Shifting gears, careers and dreams

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 | 1:00 p.m. CDT; updated 9:09 a.m. CDT, Monday, May 7, 2012

MOBERLY — When Addie Rose Davis pictures the perfect life, she's 30 years old and living in her own house with a husband, two children and a successful job. But at 18, she's not exactly sure how she's going to get there.

She once dreamed of being an actress but wised up to the high unemployment rate in the theater world and the likelihood of waiting tables while looking for gigs. She left Stephens College in Columbia after a semester and now, midway through her first semester at Moberly Area Community College, has her sights set on returning to Columbia to study broadcasting at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Davis said her ability and willingness to switch gears is one way her generation differs from past generations. Her father has worked for the railroad since "forever." Her mother is retired from the career she went to school for. Davis doesn't see the same stability or certainty happening for her or her friends.

"I think people have changed. In the beginning, when the whole American Dream concept came about, they were talking about how people have the right to go out and pursue what they want. And now, I feel like people, they're kind of hesitant about it, because they don't want to ... there's like a commitment issue these days. And that's affected me, too, because I committed to theater and then I changed my mind. I feel like that's happening a lot more. Like back in our grandparents' days, they started out with a company and worked their way up and ended up a bigwig in that company over time. And people today I feel like aren't doing that. They feel like they deserve more sooner. ...

"Maybe they were happier with doing the same thing every day. Maybe nowadays we just become ADD, or we think about it too much. We're scared that we're not going to be happy with our lives."

Davis mentioned divorce as one possible cause for this shift, which I'd never thought of. The divorce rate is certainly higher now than it was early last century, but Davis' generation isn't the first to grow up with a higher divorce rate. What effect would parents' divorce have on a child's pursuit of the American Dream? Or in belief in that dream?

And is a secure life with one career or company a sign of commitment, or a road to boredom?

This story is part of the American Next, a special project exploring the hopes, fears and changing expectations of Missouri's next generation in challenging times.

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