The train I take to and from work goes through Newark, New Jersey, and at one point, there is a pretty interesting view where in the foreground, spray painted against an old industrial warehouse is a crazy patchwork of graffiti. Much of it complicated graphics and murals, the work of artists who have clearly put a lot of time and effort into their illegal trade. In the background, however, stand both the Prudential headquarters and the Prudential Center, a sports and entertainment complex with a massive LED screen that makes it feel, if only for a moment, that when you are looking out the window, you have tuned into a passing television channel.
Once you take notice of graffiti, it becomes impossible to ignore, and all the way from Hoboken down to the Jersey Shore, you see the same handles of graffiti artists on every bridge, span and overpass. Echoe. Falser. Tacoe. After a while, you begin to realize that these people are putting themselves at serious risk of getting plastered by a passing train, all for the sake of painting up something that could land them in jail. Why?
A documentary called Infamous profiled a half-dozen graffiti artists to see why they do what they do. After all, spraying graffiti of any kind is dangerous business. The cops don’t like you. Gangs like you even less. Breathing all those paint fumes is not good for you, nor is the constant crouching and working on tall precipices. And yet, there is this weird compulsion to do it anyway.
The movie draws no conclusions, but it seemed clear that these graffiti artists needed to create a legacy, even if only a criminal one, to convince themselves that they were not a waste of space.
It doesn’t work. One artist in Infamous made his name with a mural he painted on the slope of the Los Angeles river that was so big, it took him a month to do it, and he blew out his knees in the process. And yet, he knew that it was only a matter of time before the paint faded and somebody would cover up his work with graffiti of their own. Some legacy.
I write this at a time when our national unemployment seems stuck at an uncomfortable 9.1%, when college loan debt is at an all-time high, and when young people in this country seem to be collectively frustrated by their lack of opportunity.
Yet in the life industry, there is an increasingly pressing need to deal with what I have heard called the “silver tsunami,” the collective aging of today’s life and health agents. There is plenty of opportunity for young graduates of all kinds to make their way in this industry right now. It won’t be easy or certain, but with more carriers adopting at least a semi-captive distribution model, with so many senior colleagues to act as mentors, and with there being such a need for agents who understand the proper use of technology and social media to gain access to buyers and build a relationship with them…this might just be the best time in decades to get into the life business.
This line of work is not for everybody. But it really is for more people than they think. The key is to reach out to this legion of unemployed graduates and to give them a chance. Those who accept the offer are already one step ahead because they are willing to try. The rest no doubt have passion and drive, but is it for something that will bring them nothing in the long run? If so, they ought to ask any tagger where that gets them.