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Everyone is lamenting the decline of imagination. In some half-remembered land of lost content, we made things and dreamed big dreams.

Science fiction promised us industries that would build our future and give us jobs, college degrees were the ticket to a stable career and we would all have shiny cars and robot dogs. Nothing we could imagine was out of reach.

Obviously, this future seems unreal now, as limits define our economic reality, and life seems to narrow around us.

What we sometimes miss — all of us — is that an economic life is a many-splendored thing. There are more ways to make money than we sometimes think, and some of the best ones haven’t even been thought of yet. Perhaps we need to think about imagination differently.

This week’s much-discussed New York Times article “The Entrepreneurial Generation” hits some of these notes. The critic William Deresiewicz argues that the fundamental agreeability of this generation stems from a salesmanship that extends from our personal lives to our professional goals.

Intuitively, this is right; if our constant maintenance of our online selves is any indication, we are selling ourselves daily, even if we don’t expect to make money on it. What Deresiewicz calls “the entrepreneurial self” will only become more important as traditional careers disappear.

All of this attention is good. If our generation now understands that the road to happiness is not through a single job, a straightforward career and a gold watch at a retirement party at 65, this understanding is a welcome one.

But an entrepreneurial generation comes with a cost: Not everyone will succeed. Some people will flourish. Some will scrape by. Some will fail.

There is an inherent inequality in entrepreneurship that all the hoping and all the protesting in the world can’t avoid. Not everyone can make a living as a photographer or a cupcake maker or a social media consultant. Not everyone can be a puppeteer.

You — yes, you — could fail, especially if you think you can make money doing what everyone else does.

But if you look hard enough, there’s something. Everyone wants to own a restaurant, but they’re making money now with “Pay what you can” restaurants, where early returns show that 80 percent of patrons pay at or above a posted “recommended price.” Get the right food and location, and the buzz will follow.

Everyone wants to be a social media expert, but there is still space to innovate, as Spotify is proving, and the next great thing on the Internet may not look like anything we’ve seen.

“There’s no better time than now to build something of your own,” wrote entrepreneur Leigh Drogen this week.

It’s true, and in many ways, the re-localization of the economy will make this easier. You may not have to develop a product that you can sell internationally. You might just need to make something or sell something that your neighbors need.

This generation has been organized and shepherded and mentored since childhood. It’s gotten us nowhere.

It’s fitting that imagination may have been our way into adulthood all along.


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