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Live Long and Prosper Right Now

Posted by manofthehour on November 3, 2015 at 1:00 PM

Note: In our flashback article former writer Randolph Castro critiques the millennials generation.

The Missionary. The Lost. The G.I. The Silent, the Boom, the Thirteenth, the Millennial. We humans are obsessed with organizing the world around us. Look at religion, our own attempts to provide order to the chaos of the natural universe by attributing it to a deity, or series of deities. From the Ancient Egyptians, to the Greeks, to the Romans, all the way up to the followers of the Invisible Pink Unicorn (admittedly not a religion, but a symbolic lack of one); from Aristotle to Einstein; people need to understand, categorize, and label.


It is no surprise, then, that we even label and categorize ourselves. A generation is defined as all the people living at the same time or of approximately the same age. It’s a step in the line of descent, and we have any number of titles for each subsequent generation. Our current Generation Y (the Millennial Generation), was preceded by Generation X (the Thirteenth). And they’ve got another name for us.


The Entitlement Generation.


This moniker is typically delivered with a slathering of disdain, and most if not all of us who are a part of this grouping probably take offense to it. Every generation views its successor as a bunch of lazy, aimless idiots. What makes it any different this time? It’s just a bunch of old codgers who are bitter and resentful of the fact that we might have it better than they did, and what do they know, anyway? I mean, right? Seriously!


Well, let’s look at it fairly for a second. Let’s be objective. We’re all mature adults, here, right? Yeah, I know, me neither, but let’s pretend. It’s good mental exercise or…something. Anyway, let’s think about it.


Entitlement is defined, legally, as a right granted by law or contract. That’s not the kind of entitlement we’re dealing with, though, is it? When we talk about entitled people in this context, we aren’t talking about people who are actually entitled to anything. We’re talking about people who think they’re entitled to something, or anything, or everything, and who cares about any laws or contracts? Those are boring. I want it, and I want it now.


That’s the attitude for which we’ve been given the title of the Entitlement Generation. The idea that we get stuff because we want it, not because we’ve earned or because someone else wants to give it to us out of pure, simple goodness. And the professional world is not exempt from the concept, either. No. In fact, it’s just as—if not more—problematic for the workforce.


I’m out of work. I want work. You, Big Corporate Juggernaut, give me work. You can afford it. What? Qualifications? Never mind about that, I gots bills to pay and you gots money.


It’s the equivalent of a toddler grabbing at a toy and crying, “Mine! Gimme!”


And what do we do when our kids act up like that? We discipline them. We explain that that’s not how you ask for things; it’s rude. It’s immature, it’s self-centered, and it’s not exactly effective. A hiring manager for the company at which someone like this might want to work isn’t—and shouldn’t be—interested in a career goal that effectively boils down to, “I want this job because I don’t have it.”


In the professional world, results are what’s important, not need. For people who can’t afford to feed and provide for their families, this can be cruel. And it’s especially prevalent with the economy in the shape it’s in right now. Good, hard-working people are losing their jobs through no fault of their own, simply because their bosses can’t afford to keep them anymore.


It might be cruel to focus only on results, but whether it’s cruel or not isn’t part of the reality.


The reality is, if you’re not worth your weight, your potential boss won’t hire you. And if you aren’t worth the weight of a promotion, you won’t be getting it. It’s just that simple. And it’s people who rail against that idea, people who demand that job or that promotion based on the fact that they really, really want it, but don’t put forth the effort, drive, and deliver the results required for it, that make up the Entitlement Generation.


John F. Kennedy said, in his inaugural address of January 20, 1961, “…And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”


That’s the question every employer asks himself (or herself) when a potential new hire walks through the door; not what the company can do for him (or her), but what he (or she) can do for the company. That’s why workers are paid; they’re worth something to the company, and the employer.


But the Entitlement Generation doesn’t want to think about that. They want the employer to think about them, and the fact that they need the money. Maybe it would be better for the world if employers thought that way, but by and large they do not. Volunteer organizations think of the people; activists think of the people. Employers think of the bottom line.


College graduates of our generation are holding out for the right job, one that will take advantage of the skills they cultivated in school, one that pays properly for the degree they’ve worked hard to achieve. And that’s understandable, to a point. But the point only extends so far. Graduates want a job that challenges them, a job that allows them to advance; they want a career, somewhere where they can thrive and rise through the ranks.


They don’t want “dead-end” work.


Louise Urchitelle covers one such college grad in his article for the New York Times entitled, “American Dream Is Elusive for New Generation.” Said graduate is a 24-year-old Colgate University graduate—currently living in his parents’ home after losing his roommate—who turned down a $40,000-a-year position with an insurance company in order to hold out for a “real” career.


