Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book."
The quote, in case you didn’t know, is not from nattering moralist and compulsive gambler Bill Bennett or ranting moralist and drug addict Rush Limbaugh. No, it’s from Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was a Roman statesman who lived and died fifty years before the birth of Christ, and was, in his day, the absolute, Pez-Dispensing, quote-o-matic king of pith.
He said a lot of other clever and very topical things on subjects that are veritably Ripped from Today’s Headlines…
…like war (“An unjust peace is better than a just war.”)
…humility (“I am not ashamed to confess that I am ignorant of what I do not know.”)
…filibusters (“In a republic this rule ought to be observed: that the majority should not have the predominant power.”),
…US Foreign policy (“It is the nature of every person to error, but only the fool perseveres in error.”)
…Rush Limbaugh (“Oh, the times! Oh, the manners!”)
…Ann Coulter (“Orators are most vehement when their cause is weak.”)
…the looting of Iraq (“The sinews of war are infinite money.”)
…George Bush (“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child.”)
..and my secret favorite (“No sane man will dance.”)
But the reason the one about evergreen complaints about unquiet youth and all the rest (and the Who cover) popped to mind was this headline from the Chicago Tribune: “Twentysomethings being dubbed `Entitlement Generation' for their lofty job expectations”
My, my, my.
Whatever happened to the good old days of David Bowie and the Coffee Generation?
Here’s a bit of the story.
These kids today, they want it all
By Martha Irvine
June 27, 2005
Evan Wayne thought he was prepared for anything during a recent interview for a job in radio sales.
Then the interviewer hit the 24-year-old Chicagoan with this: "So, we call you guys the `Entitlement Generation,'" the Baby Boomer executive said, expressing an oft-heard view of today's young workforce. "You think you're entitled to everything."
Such labeling is, perhaps, a rite of passage for every crop of twentysomethings. In their day, Baby Boomers were rabble-rousing hippies, while Gen Xers were apathetic slackers.
Now, deserved or not, this generation is being pegged, too--as one with shockingly high expectations for salary, job flexibility and duties but little willingness to take on grunt work or remain loyal to a company.
"We're seeing an epidemic of people who are having a hard time making the transition to work--kids who had too much success early in life and who have become accustomed to instant gratification," says Dr. Mel Levine, a pediatrics professor at the University of North Carolina and author of a book on the topic called "Ready or Not, Here Life Comes."
While Levine also notes that today's twentysomethings are long on idealism and altruism, "many of the individuals we see are heavily committed to something we call `fun.'"
He partly faults coddling parents and colleges for doing little to prepare students for the realities of adulthood.
Meanwhile, employers are frustrated.
"It seems they want and expect everything that the 20- or 30-year veteran has the first week they're there," says Mike Amos, a Salt Lake City-based franchise consultant for Perkins Restaurants.
Elsewhere, Liz Ryan speculates that a more relaxed work environment at the company she runs--no set hours and "a lot of latitude in how our work gets done"--helps inspire her younger employees.
"Maybe twentysomethings have figured out something that Boomers like me took two decades to piece together: namely, that there's more to life than by-the-book traditional career success," says Ryan, the 45-year-old CEO of a Colorado-based company called WorldWIT, an on and offline networking organization for professional women.
Amos at Perkins Restaurants says small changes also have helped--loosening standards on piercings or allowing cooks to play music in the kitchen.
It’s tempting to either speak as the cranky guy who remembers back in the day (that never was) when a hundred Irishmen would work for sixteen weeks quarrying limestone with their teeth for a nickel and a cup of cold thistle gruel…or the understanding guy who sides unflinchingly and leaps to the barricades with the Tongue Stud’s Local #505 and the let’s-add-a-loosening-piercing-standards paragraph to the Universal Declaration of Human Freedom contingent.
But I’ll pass, because both positions are absurd, and to caricature an entire generation in this way is ridiculous.
Not that the students I have don’t harbor a lot of ridiculous expectations about the distant and mysterious land called the Real World onto whose shores they will shortly be washing up, but so what? I had entirely absurd ideas about what to expect on the job when I was 20-something, and I’ll bet you did too.
If case you sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus, or just don’t remember, outside of figuring out how to get a member of the opposite sex (or same sex, if that’s you) to do the Vertical Snoopy Dance with you – and what the hell you’re supposed to put where and how fast and for how long once you succeed – negotiating the terrain of Real World is about as Incognita a slice of Terra as you’re going to find in this life before you hit your mid-30’s.
