For the first time in recent memory I found myself sitting at home in the living room during cartoon time on Saturday morning. Good God, what have we come to? I know now why some overly critical people have labeled Generation Y (also known as the “Millennials”) as the “I’m special” generation.
Forbes recently did an article titled, “Are Millennials ‘Deluded Narcissists’?” Since it was written by an obviously talented member of Gen Y, the author’s conclusion was that her generation was misunderstood. Hmm, where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, I heard it when my generation was coming of age in the sixties and seventies. Déjà vu aside, in some ways, she’s probably right. Millennials, like most youngsters, generally get a bad rap from both older generations and their higher achieving peers that may or may not be totally deserved.
As a case in point for the latter, I have a young engineer in my office who just graduated from college and he’s right square in the middle of Gen Y. He’s also talented, hard working and brimming with common sense, which puts him diametrically opposed to society’s perception of his generation. During a conversation one day I asked him what he thought about the reputation his generation had.
His response was, “I agree with it. Most of the kids I went to school with were like whining babies. They’d get a C in a class and then cry, ‘That’s not fair. I did my best. I deserve at least a B.’ Half of the people in my mechanical engineering classes didn’t know how to use a wrench to tighten a bolt. So yeah, I think they’re pampered underachievers.”
Now, that may have been an exaggeration, but coming from a young guy who has his engineering degree, can machine metal, knows how to weld and can design or fix nearly anything you point him at, there has to be a kernel of truth somewhere in that comment. That leads me back to the cartoons.
It seemed like everything I could find this morning was some sort of feel good, esteem building drivel. That’s fine and dandy, but it doesn’t do much to prepare kids for the real world. One cartoon I watched had a snake, a couple of cute little pigs and a bear working together to solve a mystery. Nice concept, but not very realistic. In the real world, the pigs would eat the snake, the bear would eat the pigs and, while he was sleeping off the meal, someone would shoot the bear and make him into a rug.
I jest of course. I understand that the premise behind the cartoon is that diversity and teamwork are good and if we all do our part we’ll achieve our goals. That last bit is a little optimistic, but I accept the general premise. It’s the over the top, esteem building dialog that I wonder about.
If I had a team of engineers who were constantly complementing and reassuring each other in soft, soothing voices, I’d be tempted to grab them by the shoulders to shake them awake. In the real world we don’t get points for almost doing the job or simply doing our best. In the real world I want a team built with engineers that have a fire in their belly to BE the best. I want a team that gets pissed off and goes into high gear when things aren’t getting done right or when the plan falls apart. I want a team that gets the job done whatever it takes, even if that means sneaking up behind Wiley Coyote and beeping just as he’s lighting a rocket pack fuse.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that I think we’re positive self-esteeming our kids out of the competition. Cute little pigs and bears are fine if taken in moderation, but let’s mix in a little bit of Bugs Bunny and Tweety Bird just to keep the expectations realistic. If we’re going to use solving mysteries and team building as a learning vehicle, then it wouldn’t hurt to throw some Jonny Quest or Scooby Doo into the mix. I learned a lot from Scooby and Velma.