The confetti from the world's biggest party has been swept up. The babies born in the first seconds after midnight have been photographed and duly publicized. Shiny new calendars have been hung on walls, and time capsules filled with personal mementos have been sealed. (Did anyone, anywhere, actually buy the $20,000 Tiffany time capsule, a handmade, vermeil-lined, sterling silver box designed to preserve "important memories"?)
Now, as the weekend millennial extravaganza fades into history books, and as celebration gives way to reflection, a question hangs in the early January air: What will a new era require of those who want to keep pace with a world where change appears to be the one constant? A few possibilities:
First, a new decade makes a persuasive case for a flexible spirit. Especially in the workplace, rigidity will be Out. Adaptability will be In.
People entering the workforce today can expect to change careers - not just jobs - five or six times in a lifetime, according to employment experts. Easily defined professions - the "doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief" of nursery rhyme fame - are being joined by less clearly understood jobs: My son, the day trader. My daughter, the e-commerce exec.
The World Future Society's list of emerging careers of the next 10 to 25 years also includes everything from horticulture therapist, robot technician, and computational linguist to shyness consultant, underwater archaeologist, and software club director. The catchy advertising line, "It's not your father's Oldsmobile," can be updated to read: "It's not your father's - or mother's - career, either."
Second, a new century serves as a reminder of the continuing importance of a curious and serious mind. Ironically, as the information age offers more news than ever to a shrinking globe, some American media outlets are cutting back on in-depth international coverage. Even political campaigns risk getting reduced to "sound-bite lite" formats as "infotainment" subtly permeates various media arenas. But serious readers and viewers do have influential voices of protest.
Third, this new year in particular calls for a generous heart. It needs many of them. As giddy investors revel in their profits and search for ways to spend their windfalls - a $20,000 time capsule, perhaps? - the poor, the hungry, and the homeless wait for their lives to improve. In the past century, American children have become the new poor, with 1 child in 5 now living below the poverty line.
But while the need for charitable donors grows, so does the need for some charities to improve their spending practices. As one executive of a charity-based Web site notes, "People are tired of giving and not seeing results."
Finally, this new decade comes with a need for a balanced perspective.
For all the progress resulting from the late-20th-century's love affair with technology, the yearning for low-tech pleasures remains. These include preserving a place for print-based reading - newspapers and books - and face-to-face connections and communication.
Maintaining balance in a sophisticated, fast-moving era also includes preserving ageless standards of morality that know no boundaries of time or place. A "modern," anything-goes tolerance has its limits.
A flexible spirit. A curious mind. A generous heart. A balanced perspective. Long after the millennial cheering stops, those will be the characteristics that help to define the next century, collectively forming "important memories" that can never be contained in any silver box.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society