And like the massive campaign of often-times just plain lying that fueled the American Westward Expansion, the maps are mostly wrong, and the advice is mostly bullshit, third-hand accounts of somebody’s friend's cousin striking gold.
The landscape of the newly-minted job hunter today is littered with myths of high adventure, and jobs that came with pizza ovens and pedicures, top shelf hookers and million dollar stock deals from before the dot-communists grand experiment in converting loose VC capital into BMW’s came crashing down. And before them there are still whispers of an even earlier Golden Age, when law students and MBAs were recruited en masses and borne up on the wings of Angels to be gently enfolded into a plum life in Xanadu.
Most the students I know work at least one and often three shitty jobs to cover tuition, books, living expenses and, yes, a PSP rig and an iPod with 11,000 titles, some percentage of which, I’m sure, were actually paid for with some form of legal tender.
They came out of high schools where they were often booked and scheduled as tightly as a Supertramp reunion tour.
A lot of them get drunk or high sometimes; a few of them can’t stop.
A lot of them do public service, and a surprising number of them consider “helping people” broadly as a worthwhile career.
Most of them are tired a lot of the time.
Most of them wheedle and negotiate everything – every grade, every assignment, every deadline, every angle. The scrap and scrounge and string together side deals and informal arrangements covering everything from homework to hookups, so that they can do just enough work to cover their cost of school, where they organically seek out the level at which they can do just enough studying to make their grades, so that they can have fun.
They are, in other words, about as ruthlessly entrepreneurial as any Ferengi, but adjusted to measure profit by a slightly different metric.
And they are, to be honest about it, me, pretty much exactly as I was at that age, and the gritty buffeting of the world has always been a pretty reliable tutor when it comes to wearing down the odd edges and angles of unrealistic expectations, so I don't worry too much that any goofy fantasies about the the life of wage slave will survive very long after the first encounter with The Boss.
I recall when I did a bit as a corporate trainer, the day after a bunch of mole rats from Texas took the place over and gutted the staff. The Bastards Out of Houston were all White, Male and aggressively Fundamentalist and the people fired were, by and large, women and minorities. Then they gave the survivors the Good Ol’ Boys version of the Alec Baldwin’s A-B-C speech from “Glengarry Glenn Ross.”
Big shock, I know.
The company was actually doing OK, but this is how one establishes one’s Alpha Male creds down in their corner of Hank Hill Country, and they weren’t going to let the fact that they were fucking the business into a cocked hat stop them from wagging their dicks around and showing us all what ass-kickers they were.
There were lawsuits filed later, and most of us found other gigs shortly after this Night of the Long Knaves, but the common element among us worker bees was that while most everyone over 30-something was highly pissed, most everyone under that age was just dumbfounded.
I drove a younger colleague home that night and she kept asking me a variant of this question: “But they can't just do that, right? You can’t just FIRE someone for no reason?”
I explained to her all about what “at will employment” meant, and what a “protected class” was, but she was genuinely in shock. Somewhere along the line she had picked up the idea that employment was in some sense “fair”, and now someone had not only told her there’s no Santa Claus, but had shot the jolly old elf in the head and left his body for her to find in her walk-in freezer.
Work is like dating: there’s the way it is, and the way it oughta be. And if you can live in the Real World and still keep your idealism about the way it should be intact and vital for when the day comes when you’re The Boss and you have to make the hard decisions, then you’ll have done OK.
So no, I’ll pass on being the Nostalgic Guy, and I’ll pass on being the Ain’t The World Unfair Sob Sister.
Instead I’m just the guy who did not survive the Hamner and Brown “rightsizing” slaughterhouse with my life intact. I’m the guy who sat through management meetings that featured videos with Dianetics-commercials-production-values telling us that “Company Loyalty Is Dead” and that anyone who continued to think they were owed job security was a fool who deserved what they got.
And that is another and most important message that got osmosed into the homes of the students that are now entering the workforce.
These are the Children of Downsizing, whose parents either woke up one fine day to find – without warning -- their shit packed up in cardboard boxes and a security guard on hand to escort them out of the building and confiscate their ID…or that they had to live with that economic Sword of Damocles hanging over them every day at a place that used to be more like home to them than home often was.
It’s a shattering experience and can slash through a family as sure as death or divorce, and these young workers are the ones whose frightened parents talked and cried and raged about the Fucking Company and how Fucking Unfair and what a Fucking Betrayal it was around the kitchen table every night
So do they have nutty expectations about life out here in the deep end of the pool? Of course they do. Who among us didn’t?
But I can say that given their experience, and my own, that opting for a life that one enjoys over a life of samauri loyalty to the Organization isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard.