I recently read a 2011 opinion piece from the New York Times entitled “Boomer Parent’s Lament”. The writer of the piece, Timothy Egan, despairs at the future for those who, like me, are members of Generation Y. In today’s harsh economic climate, many of my peers are burdened with heavy student loan debt and if they have a minimum-wage job that needs no degree are still considered lucky to at least have a paycheck.
Egan goes on to blame the parents, the Boomers, for filling our heads with the idea that our generation is special and focusing our self-worth on our grades, our jobs and our incomes. We were expected to achieve greatness, but were rewarded for mediocrity.
Now, in an economy where greatness is even harder to achieve, many of my generation are left with a feeling of failure, but are unprepared to deal with it.
There is certainly an amount of truth to his arguments. I experienced the rewarding for mediocrity, evidenced by the multitude of rainbow colored “participation” ribbons from elementary school summer swim team next to the sparse collection of blue first-place ribbons. I also experienced the expectations of greatness, from good grades in school to taking on leadership roles in activities. My Boomer mother pushed me to tour what became my alma mater, St. Catherine University, a women’s college where the mission statement of “lead and influence” is a recurring theme.
I am grateful for these experiences and do not lament anything instilled in me by my Boomer parents.
Yet, Egan is only really taking into account two generations: the Boomers and their Generation Y offspring. This, for me, is the key. In addition to my Boomer parents, I have had the influence of all four of my Traditionalist grandparents.
Along with all those aggrandizing comments and expectations typical of my generation, I was instilled with a sense of history. I learned of my grandparents’ childhood during the Great Depression and their young adulthood during WWII. They worked hard in order to provide for their families and their true accomplishment was seeing that all their families truly needed was taken care of.
Egan remarks on his father, but makes no reference to making an effort to instill his father’s work ethic and values into his children. It is my grandparents, not my parents, who have truly shaped my view of accomplishment. My parents pushed me to achieve, my grandparents’ work ethic showed me how. They also taught me to be grateful for what I have and to experience the feeling of accomplishment in small things, in family moments and in giving back to the community.
Perhaps instead of lamenting what Boomer parents “should have done” with their Generation Y children, we should all follow the example of my grandparents. Accomplishment comes in many forms and self-worth is not found in a paycheck.
If you have a job, you ARE lucky. Now work hard and do the best you can and keep going. If you have a loving family, friends and time to be with them, you ARE lucky. Now make sure you spend time with them and cherish it. If you have the opportunity to give back somehow, you ARE lucky. Now go see if you can help make someone else’s life a little easier, and perhaps discover new opportunities, passions and even self-worth.
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