My husband and I often grumble about the seemingly unrelenting narcissism of Generation Y — those born between 1982 and 2002 also known as the millennials, echo boomers or, fittingly, Generation Me.
In doing so, however, I’m a bit of a hypocrite. While this group has been depicted by employers, professors and earnestly concerned mental-health experts as entitled whiners who have been spoiled by parents who overstoked their self-esteem, teachers who granted undeserved A’s and sports coaches who bestowed trophies on any player who showed up, I too praise my own children at every step. What’s more, I do so because I believe that we are all inherently good, talented, capable and lovable. If we can know that, be wholeheartedly assured of our lovable worth, our lives will indeed be blessed, regardless of outside circumstances. You may call it “knowing the God within” or you may call it irrefutable self worth–whatever your opinion, if you believe you are smart, capable and lovable, you will be happy. And if you are happy, you are successful, by your own definition.
The New York Times posted this incredible story about a consensus has emerged that, psychologically, Generation Y is a generation of basket cases: profoundly narcissistic and deprived of a sense of agency by their anxiously overinvolved parents — in short, a “nation of wimps,” as Hara Estroff Marano, the Psychology Today editor at large, has put it. Below are more excerpts from the story.
Generation Y has its own struggles; the unemployment rate for early 20-somethings is close to 20 percent. Yet despite the fact that the new graduates are in no position to pose conditions for employers, many are increasingly declaring themselves unwilling to work more than 40 hours a week. Graduates are turning down job offers in high numbers — essentially opting to move back home with their parents if the work offered doesn’t match their self-assessed market value.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which every year surveys thousands of college graduates about their job prospects and work attitudes, fully 41 percent of job seekers this year turned down offers — the exact percentage that did so in 2007, when the economy was booming.
“Almost universally they want to find a job that’s not just a job but an expression of their identity, a form of self-fulfillment,” says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a Clark University psychology professor who interviewed hundreds of young people across the economic spectrum for his book, “Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road From the Late Teens Through the Twenties.” (I struggle on this point; We need people who find their zen in jobs ranging from trash collection to insurance adjusting, certainly. However, when I was making more money than I ever have in real estate marketing, I came to a point when I simply had to drop it and pursue my dream of writing. Money isn’t everything—Joy is.)
Interestingly, Generation Y believes “perfect jobs” exist; today’s recent graduates also think they’re good enough to get them. “They see themselves as really well prepared and supremely good candidates for the job market,” says Edwin Koc, director of research for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “Over 90 percent think they have a perfect résumé. The percentage who think they will have a job in hand three months after graduation is now 57 percent. They’re still supremely confident in themselves.”
When the author interviewed some millennials, many were jobless, others were dissatisfied with their work or graduate-school choices, yet they didn’t blame themselves if life failed to meet their expectations. They didn’t call into question their choices or competencies. It was as if all the cries of “Good job!” they heard as children armed them against the repeated blows of frustration and rejection now coming their way.
But, perhaps it wasn’t so much nurturing as environment. Generation Y has grown up in an era of almost unremitting ambient anxiety: school years spent in the shadow of Columbine, 9/11 and, lately, widespread parental job losses. Maybe chronic unease has simply raised this generation’s tolerance level for stress, leaving it uniquely well equipped to deal with uncertainty.
Perhaps unshakable self-esteem really does serve as a buffer to adversity–I know I want my children to have it.