Our education systems have gone overboard in an attempt to ensure everyone has equal opportunity and to nurture self-esteem. But the near elimination of negative feedback and competition in our schools has failed not only those who go on to University and beyond, but also the vast majority who don’t. The inculcation of false hope that students can be anything they want to be and do anything they want to do, regardless of skill, ability or intelligence as long as they believe in themselves, is nurturing impossible expectations. We live in a more competitive, harsher real-world than ever before. Rather than prepare children for the real world, we are shielding them from it as long as possible. Consequently, organizations are left to deal with this when these delusionals get out of school.
Labelled as “Generation ME,” what we are dealing with is a generation that has come of age since the new millennium. Dr. Jean Twenge in her book by the same title has done extensive comparative research between people in their 20s and 30s in the 1960s and 1970s – (those who are now nearing the end of their careers) and people in their 20s and 30s today – (those just embarking on their careers or experiencing their first promotion up the corporate ladder). While acknowledging that her research is geographically limited to the United States, it can be assumed to apply to Canadians as well. (This Canadian demographic might be referred to as “Generation ME-too”).
Characterized by narcissism and materialism emanating from a culture of consumerism, Generation ME has a potentially destructive focus on the self when the work world – and indeed society at large – begs for more emphasis on teamwork and responsibility to others. (Granted, this is somewhat mitigated by a desire to save the very planet which their parents have contributed to destroying. But that’s for another article!).
There should be no greater time to be alive; economic prosperity has existed throughout most of the lives of Generation ME; consumer choice has never been greater, whether it be in hard goods, entertainment or even education. But young consumers are wallowing in the false belief that the goods and services they consume are unique to them. And with their obsession with social networking and voyeurism (through such media as You-Tube), each can live in his/her own little world without worrying about the “noise” of reality interfering with their myopia.
Another phenomenon that Generation ME has spawned is that of celebrity worship. The internet (and to a great extent television) inculcates a culture of celebrity in almost all who touch it. Compounding the consequences of this need to be seen and heard, coupled with constant communication static, is frustration and disappointment for those who miss out on their “fifteen minutes of fame”.
This is a generation full of expectations who were told the “sky is the limit” by parents and by teachers. This was nurtured by an attitude of entitlement and the fact that too many colleges and universities of viewing students as “consumers” who must be satisfied; i.e. giving them A’s and B’s whether or not they deserve it. The most recent example of this is a law school in Illinois which has announced its intention to raise all recent graduates’ marks by 33% so that they would become more attractive to employers!!
“Excellence” has lost its true meaning in schools that have diluted the word to the point of being farcical. Political correctness abounds in our education systems that a) shun making anyone feel “inferior” through old-fashioned competition, b) put a misleading spin on failure with phrases like “almost there” and c) ensure that the best and brightest do not stand out, lest their mediocre classmates lose “self-esteem”.
What a surprise when these Generation ME’ers discover that employers do not automatically worship them. What a surprise when the few who are lucky to land their “dream” job discover that there are differences between top and bottom performers that result in consequences that are likely to impact their self-esteem. These highly praised graduates with high self-esteem and unrealistic expectations become agitated and in some cases, hostile when confronted by these realities.
Research supports the above. Indeed, there is a huge gap between Generation ME’s expectations and the delivery of same in the real world. Here are some statistics that Twenge’s research has unearthed:
- In the early to mid 2000’s, 65% of high school seniors predicted that their lives would be better than that of their parents, while 4% predicted their lives would be worse; only 29% of working adults – (i.e. those aware of what it’s like out in the “real” world) predicted that their children would enjoy a better life; 32% predicted a worse life for their children.
- In the 1960s it took 25% of average annual take home pay to afford to mortgage an average family home that cost double the annual household income. Today (pre-recession 2008) it takes 45% – but there are very few homes that can be bought for double the annual household income; until the recent meltdown, the average house price in both Canada and the U.S. has been a minimum of 4 times the average household income in most jurisdictions.
In 1967, 45% of college students said it was important to be well-off financially. In 2004 74% claimed this to be a life goal. Most of the former have achieved it. Many of the latter are working at hourly-rate jobs or looking for work.
The unfortunate conclusion of the preceding is that good jobs and affordable housing are becoming more and more difficult to attain. Even more difficult is the ability to leverage a good education and multiple degrees into achieving post-graduate dreams of family, fortune and fame. This just doesn’t square with the overwhelming number of members of Generation ME who enter the world of work full of self importance.
What have we done to our children?!!!!