When we talk about student loans and young people’s finances, patience always comes up. You are accused of not being patient enough for the things you want. People criticize Occupy Wall Street, pointing out that the demonstrators all have Macs, iPods, and Smart Phones. Even I appear to be an accomplice, because my article about rejecting my parents’ lifestyle implies that I have any fault in the matter. But today, I will set the record straight.
Generation Y is not particularly impatient as a group, nor are we less patient than the larger society. In fact, most of what we know is what we have been taught.
If you read Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist or her blog, you’ll hear her talk about how Generation Y crowd-sources decisions or how they’ve been taught their whole lives to be great team players. This contradicts impatience. A great team player knows that he will not have what he wants when he wants it, because he knows HE is not king. I know that this doesn’t disprove the assertion that we are impatient, but it does reveal an inconsistency. It’s very difficult for me to be both impatient and incredibly collaborative.
Americans are an impatient group. The truth is that the kid Occupying Wall Street isn’t mad that he didn’t get a job with his unmarketable Liberal Arts degree*. He is angry that he can’t get a job even though he did “everything” right.
(*The idea that Liberal Arts degrees are “unmarketable” is a commonly held myth in my opinion. Maybe I’ll cover it later – but not in this article.)
One guy named James graduated at the top of his class in high school, and was voted most likely to succeed. He got a few scholarships to a top selective university in his region (out-of-state) with an excellent reputation. He did everything he was told to do by parents, teachers, and his community – but it didn’t work.
He can’t find a decent job. On his current income, he won’t be able to buy the American Dream for at least another decade. Is he impatient or are his teachers and parents impatient? I think the latter is true. They’re the ones that made him think he could have so much within a few years of graduation! Young people do not set social standards or norms in any society – nor do they drive country-wide trends. We only know what we have been taught.
You can’t blame James for thinking he should have a great job now, because he hasn’t been in the world long enough to find out for himself what it takes to get a great job. All he knows is what he’s been told, and what he’s been told is just not true (it might have been in the past). His parents never told him that college is designed for rich people, so he didn’t infer that a higher education guarantees nothing as far as income is concerned. His teachers never told him that the best GPA doesn’t necessarily get the highest starting salary, so he didn’t realize that graduating from college is the beginning of intense hard work, not the end.
James’ parents also didn’t ever teach him to live like a poor person. They took for granted that their talented child would be able to afford at 25 what they didn’t afford till they were 55. They bought him iPods, vacations, and other expensive gifts, leaving him to think they were reasonable purchases for a young adult starting out. Maybe this was wishful thinking? Their child is really smart right? If HE can’t afford the American Dream, who can?
The important thing for us to know is that what adults don’t know will not pass on to their children. Some young people are employed, others are not; but many of them are falling behind financially because what they were taught is not working. People with the best educations available in their profession have salaries that can’t justify the student loans they incurred. There are top college graduates with absolutely no idea how to find a job or where the jobs they want have gone.
We should all stop saying that young people are impatient because it implies that we are more so than older people. We did not invent credit cards, nor pioneer their use. We did not fabricate the idea that a higher education is worth attaining at any price or debt level. We did create the notion that Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, Engineering or Accounting are “prestigious” professions – or the only ones with long-term job security. We did not buy our first electronic gadget, video game, or designer jeans. We did not invent money, nor do we set the standard in society for how it is used today.
Our parents and the people around us did all of this or taught it to us. They are the impatient ones, and for now we are just a reflection of their attitudes.