Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gen Y Entitlement: It's Not About Participation Awards

I just read an open letter to and from Gen Y by the insightful Jess Lively.  Her sentiments are close to my own.  I strongly recommend reading this fabulous essay.

I am a member of Gen Y- that amorphous group born in the 1980s to early 2000s that was raised with glowing screen technology and fed a steady diet of Stuart Smalley-esque self-esteem building mantras: You're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you. We were piled with "awards"- often ribbons of slips of paper that commended us for simply showing up. Participation awards, they were called. Many Boomers and Gen-Xers have pointed a finger at these awards as the source of Gen-Y's sense of entitlement.

You know what those awards meant to me? Nothing. How many do I still have? None. Not a one. It's more complex than some lame ribbon.

I've read numerous articles, listened to broadcast discussions, and have overheard colleagues make statements along the lines of "Kids/Young adults these days:
are so damn entitled."
don't know how to really work."
expect everything handed to them."
blah, blah, blerg."
As a member of Gen-Y and a teacher of the next generation, I disagree. I know kids who work their assess off to be, at best, average. Conversely, I know some pretty entitled/lazy older adults. We all do. I think it is more that the overall value placed on work that has changed with my generation.

We've all heard the "work smarter, not harder" statements. Growing up we were repeatedly told the results, such as test scores and rankings, had a higher value than the effort put forth. When applying for college or graduate school, one is often boiled down to GPA, ACT, SAT and GRE scores. Bonus points for how long the extra-curricular list is. You don't have to be great at forensics, but, hey, you showed up. How many education mandates focus on a test scores? An entire school district is evaluated on whether or not fourth-graders decide to take a bubble test seriously or not, instead of how engaging and rigorous the curriculum is. Why would one work harder when the result bears so little meaning?

We are not a lazy generation. We simply view work and life differently. The reality of the job market is different. Gone are the days of the good grades + college education + hard work = stable 35-year career, a house in the burbs, 2.5 kids and a dog. Jess Lively states,  
Throughout our lives we followed the prescribed road map to success, only to face an economic climate where it no longer applied....We must recognize the span of our careers will unfold for decades to come. Just because we were told that success would come from following the rules doesn’t mean we should still play by them.  
I think many in my generation understands that, and are willing to take risks (and fail) in pursuit of the results we desire. The game is different, the rules have changed. Talent alone will not sustain us, nor will simply "working smarter." It is foolish to expect a happy life to plop onto our laps. We must be willing do what it takes to make it happen. We cannot confuse the honest pursuit of happiness as a sense of entitlement. It is okay to want to enjoy our work.

Perhaps I am audacious, but if I am going to spend over 100,000 hours of my life at work I want to enjoy most of it. However,  my career is not the end game for me. My pursuit goes deeper. While I enjoy my job, I don't want it to be the only defining factor in my life and consume all my energy. When I leave school I want to dive into other projects, like preparing for symphony rehearsal, training for my next marathon, pushing my body to new limits at yoga. I know the meaning of work, and I do not expect a satisfying life to be simply handed over. I desire the process, the unearthing of joy over a lifetime. I want to craft my own destiny, to learn from the failures and savor all the victories that lie ahead. No participation ribbon will be necessary.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I definitely hear that whole "your generation is lazy" racket, and I can never get a good retort in my brain. You said it so well!