The “Why” Generation Becomes the “What Hit Me” Generation

Posted: Apr 27, 2009 12:00 AM

My dad used to say, “Life is a great trainer!” As unimpressed as I was by his lectures as a teen, he seemed to relish letting me learn life’s important lessons the hard way.

When I bought that cool looking stick-shift car over his objection that it’s the wrong car for San Francisco, he refused to ever let me use his automatic. When forced to drive my car to prom night at the Fairmont Hotel, I appreciated firsthand the wisdom in his warning. The Fairmont is on a hill no stick shift should be allowed.

I learned hand signals I’d never used—the kind where you roll down your window and franticly wave the car behind to a safe distance. I knew I was coming back eight feet before I was moving forward! I survived both prom night and my father’s laughter, and I’m thankful that he let me learn choices have consequences.

After graduating from UCLA, my dad made it clear that he didn’t want me to get carried away with all this education. The rest was on me. I survived the poverty of paying my own way through grad school and starting my own company.

Such difficult experiences produce maturity. You learned that you could survive the lean times eventually rebound, and that life provides both booms and busts. In tough economic times, you learned to tighten your belt, adjust your expectations and find ways to create your own opportunities.

I don’t remember parents, teachers and employers adjusting to make our lives easier. They expected us to adjust. After all, life was, is and will forever be difficult!

Most of my generation didn’t have parents who read books about protecting our fragile self-esteem, and they weren’t afraid to discipline when we deserved it. Parents didn’t expect to be approved; they demanded respect.

Instead of driving you to games, you might have peddled yourself on a one-speed bike. The television you had was black and white and had four channels. It didn’t show anything from midnight to 6:00 am. You had to finish your homework before you played, had to eat dinner with the family, and had to go to church every Sunday whether you liked it or not. You earned your spending money, and you didn’t expect more.

Even though you were told to avoid them, your best teachers were your toughest teachers. They weren’t mean; they just cared enough to hold you accountable and have high expectations for what you could do. Those were the teachers who gave you an “F” when you earned it!

Today, experts tell us how to treat and adapt to meet the needs of the Y generation and the Gen-X crowd. Instead of seeing life as a great trainer, we’ve artificially shielded far too many young people from learning how to cope on their own!

Many teens today go on nice vacations and have rooms that in some countries would house two families. They’ve had allowances higher than the average monthly income in some developing countries. Many have been given cars you couldn’t afford until your 30’s. They get their lattes at Starbucks, while you choose drive-through-coffee at McDonalds.

These teens often have teachers who would rather give a good grade than face an irate parent over giving them the grade they actually deserve. Now, we hear of parents calling college professors and bosses complaining about how their “children” are treated. We’ve created the “entitlement age” they now expect. It’s not surprising that they’ve voted for the “entitlement president” who has promised more student loans, foreclosure bailouts, free healthcare and all bills paid by those evil, “rich” Americans!

The world has catered to them, and it may well do so again in the future. But right now, this year, in this economy, life is finally catching up to them. The “Why Generation” is turning into the “What Hit Me Generation.”

For many teens and young adults, this summer will be the first when they haven’t had their pick of summer jobs or internships. They’re now competing with experienced people twice their age willing to work for far less to feed their families. Many are settling for work that two or three years ago, they’d thumb their noses at. Many are having to come home to make ends meet. This time, their parents aren’t paying their credit card bills; they’re trying to pay off their own!

This economic downturn is providing a gift in disguise for many young people. They’re learning that success has to be earned. Buying on credit isn’t free money, and a government that promises you everything will eventually come knocking at your door to pay the bill.

I thank my parents for caring enough to teach me to pay off my credit cards monthly, to retire my mortgage as soon as possible, to save for a rainy day and to only buy what I can afford. May the same lessons come to serve our youth, their generation and America’s future.