In an economy like today’s, it’s extremely hard for a lot of people to feel sympathetic to this story. For people barely making ends meet, for people with families to support, the idea of turning down $40,000 a year because it isn’t good enough is the worst kind of arrogance. And it’s that anger that encompasses the meaning behind this generation’s title.


This is why we’re seen as self-serving and foolish as a whole. Is it fair to judge an entire generation by a few examples, or one example? Hardly. But examples like the one above showcase the reasoning behind the idea. Gone are the days of paying one’s dues, say the X-ers and their predecessors. Gone are the days of climbing the ladder. Professionals nowadays expect to step right out of school onto the top of the mountain.


Is it the fault of our parents? The government? Who’s responsible for this sense of entitlement that seems to have permeated through our generation by the reckoning of others?


The short answer is, everybody.


We are an inherently social species, and our personalities are built on relationships, whether you believe in nature or nurture. Either it’s hereditary, and tied to blood, or it’s tied to our environment, and how we’re raised; or it could be a mixture of both. The bottom line is, laying the blame for how we all turned out is a pretty fruitless affair.


Some call into question the parenting skills of the Baby Boomers and their direct descendants, and ask whether or not we should blame the advent of the time out for the fact that we’re all apparently self-centered dreamers. Some wonder if it might not be the fact that we live now—more than ever—in an instant-gratification world. Fast food, high-speed internet, on-demand television, social networking; you name it, it’s turned our society into a fast-paced, get-in-get-out roller coaster drag race.


Who has time to make dinner at home when we can get it from a burger joint in five minutes? Who has time to sit through commercials when we can watch all our favorite shows, uninterrupted, online? Who has time to make a phone call when we’ve got instant messaging? Go, go, go, don’t stop, don’t look back, don’t think don’t ask questions just go.


That’s the key. The reason some of us—most of us, if you believe the old codgers—are painted as being unable to put in the time necessary to build a career is because we’ve been trained by our country to expect to get what we want right now. It’s all about convenience, all about speed, all about efficiency. This mentality has seeped into the minds of our current professionals, and we want to get moving, get moving, up to the top. Now. Right now. Today’s not good enough, get there yesterday.


Instead of climbing the ladder from the first rung, like our parents and grandparents did, we want to get a running start and jump up four rungs at once. The problem is, we end up tripping over ourselves and we just look foolish. We look impatient.


We look entitled.


Look at the figure given by an article at Bloomberg Business Week early this year, which said that discouraged workers, “those not looking for work because they believe none is available,” had reached 929,000, a record high.


Granted, this counts everyone that’s out of work right now, not just the 20-somethings about whom we’re concerned in this article. But it still looks bad to the people lobbing the title at us: almost a million people, as of this January, who not only don’t have work, but aren’t even looking for it anymore. Who picks up the slack for these people? Who feeds them, who clothes them, who keeps them sheltered? Who pays for welfare, who funds the programs that gives out all that money to people who need it? The people who are…ahem…entitled to it?


The government. The taxpayers. The people who aren’t entitled.


Whether or not it’s fair to call us the Entitlement Generation isn’t so much an issue. The fact is, that’s what we’re called. It’s what other generations think we are. So what can we do to change that? What can we do to show our forebears that we’re just as hard-working and determined as they ever were? What can we do to toss off our title?


Simple: give them what they want. Results. Pick ourselves up by the bootstraps, as it were. Take what work we can get, and build a career the old-fashioned way. Yeah, maybe working as a substitute teacher at a public elementary school isn’t what you thought you’d be doing with that Ph.D in French Literature, but you know what? It’s something. It’s a rung on the ladder. Maybe you won’t even get to work in your chosen field. Maybe you majored in history, but you end up in the construction field. It doesn’t matter.


Well, okay. Clearly it matters. Nobody should just jump on the first job offer they find, no matter what it is. Maybe you hate math, you never understood it, it scares you. Probably not the best idea to be a math tutor, then. But still, searching outside of your ideal comfort zone can’t hurt. A little diversity never killed anyone. I think.


The point is, if we don’t want to be the Entitlement Generation anymore, then we have to prove that we’re not entitled. Plenty of us are doing just that, and publications are starting to take notice, but it’s not enough. We’re not out of the doghouse just yet.


Some of you might be thinking, “I don’t have to prove myself to anyone! Let other people think what they want!”


Amen, soldier. Keep up the good fight.


But remember, sometimes the opinions of others can be immensely helpful. Sometimes it pays off to prove yourself, even if you don’t think you have to do it. We can say that we don’t care what people think of us all we want.


All too often, it proves untrue.


So let’s prove ourselves to our elders. It may just take us somewhere.

Categories: Culture: Anthropology

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