If you’ve ever read Justin Halpern’s best-selling book “Sh*t My Dad Says,” you’ll know that as much as Sam Halpern defies all definitions of people who are generally considered “characters,” the book isn’t exactly about him. Yes he’s the clear star, but real substance of the book deals with the relationship between father and son--an exercise in how late twentieth-century parenting shaped the development and maturation of a kid who grew up in what's decidedly “our world.” The stories--ranging from little league outbursts, to visits the doctor, to child misbehaviors at professional functions--are all highly entertaining versions of the sorts of stuff that most of us now-adults have at one point or another, lived through.
Books written by “experts” may lead you to believe that Sam Halpern ascribed to some professionally defined parenting label, based on some trend reflective of x and y psychological mindsets championed by post WWII America. To this, Sam Halpern would likely yell bullshit!, and come up with some clever rebuttal statement. And he’d probably be right. But truth be told, the way Sam Halpern raised Justin Halpern--whether unintentionally or not--reflects a trend unique to only the latest crop of young adults. Namely, he supported and encouraged him to pursue a career that would not necessarily earn him a dependable living, but would be one that he was wholeheartedly passionate about.
“Get ready for a fucking of biblical proportions,” was the advice he gave me after a shared my plan.
My dad believed in me, though, and supported my decision (to try and become a screenwriter) completely. In fact, he supported me so much that, unprompted, he offered to pay my first three month of rent in L.A. to help me get on my feet.
“I figure what’s the fucking point in dying and leaving you money when you probably won’t need it? Might as well give it to you now when you need the help. Plus, I plan on blowing most of it on stupid shit when I get senile," he explained.
Justin Halpern is now 32, so he's a bit too old to fall into the trap that is being a dreaded “millennial.” But like many of us college kids and recent grads, Halpern wanted to do something with his life that didn’t involve compiling unremarkable information into spreadsheets. He didn’t want to live for the times spent in the office kitchen, loosening the noose of a tie on his neck for those sacred five minutes that didn’t have to be spent in the cube, where it for some reason always smells like a rotten tuna sandwich. Halpern, with the backing of his dad, embarked on a career that he was clearly passionate about. Yes, he may have hit it big in a way nobody else ever will in the history of ever (says Sam, “You’re the luckiest asshole in a sea of lucky assholes"), but the lesson here is that if you stick around long enough, you’re eventually gonna catch a foul ball. Halpern hung around long enough, and the dividends followed. And probably when he least expected them to.
Halpern graduated from college around ten years ago. You don’t need me to tell you that some things have occurred since then, but I will, because what I just did exaggerates the fact that a lot shit has gone down. Most notably of course, is that the economy has channeled the fury of a bitter divorcee--one who feels the need to bring up her estranged husband at every turn, driving home the point with an admirable strain of hopelessness. But that’s not all. Social Media is “ruining us,” articles on the internet tell us that we’re “fucked,” we don’t know how to date people, and on top of all that, teens now get extremely famous for eating tampons. Zombies, Mayans, and fleeting job prospects alike have for some reason rendered us in an apocalyptic coma--one where we have no choice but to insert a “fuck the future” catchphrase (generally that particular 4-letter acronym), because for some reason, it's inevitable that Winter Is Coming.
Justin Halpern spent over half a decade waiting tables, sacrificing short-term gain for long-term success that may have never came. He wanted a career, not a job. But, because he entered the workforce at a more desirable time, the jobs were there. The jobs were there so much in fact, that “a year out of college, I had a decent job waiting tables at an upscale Italian restaurant where I only needed to work about three days a week to make ends meet.” Assumedly, he’s writing about the year 2004 or so. But I’m writing about the year 2013--and having just wrote my rent check, the idea of working three days a week while pursuing an alternative career while also not starving seems almost laughable. Granted this is New York City and the rent is too damn high, but it’s clear that this narrative--do something simpler for money, but pledge the majority of your time to pursuing something that you really care about--increasingly requires a flawless resume and cover letter just in itself.
