Anywhere baby boomer parents gather, you’re likely to hear conversations that go something like this:
“So, tell me about the children. How are they and what are they doing these days?”
“Good, they’re good. They’re all gainfully employed, thank God. But honestly, I have no idea what they do.”
This is usually followed by gales of laughter because 22 years into the 21st century, many parents of a certain age could not begin to tell you what their children do for a living. Boomers — those hard-working, strivers with pensions and retirement plans — largely got old-fashioned jobs when they came of age. And most stayed with an employer for decades.
Boomers did everything, of course. They were butchers and doctors, lawyers and truck drivers, accountants and electricians, plumbers, chefs and firefighters, and yes, even reporters. Everyone knew what all those people did for a living and the luckiest had something to show for their efforts at the end of the day.
When we were asked as children what we wanted to be when we grew up, none of us said, “I want to be an influencer.” If you haven’t heard, an influencer is kind of like being famous for being famous. Influencers make money by attaching their name and fame to products in virtual marketplaces and social media streams. If you can build your niche and create a following, companies with stuff to sell might reward you with ads and sales commissions.
Jehava Brown is a stay-at-home mother who is a full-time influencer on Instagram, where she has 193,000 followers. In a Business Insider interview, she said she charges an average of $5,000 for a single Instagram post and $3,000 for an Instagram Story.
And to think I still get excited about a byline.
Grazie Pozo admits to being utterly stumped by her children’s career choices. She and her husband, both physicians in Florida, assumed they would at least understand what her kids did for a living. Not a chance.
One of her sons, 25, left a consulting job to work for a company through which people can invest in their favorite professional athletes. She told me that she asks her son, “Explain it to me again? It sounds like gambling.”
No, he says, it’s like the stock market.
Well, that’s a relief.
Another son works for a large consulting firm and “lives the life of a pasha at 22,” she says. “He does studies and works on PowerPoints. He’s very busy and he works long hours, but I can’t tell you what he does.”
Part of the generation gap around work lies in the language of the new economy. The old jobs are still around, of course, but there are many new roles, and all the titles are different. There’s “chief evangelist.” And “captain of moonshots.” Many companies now have “chief inspiration officers.” My personal favorite? “Executive vice president for executive visibility.” (I think that means public relations.) Tesla chief executive Elon Musk prefers the title of “technoking.”
The digital economy also favors job descriptions that only a robot could understand. One recent job opening at a firm named CrowdStrike calls for something known as a change manager. “The Change Manager will be responsible for change management planning and readiness activities. They will work closely with senior leaders across the Go to Market (GTM) PMO portfolio (Sales, Services, Customer Support, etc.) and support other portfolios as needed . . . Another area of responsibility will be setting up a change management practice within the Global PMO team with standards, processes, tools and documentation that can be leveraged by all team members.”
Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?
Ann S., a seasoned Washington, D.C., attorney, is a mother of six who reports that one son, 28, is a government contractor who works on risk management, accounting and does a lot of Zoom meetings. Another son, 34, is a government contractor and works with the Navy. “That’s all I know,” she laughs. “My children are going to kill me.”
I think I know what my son does. It’s something to do with wellness software and legislation. What I do know is that he checks several of the millennial job-requirement boxes: He works from home, believes his work contributes to greater social justice, likes his peers, feels appreciated and is optimistic about the future.
And he’s happy, and that’s really all parents want for their children. Maybe next time you’re at a party, skip the jobs and ask if the kids are happy. Everybody understands happy.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.