“One of the things you will discover after college is that people are disappointing,” an alumnus from my university said during an informational interview. A marketing professional with an MBA designation who’s been in the workforce for 10 years, he meant that in college, young people are surrounded by people of high caliber, and staying in the world of academia for 4 years (and 12 years before that) leads one to think that this is an accurate demographic representation of the real world.
We are all used to achieving and overachieving, competing with others, and nervously engaging in discussions with our professors. Then, we graduate and expect the same treatment, try to seek the same challenges, and are over and over disappointed when people don’t share our drive and curiosity. We realize people are complacent, uninspired, and don’t dream big enough. We’re there to provide support to them, but feel drained when we are barraged with cynicism.
This is the root of the Gen Y “entitlement issue,” as many older people refer to our identity/confusion diagnosis. It’s not that we necessarily expect to have roads paved for us, or be ushered into lives of comfort and luxury. We don’t. However, having graduated from colleges that offered only the highest quality education and networks, we have all been honed to compete, and expect the best of ourselves and of the events that unfold as we walk straight into what was once the future to us. Our collegiate experiences have challenged us, provoked critical thinking, inspired us to become leaders, and propelled us. While we know that we will have to humble ourselves and start at the beginning, we also don’t expect to be doing the barest, menial work– photocopying papers, changing hangers, preparing offices and lunch arrangement for those higher up the ladder. This is a waste of everyone’s time, and our talent. Give that guy who doesn’t seem to know how to navigate the office but have all the right credentials to do the work that needs to be done. Chances are, he’ll master the task in no time. Push us at the edge to give us a taste of our “entitlement.” We’ll swim, probably with clumsy doggie-paddle strokes, but we’ll swim. We won’t stop swimming until we know how to do freestyle laps.
Most of the time, we just need the opportunity. And the push for us to realize our own capabilities, which we need far more during the early stages than at any other point in our careers.