We might consider, then, the case of Chad Ruble. At age 32, with a wife who was four months pregnant with their first child, Ruble had a bright idea—he decided to take up skateboarding. “I had never noticed that there’s a half-pipe at Chelsea Piers,” he said. “I thought, Too bad I’m too old to do that. Then I thought,I’m not too old!” So he went to Paragon Sports in Union Square to buy some skateboarding gear (avoiding the hard-core East Village skate shops, because he found them too intimidating). “I was heartened because there was another older guy there getting a whole setup, too. I was like, Oh, cool. I’m not the only one,” he said. “Turns out he was getting it for his kid.”
Ruble need not have worried, though—once he hit the Chelsea Piers half-pipe, there were lots of thirtysomething guys skateboarding there, along with the usual kids. So he mounted his board and set out on the pipe. He hadn’t skateboarded since he was 12, but it turns out he still remembered most of the moves. Until his fourth try that is, when he wiped out and dislocated his shoulder. “But I was having the time of my life,” he said. “Those four times were really fun.”
His tale conjures an uneasy vision of an all-too-possible future: of a young boy, maybe 12, in a tiny suit, standing in a hospital room where his dad lies in traction after a gnarly kickflip-and-nosegrind combination gone horribly wrong. The boy comforts his father, perhaps fluffs his pillow, perhaps delivers to him a freshly laundered Cramps T-shirt brought from home. Then he replaces the earbuds of an iPod that’s playing Burl Ives, straightens his bow tie, and heads out to grab the bus home.
The Grup Career, or Take This Job
and Allow Me to Do It From Home, With Occasional Snowboarding Trips
Matt Peccini is a tall, slim, 34-year-old guy with a shaved head and a dry sense of humor. He becomes immediately more interesting to me when he reveals that he once played Boo-Boo, Yogi Bear’s sidekick, in an episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. He earned that cameo in the Cartoon Network’s cult hit during his successful career in television, first at TNT—“working my way through titles and responsibility levels”—and then as a creative director at the AMC channel in New York. “It was a big bump in pay and a big bump in responsibility and in title. I had a staff. On paper, it was a great job,” he says. So after two and a half years, he did what any self-respecting Grup would do—he quit.
This is where the Grup diverges from the bobo, the yuppie, even the yupster. The Grup does not want a corner office. The Grup does not yearn for a fancy title. The Grup does not want—oh, please, do not ask the Grup to manage—a staff. “I just wanted to make fun stuff that went on TV,” says Peccini. “Then all of a sudden I’m doing performance appraisals and going to management seminars.”
A human-resources executive told me recently that there’s a golden rule of HR: To motivate a baby boomer, offer him a bonus. To motivate a Generation-Xer, offer him a day off. The Grup, I think, would go for the day off, too. If the boomer’s icon of success was an empire-building maverick magnate like Ted Turner, the Grup’s model would be Spike Jonze, the 36-year-old Jackass-producing, skateboarding, awesome-indie-movie-directing free agent. Remember, the Grup of today is the slacker from 1990 who, fresh out of college, ran smack into the recession and maybe fiddled around with a riot-grrl band, then got a job at 25 for a Web-development company where she wore jeans to work and played Ping-Pong and stayed late and covered her desk in rare Japanese action figures. Now that woman is 35, a VP at a viral-marketing firm, still dressing down because everyone knows that the youth market is where it’s at, yet is scared to death she’s going to ossify into the same kind of corporate stooge she swore she’d never become. For a Grup, success isn’t about how many employees you have but how much freedom you have to walk, or boogie-board, away.
So now Peccini works as a freelancer, making TV promos and animated shorts that he sells back to the Cartoon Network. It’s been tough getting set up—“I’d gotten used to a certain lifestyle,” he says—and it hasn’t been all unfettered freedom. He’s currently alternating between animation projects and industrial films, like one about sustainability to be played for Wal-Mart employees. But for him, quitting was the best career move. As it was, too, for Nicholas Nathanson, who left his job as an Internet equity research associate at a New York investment bank in 1999—just when that field promised unlimited advancement and riches—at age 29 to start an online surfwear store called Swell. You see, it’s not that Grups don’t want to work; they just don’t want to work for you. In a recent Money magazine poll about bosses, 54 percent of the respondents said they wouldn’t want their boss’s job no matter how much money you paid them. Fifty-four percent.