The Plight of the 20-Something

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

We’re all scared. It’s the human condition. I remember in the days of Sunday school (the ones I showed up to) the teacher always told us that God’s greatest gift to humankind was also its greatest curse: knowledge. Now I’m not one to go in for all of that God nonsense, but I could see what the crazy ol’ bat was saying. Knowledge is a tricky thing. I mean, sure, “knowledge” in the Biblical sense is pretty much resigned to the self-aware aspects of humanity (we all live, we all die, etc.) but the term has evolved. Knowledge is no longer confined to the aspects of ourselves that we are born and die with: it is something more.

Knowledge is something we actively pursue. Sure, there’s the government-mandated portion of our education, but people go on to undergrad and graduate school. Not because they have to, but because we’ve sold this pre-packaged notion of knowledge. Knowledge means… opportunities. Or maybe it did once? I’m not too sure anymore.

Let me be clear, I’m not encouraging people to abandon school or learning or anything like that. On the contrary, I’ve loved most of the time I’ve spent in school. Most of my high school horror stories stem from the forced social interaction with people my age, and not the educational material… except the time I almost puked dissecting a fetal pig… whatever, the point is, knowledge, education, whatever you wanna call the core concept? That’s not the problem.

The problem stems from the over-simplified equation (and fallacy) that education leads to jobs, success, and the rest of the American Dream. See, I was told if I worked my ass off studying and doing well in school that I would have something to show for it. Currently? No job, an undergraduate degree somewhere in the trunk of my car (I think?) and a Master’s degree (in the process of finishing) that I’m being told by most people to leave off my job applications.

Why is that?

Well, because there’s a small problem with my generation. We’re the generation that got a ribbon at the art fair because you submitted something to it. We got “good try” when we should have been getting “try better next time.” I’m not a tough love kind of guy, but at some point, this just gets ridiculous. This type of constant encouragement in the face of mediocrity is what breeds the ugliest beast: entitlement. The 5-year old who wrote his mom “the most beautiful song” she’s ever heard for her birthday, keeps hearing that kind of praise and grows into the unemployed 20-something who’s just “misunderstood” because nobody wants to give him a recording contract. Eventually he should probably just consider that he might not be that good.

I’ll admit, I’m not pretending like I’m better than this. I’ve turned down interview offers because they weren’t in my field or because, um… I have a goddamn Master’s, why should I be slinging coffee? It’s a terribly unattractive trait. It’s one of the things that I hate most about myself, if we’re being completely honest. Still, thanks to that God-given basic “knowledge” or emotional maturity (not likely…) or maybe my crippling self-doubt, it’s something I recognize about myself.

Part of the problem is that, this mindset is reciprocated. Hell, it’s even espoused by the very companies that won’t hire so many of us 20-somethings. “We feel like you’re overqualified for the position.” Is there any bigger bullshit phrase in corporate culture? Um… if I’m willing to do it and I’m overqualified? You guys are getting a bargain. No, just say what you mean. We’re not interested.

I’m a big boy, I can handle it.

Instead, businesses practice two tactics. The “overqualified” route is probably the most deplorable, but it’s usually either that or… no call, no e-mail, nothing. Either way, there is no rejection in its most basic and necessary form. Sure, it isn’t great to hear, but otherwise, you’re left with this sense of entitlement.

“It’s not me, it’s them.”

It’s not true in dating and it’s not true in business. The 20-something, myself included, needs to stop hearing that s/he is special. They need to hear “this is what you could do better.” Otherwise, the vicious cycle continues.

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2 thoughts on “The Plight of the 20-Something

  1. I thought that when people in the bible talked about “knowledge” they were referring to sex . . .
    Anyhow, nice rant, though it makes me sad to hear your shame in being a graduate student who slings coffee . . . I’ve got nothing but respect for those who hustle the service industry to fuel their brains and dreams. Ego aside, dollars in the pocket . . . learn to be human again.

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