I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to unemployment and young people without sounding like an old doucher (insert old man voice here: “I remember when I was a youngster and times were tough, we did whatever it took to make a dollar.”) but I just read a post by Herb Engert that put me over the edge. In it, he addresses the frightening statistics of joblessness among young people today. The entrepreneurs in the 30 and under group he researched suggested five key imperatives for action: expand funding alternatives, increase mentoring and broader support, change the culture to tolerate failure, target and speed up incentives, and reduce red tape and excessive taxation. Though compelling, these suggestions from this particular group make me want to blow my top, and here’s why.
I’ve been working with Gen Y and Millenials for close to a decade, and I have been stunned by the decline in personal responsibility, drive, and motivation each year has brought to each new population of young people I work with. I’ve witnessed a 23+ year old have a public tantrum because his instructor “didn’t respect” him (actually, I’ve lost count of how many students have publicly decried being “disrespected” by an instructor because the instructor didn’t let them off the hook). I’ve had to take countless telephone calls from parents of 20somethings and 30somethings complaining that their child isn’t learning anything and then, when confronted with the fact that their child has a 67% attendance rate, giving excuse after excuse as to why we should allow their (adult) child off the hook (“She’s having a really bad year,” “She just got her 2nd D.U.I. and she’s really depressed,” “He has insomnia and can’t be at school by 9:00. Can’t you make an exception?”) I’ve been saddened by the W.I.F.M. sense of entitlement that is so pervasive among this population, their cutthroat, back-stabbing, reality-TV-esque interactions. The “Even though you may be smarter, stronger, or better than me, I’m going to make sure you lose, or at least look bad, so that I look better; even though I’m not going to do anything to be better, smarter, or stronger. I just don’t want you to win because if you win, we’re not on the same level.” I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. After all, this is the generation where everyone won a trophy, whether they played by the rules or not. Maybe all this nonsense started there.
When I was growing up (again, insert old man voice here), if you played on a team there were winners and there were losers. If you won, you celebrated. If you lost, you licked your wounds for a minute but then you went out and practiced that much harder. No one wanted to suck or be a loser. Fast forward twenty years and at little league and t-ball fields across the nation, kids learned that it didn’t matter if they won or lost, they would still win a trophy anyway. I’m pretty sure that’s when the coaches stopped being allowed to teach kids to win because parents didn’t like it when their kid cried because they sucked – I mean, lost. So, coaches stopped coaching (or, bullying, as some psychotic parents suggested) and started telling the kids that “everyone is a winner,” which we all know is horse shit and the parents all patted their kids’ heads and nodded their own heads in agreement. Or, maybe this phenomenon occurred when parents, guilty because they both had to work long hours at the office to maintain their American Dream – Toll Brothers McMansions, mid-size luxury sedans and SUVs, golf, Abercrombie & Fitch, riding lessons, Uggs, and The Northface for the kids – decided to let their kids off the hook for everything. “I don’t feel like cleaning my room,” “I don’t want to go to practice,” “Amy has the new Uggs. I can’t believe you won’t get them for me,” “What do you mean we can’t go to Great Wolf Lodge for a week? You suck!” Exhausted and over-worked, parents started picking their battles, discipline, dedication, drive, and ass-kicking competitiveness obvious losers, lifeless on enemy soil. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. We’ll make it work,” they replied. “I was going to get you those Uggs for Christmas, honey,” they quickly recovered. “I know your team lost today but you will always be a winner,” they lied. And their kids, smug with a win, nodded in agreement, their Facebook likes, Twitter and Instagram followers, an obvious confirmation of their awesomeness (right?). The fascinating thing about this? These same parents are (gasp) shocked that their adult kids are a.) still living at home or, b.) moving back home after unsuccessful jaunts in the real world due to their unrealistic expectations of how the real world should operate (“What do you mean I’m not getting promoted to vice president of the company after being here for six months?” “They treated me like shit. Like who the fuck are they to ask me to make copies for them?” “I could run that shit a thousand times better than they do.”).
