Tim Egan NY Times Boomer Parent's Lament
Those of us who work in Universities should take time to reflect on what Tim Egan says here. The young adults whom we serve need to be instructed in learning about the true worth of things and the joys of the simple things in life. We need to help them develop their hearts and souls as much as, or more than, their intellects and resumes. Peace Rick
Boomer Parent's Lament
What we talk about when we talk about tomorrow is the great fear that our kids will never find their way, now that opportunity is just another word for no. By we, I mean parents of a certain age.
I fell into one of these conversations a few weeks ago with a mother of two grown children, both boys, both graduates from terrific universities, both shackled to college loans as heavy as a ship’s anchor.
Her sons jumped from commencement to the real world full of springy confidence. But now, two years after graduation, after hundreds of rejections, after their resumes bounced back like boomerangs to the head, they were living at home, and every day brought another dent to their self-confidence.
“What do I tell them?” she asked. You can’t lie. You can’t remind them how special there are, because that was part of the problem. The hope reflex seems phony. I was at a loss to say anything beyond an expression of sympathy.
Later, though, I thought of something obvious: self-worth should never be tied to net worth. Easy to say, of course, an ancient observation. But I was struck by a failing of many fellow parents of recession-whacked Millennials. For all the efforts to raise hyper-achievers, we didn’t teach enough of a basic survival skill — to find joy in simple things not connected to a grade, a trophy or a job.
What was missing in the life message of child-raising was some of the counter-cultural swagger in that 2005 commencement speech by Steve Jobs, the one that made the viral video rounds after his death. If you listen to the whole speech, it is what he says at the end that seems so apt for these years of diminished expectations. “Stay hungry,” Jobs said, borrowing an admonition from the creators of The Whole Earth Catalogue, an early bible for him, and equally important, “Stay foolish.”
Hungry is the easy part. Employment rates and starting salaries have fallen off a cliff for new college graduates in the last two years. One study found that 55 percent of humanities majors newly released from school are either not working or hold jobs that require no college degree. I know a Stanford honors graduate in English literature who works as a nanny, and a University of Michigan political science graduate on the night shift at an Amazon warehouse. Their friends call them lucky.
There is all sorts of topical journalism on this issue. Last week brought a New York magazine piece by Noreen Malone, a self-snarky confessional with these words on the cover: “Sucks to Be Us: Coming of Age in Post-Hope America.”
“We grew up, all the way through college, with everything seeming so ripe and possible,” Malone writes. She defines the Millennials this way: “We are self-centered and convinced of our specialness and unaccustomed to being denied.”
There were those soccer games with no losers or winners, with everybody getting a trophy at season’s end. (Even if most parents knew the score.) And all those small bodies trudging home with ridiculously heavy backpacks, loaded down in many cases with SAT prep material for children yet to lose their front teeth. The summertime menu included homework camp. How fun!
All of the above was in service to a child prepared to enter a competitive and punishing world — that is, prepared in a certain way, only for things that could be controlled and quantified.
“It might be hard, in fact, to create a generation more metaphysically ill-equipped to adjust” to the economic realities of 2011, Malone writes.
Defining an entire generation in short-hand is something trendy magazines always do. Twenty years ago, there was a rush of silly stories about how a single woman past a certain age had a better chance of getting killed by terrorists than finding a suitable spouse. But Malone makes some points that ring true.
She quotes a friend, Lael Goodman, with the kind of complaint that will sound familiar to many people just out of college. “The worst thing is that I’ve always gotten self-worth from performance, especially good grades. But now that I can’t get a job, I feel worthless.”
Goodman nails it — the self-worth from performance. And for that, we parents have to take the blame. Baby Boomers who rejected “Mad Men” conformity groomed their offspring to expect only the best, to climb a ladder that would end in startups cranking out stock-option millionaires.
My father was a child of the Great Depression, raised by a widowed mother living above a little bar in Chicago. He never tried to make himself out to be more virtuous than anyone else because he had lived through hard times. His parenting was by example. As such, my lasting image is of him making meatballs and a thick spaghetti sauce on Saturday night, while going through a stack of Neil Diamond and Frank Sinatra records. He was never happier.Maybe if I knew that our children would be coming of age in an economy that would crush even the best and brightest among them, I would have cared a little less about their score on an advanced placement history test, and a little more about helping them find happiness in moments at the margin. I hope many of them are doing just that — without our help