I have a confession to make: I’m a Glee fan.
It all started one night several months ago while I was searching for something good to watch on Netflix. Glee, the TV show on Fox about a high school glee club stood out to me, partially because I had watched a little bit before, but more so because the show concept was interesting. I started watching — and I’m still going. Throughout my experience watching, which started as a silly TV show and a guilty pleasure has actually become more: it’s a story about the modern career and the millennial identity.
For those who have never watched, Glee is a television show about a feel-good singing club from the fictional McKinley High School in rust belt town Lima, Ohio, and follows their ascent from anonymity to national darlings through their soundly choreographed dance moves to well-covered Top 40 songs. It’s everything from a reminder of what high school was to what it could have been.
But beyond the deprecation of high school culture, drama, and stereotypes that come with the high school experience — all laid out in the show’s many episodes,Glee reveals more than meets the eye. For me, an American born Asian to Chinese immigrants, it’s the story of identity that is all-too-familiar and a constant journey of discovery, awakening, and self. From the perspective of a Millennial, Glee is a television show about finding meaning in work. As a generation up obsessed with doing not only work that helps us pay the bills but also makes the world a better place, the narrative within Glee presents a story that mirrors the current struggle of Millennials. Stories like the conflict of Mike Chang and his desire to go to dance school while going against the wishes of his parents, to Santana Lopez’s reflection on college and cheerleading hit the contemporary nail on the head, and these stories are our own, and are what makes the show so addicting (to me, anyway).
So what are the lessons of Glee?
1. Identity is fluid
As careers become a more fluid concept, so does identity. No longer are we locked into one singular job for an extended period of time, but rather forced into a constant period of reflection on who we are, what our strengths are, and what makes us passionate. As the cast of Glee constantly shows us, they too must be fluid in understanding where they are at any given time. Out here in the real world, we must awaken to what matters not on a yearly cycle but on a daily basis.
2. Meaning is found everywhere
Glee coach Will Schuester seems to have an uncanny ability in seeking and deriving meaning from just about any situation, from Quinn Fabray’s pregnancy (season 1) to Noah Puckerman’s graduation (season 3). As the narrative of careers changes time overtime, it’s important for us to also seek meeting in every situation we find ourselves into. The lucky few in the future will be able to have a long-term career with promotions, their dream job, and upward lateral movement, but for the most of us it will come down to projects, different companies, and a constant adjustment to new situations. Therefore, it is important for us to find meaning in anything and everything we do and be deliberate in our actions (and people we spend time around). Our generation might call it chaos, but our parents had a very poignant word for it: Opportunity.
3. Nothing is Forever
As the 2008 recession taught us, institutions that we’ve come to rely on and become comfortable with can change overnight. Much like the world, Glee changes every couple of seasons with new cast members, adjustments needing to be made, and last second changes before the big competition. In today’s fluid economy where contracts dominate the workforce, it’s important to remember that all things do have an end. It’s important to make the best of things, work hard, and continue moving forward.
4. To Awaken is to Really Live
Perhaps it’s the fact that music has the way to drastically change our mood, but there is something awakening about a musical number. One of my side projects as a result of watching Glee is now a screenplay, for example. Glee shows this very well in Season 5 upon the learning of Finn Hudson’s death, where various members of the club are stricken with grief and wondering what to do with their lives — Noah with the future of his life post-pool cleaning, Rachel with her journey post-Broadway, and more. In this instance, Glee not only urges us to mourn for Cory Monteith (who played Finn and died prior to Season 5) but also asks us to awaken to what really matters. How much more Millennial does it get than that?
At the end of the day, the takeaway is that the economy is changing and maybe not for the ways that we were all used to. Millennials are growing up in a drastically changing economy, challenged by automation, a sagging labor market, and few entry level jobs, all while moving home to take jobs at coffee shops. Unlike the world in Glee, the plot lines in this world are real, and they aren’t changing soon. And while Glee will gracefully bow out this coming Fall for its final sixth season, one thing will not: our careers and how we approach its evolution.
As they say — high school, it never ends.
This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.