On the flip side, there are some things I admire about this generation (shocking, right?). I love the fact that they are more open to creating their own careers and that they have no fear when it comes to doing just that. I admire their confidence when it comes to self-promotion. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people tout their awesomeness, whether true or not, and the fact that they can build a business off of the spin they generate about themselves is amazing. My generation had to have proof in their pudding before they spouted off about how excellent they were but, as a result, have built long-term success is their careers and the businesses they developed. For example, alongside my husband, I helped grow our business to several million dollars a year in business from the ground up. We had no choice of funding alternatives – we went to a family friend who loaned us money to use as collateral to get more money from the bank. We had no mentors or support – the company we franchised with was brand new to the franchising game so, we in essence, grew up along with them. We would NEVER expect culture to change to accept our failure – failure wasn’t an option, period. We had no government incentives – we had achievement and success and pride as incentives. And, taxation? It is what it is and we made sure our profit margin fit within our tax structure. So, with that said, the five key initiatives I would suggest to young entrepreneurs are this:
1. Stop whining about what you need and wondering who is going to hand it to you. We don’t need to expand funding alternatives so that you can start your business. Like most people that have built successful businesses before you, get up off your ass and go make it happen.
2. Stop expecting other people to create what you need. It’s hilarious to me that with allllllll the thousands of “friends and followers” you guys all have via social media, you’re crying that you need us to create business networking groups for you guys to more readily share information. Instead of telling your thousands of friends and followers what you drank last night at happy hour, or what you’re eating for lunch today, why don’t you ask them if they can recommend a mentor? Or, if you want to build a support network for your entrepreneurial aspirations, why don’t you use your social media skills to build one? Or, should we create an association to do that for you, too? I just read something in a John Maxwell book that said something like, “If you want a glass of milk, you don’t go out and sit in a field expecting the cow to walk up to you and put its nipples in your hands.” Sage advice, obviously paraphrased, but sage advice, nonetheless.
3. STOP ACCEPTING FAILURE AS AN OPTION AND STOP EXPECTING US TO ACCEPT YOUR FAILURE AS AN OPTION FOR YOUR FAILURE. It is nauseating to go back and reread the three bullet points: government needs to promote entrepreneurs as crucial job creators (no they don’t if you do what you say you’re going to do), society needs to be more tolerant of failure and recognize entrepreneurs as innovators (“Even if you lost today, you’ll always be a winner to me, sweetheart.” Is that what you need? Then you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur.), schools and universities must help students make the right career choices (oh, that’s right, we need to parent you because your parents were so busy telling you how awesome you are and how you’ll be successful at anything as long as you believe you’re successful, that they forgot to tell you that if you want to be successful you have to work your fucking ass off.)
4. Stop looking to the government to create solutions to your inability to make shit happen. Sure, it would be great if there was a program that could help everyone become an entrepreneur but if you look at programs the government creates to help everyone, there are rarely any self-made success stories. Quite the opposite.
5. Taxation is what it is. If you think the government is going to lower taxes, or make special concessions because you want to start a business and it needs to be easier, then you’re not cut out to be an entrepreneur. Big businesses that have received special tax loopholes became so successful WITHOUT those loopholes that they can now hire people to go to Washington and create new loopholes for them. Soooooo, in other words, go get super successful and then you, too, can get special tax treatment.
In closing, I’m sure I’m going to receive tons of flack for this post (“You don’t know what it’s like to be young,” “You’re negative,” “You suck,” “You’re a dream killer,” “You’re already successful. Fuck you,” “You don’t understand what these kids are going through,” “Blah, blah, blah”) but I’m reminded of a quote when I think of this, as I, like Herb, do often. It’s from my husband’s grandfather who used to say: “Shit in one hand and wish in the other. See which one fills up faster.” Herb was right when he said that this is a generation that can be great, but it has to start with young folks not wishing but taking action; however, shitting in their hand isn’t necessarily an action I would suggest.