But at the same time, we’ve been littered time and time again with the idea that the 9 to 5 isn’t something for people of our generation because we’re “special” and “unique,” and therefore meant for something more. A lot of this stems from us being the “trophy generation”--our parents providing us with constant validation, and reassurance that we will succeed as long as we “follow our dreams.” (Take a second and think about how many times your parents prefaced future projections with “when you’re rich,” and then look at yourself now). A lot of this also has to do with zeitgeist-happy media (by blogging law, any article that says the word zeitgeist must make multiple mentions of Lena Dunham and “Girls,” so this is mention one). And a lot of this, most certainly, has to do with the fact that technology has enabled anyone to type sh*t your dad says into a twitter account, and have the chance to end up with a book deal.
So contrary to the basic theories of scarcity and supply and demand, we’ve spent the greater portion of our lives convincing ourselves that we can all be entrepreneurs, hollywood screenwriters, big-time executives, restaurateurs, and musicians. But now that we’ve taken economics, the realities of how shit works have hit us hard. And it seems like we haven’t quite adjusted.
Take the new-ish video for Avicii’s “I Can Be the One,” which follows a narrative we’re all getting increasingly familiar with. Girl gets increasingly ruined by her job, is slowly devolving into a permanent rut, only to actually play out the “fuck you, job!” scenario many of us spend hours and hour drawing up in our heads.
I feel like I’m trapped in someone else’s master plan. Get a school, get a job, get a mortgage--all I’m really doing is dying
Not so implicitly, the video suggests that the way the world currently works is not exactly on par with how we want it to work. It suggests that a lot of us would rather opt for the Halpern route--take a few years or so to figure it out, embrace the struggle, and (hopefully) attain notoriety and financial success for pursuing something we enjoy doing. It’s far from an easy path, and it’s one that takes a ridiculous amount of time and effort--judging by Malcolm Gladwell’s highly intellectualized “practice makes perfect” theory, Halpern probably spent about 10,000 hours writing just as he made it big with Sh*t My Dad says--something, because of the work put in earlier, he was able to leverage into a full-time career as a writer. (Halpern has gone on to write for a CBS comedy, is the dude behind those hilarious Grantland Gmail ‘Fauxclusives,’ made his theatrical debut, wrote another book, and is currently developing a sitcom that was just picked by FOX based on that book). Meaning, that WHEN he was vaulted into the spotlight, he had enough experience behind him to know what it took to be more than just a Duncan Sheik.
As I have always wanted to execute a flawless Duncan Sheik reference/transition combination special, this past week’s episode of “Girls” (part II of the obligatory Girls references), brought this issue to the limelight in a rather brilliant way. Now working as a hostess, Marnie (Allison Williams), runs into some hot-shot art gallery guy/member of “The Lonely Island,” a dude who Marnie has always had the hots for. He’s a bit older, and he notes how depressing it is that Marnie has seemingly given up on her Art Gallery aspirations. When Marnie complains about the lack of jobs in the career that she’s passionate about (ding!), dude responds with this gem:
I love that.
I love when young people are passionate about something, and then give up the second they have to struggle.
Yes, he may have accrued massive success for a very simple and easily executable idea, but arguably the cooler part about Justin Halpern’s story was that he was willing to wait tables for six years, get dumped by his girlfriend, and move in with his parents at age 28, all for the pursuit of a career he cared about. We’re always going to need people to give up on their dreams so that the people who stick around long enough can succeed, but have us millennials somehow completely dropped the ball on this? The economy is certainly a HUGE obstacle, but are we all, with our “it’s a job, it pays,” type statements, with our settling for Tel-AmeriCorp, with social media’s insinuation that temporary validation trumps all (if we’re talking comedy writers, how much creative juice does the occupational hazard of crafting witty one-off facebook comments and tweets suck up?), and our need to want everything right now--our need to drop mad money on shots, our insane fear of not getting that trophy, and the always “easy” choice to make a little bit more money at the expense of putting our true passion further and further on the back-burner--in spite of all these obstacles, are we really just giving up? Just like that? After 20+ years of convincing ourselves otherwise?
It’s 2013, and it’s getting harder and harder to pull a Halpern. But for those who really want it, this should make it a helluva lot more fun.