There are a few key words bandied around these days that cause me to grind my teeth. See if they have the same effect on you: Work-Life Balance, Helicopter Parenting, and Flex-Schedule. If you have heard any of these terms lately, chances are you too have visited the Land of Entitlement.
Who created this environment? What caused this shift of psyche? Some nurturing factors could be: shrinking family size, changing parental involvement levels, and self-absorption tools on the internet I call “Instant Like-Minded Sharing-Selfies.” External factors over the last couple of decades: global destabilization of weather, politics, and currency, reality show-voyeurism, and mega salaries and glorification of the 1%. There is change in the air when every child is precious but we can watch horrible things happen to strangers on YouTube. Is your outlook on life desensitized or hypersensitive? Probably depends on the day (or rather the moment).
For answers, I like to look at popular entertainment as an indicator of where society is trending. There is a huge market now for books, movies, and TV shows, about Armageddon and Post-Apocalyptic Survival. I do not believe this is a coincidence or that the end of the world is near (if you know differently, please don’t tell me). It is my opinion that this fascination with the END is simply society grappling with rapid change and creating scenarios where we have some control over our destiny. In the 1970-80’s there were lots of movies about AIDS and Nuclear War, both terrifying and suddenly possible scenarios back then. In the 1940’s World War reality was so shocking that popular movies were designed to help people escape for a while. All the way back to ancient Greco-Roman culture, by observing how people spent their time and money, we can see the mind-set of civilization at the moment.
Now back to the topic I opened this essay with, are people really becoming more entitled, selfish, and egocentric? My answer would be yes, at least they are more public about it.
Here are some of the little gems I have heard from workers over the past five years:
“I would like to transfer, but I first need to ask my dad where he thinks I should go.” Age 27
“My mother said that after working here 3 years, it is time for me to get a promotion.” Age 26
“I recently quit my job as a new manager because I did not have enough time to spend with friends. I want to travel the world and train people like you do.” Age 25, 3 years working
“I am looking for my dream job where I have a great work-life balance. Work might be fun for you, but I need to also have a life.” Age 21 just finishing college
“I write to pass on a very important message that I hope will help change the status of employees around the world…I am caught in the same situation as I was during my first internship, doubting whether all the honorable aspects of working compensate for my occasional physical and emotional breakdown. Do not get me wrong, I am an idealist and I believe in individuals like me, which have passion for the industry regardless of its hardship. However, as motivated as I am, I find myself in a job where staff and co-workers constantly stop me from achieving my full potential.” Early 20’s working as an intern, writing an open letter to a global company
That last quote posted on a blog sight made me laugh and cry with despair. She wrote earnest, naive, and immature impressions of her job (feelings I could identify with at her age). The difference between us is the time we live in. In the early 1990’s I might have shared my grandiose opinion with 20 people -hurting my career, but able to recover. She posted her thoughts electronically in a blog that thousands of people read, effectively leaving a “do not hire me” sign on her profile for anyone who googles her name -forever. Technology is a vital piece of society, but this aspect is so unforgiving I am concerned. We are creating a generation of people afraid to express themselves lest they be ridiculed and do permanent damage to their reputation.
During early stages of our lives (the teen years and early 20’s) it is not uncommon to feel superior to everyone around us. We are after all seeing the mistakes of our elders and feel convinced that our perfect record (though short) will continue indefinitely. Once we do make mistakes of our own it is not be the end of learning, but rather the beginning of a new understanding of the nuanced, interesting, and infinite possibilities life has to offer.
In the Land of Entitlement there are haves and have not’s. Which group do you think you belong in? It does not depend on your fortune, but rather your outlook. Training employees to serve and sell to the richest people on earth, I have learned:
Working and traveling in the worlds most luxurious locations can warp my perspective of reality.
Working with some of the lowest paid people in the world brings me back around again.
Despite what the media portrays, most people are kind and have good intentions. It is easy to adopt a cynical outlook on everything, build “snarky armor” and close off emotions. An open-hearted interest in others would solve a lot of the world’s problems.
Fewer selfies for others to see and more authentic moments is the secret to staying sane.
Anything you do electronically is permanent. Think twice, and then post bravely.
When managing teams who seem self-absorbed, remember that we all started out thinking we knew all the answers, reality will hit sooner or later.
The secret of happiness is having a goal in front of you. Once you have everything you want, life loses meaning.
Change presents opportunities for anyone willing to explore what is possible. When I was 21 I told my General Manager that I was jealous of him. 25 years (and lots of mistakes) later when people say that to me, I respond the same way he did. “Don’t be jealous of anyone. Go out and earn a great life for yourself!”