do you have planned next?

Girl: Maybe grad school?

Me: Is that because grad school is inline with a bigger goal you have?

Girl: No. I just don’t know what else to do.

Me: Do you have a plan for what you want to work toward in the future?

Girl: No, I don’t want to have a plan. If I have a plan, I’ll just feel discouraged if it doesn’t come together. And I’ll change my mind anyway. I’m just thinking about 2 years at a time.

Me: If someone could help you develop a plan, would you be interested?

Girl: Not really.


Not really.

There it is, friends. In one conversation, we see what’s mentally going on with a many members of this generation. It’s a fear of the future.

Here she is, recognizing that her parents paid for a bachelor’s degree that did nothing to give her an inkling of life direction. She knows her parents won’t abide her doing nothing. So she will get them to pay for a graduate degree – like it’s just another ride on the merry-go-round so that she has something else to do.

Choosing not to have a plan — when did that become a wise plan?

I mean, it a great strategy for a day of adventure in a foreign country: just get out and see where the day takes you.

But now we have a large portion of this generation who admits openly and proudly that their plan is to have no plan because having a plan could disappoint them if it doesn’t come true.

Now you could say, “Wait a minute, Leslie. Isn’t that what Off-Trail On Purpose is all about? Throwing the rule book into the fire and trusting your intuition to guide you?”

No. It’s not.

The philosophy I am laying out through Off-Trail On Purpose is brave, well-informed, and daring. It’s about learning about yourself and what you can contribute to the world and following your dreams and passions even when they may seem uncertain and fly in the face of the traditionally prescribed path.

What this girl voiced is the opposite: I will stick to the traditional path so that I don’t have to dare, dream, or be disappointed. I’ll just settle for whatever comes my way and make due with that.

The attitude of this Groundhog Generation is a result of the fear-based culture of the past 15 years combined with an educational system built around standardized tests. We’ve taught them that the world is a multiple-choice test with right answers to be found. They have been rewarded for find the right answer and taught to fear the unknown and open-ended. With a fear of the future’s unknowns, so they opt to go underground and wait for someone else to decide the future for them.

To free them, we need to help them learn to dream again.

We need to help them dare to be disappointed and to disappoint if it means being true to themselves.

We need to help them rediscover what is true for them and not hide it away in fear of being wrong.

This generation needs help to overcome their fear of the future and step out into the sun.


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