The Low-Self-Esteem Generation
For years I have been reading and hearing about how Generation Y-ers have overdosed on self-esteem. Born in the 80s to the early 2000s, these young people are also sometimes called Millennials. And there have been increasing complaints in the workplace that this generation has an undue sense of entitlement.
Is it true? Maybe.
Research certainly seems to point that way. In 1982, one third of the students taking the Narcissist Personal Inventory scored above average. In 2006, that number was 65%.
This is the generation where every kid got a trophy, no one ever failed, and no answer was ever wrong… just a “good try.”
At work, these Millennials require constant praise. Some companies have gone from an “Employee of the Month” program to ‘Employee of the Week’ awards – dozens of them every week.
I’ve seen evidence of this myself. Several years ago, when I was still working for a major corporation, I interviewed college juniors for our internship program. They were, shall we kindly say, enormously self-assured. One young person particularly stood out. When I asked him what he saw himself doing, he said, “I’d like to be involved in the strategic decision-making for the company.” I couldn’t help but reply, “Would you really want to work for a company that let YOU make strategic decisions?”
But here’s the thing: These self-important, spoiled, egomaniacs may be on to something. Maybe they don’t worry so much about what other people think, because they know they are just AWESOME.
You see, I am from the Low-Self-Esteem Generation.
I’m luckier than some of my peers. My parents didn’t discourage me or call me a dumbbell on a daily basis. They were just honest about my shortcomings while supportive of my efforts. They never stroked my ego, but they didn’t damage it too much either.
My husband wasn’t so lucky. His parents didn’t offer encouragement. He told me about trying to learn to play drums as a kid. His mother ridiculed his poor performance from the very start.”You are just awful,” she said. “You have no talent.” I can see the result today. He is very stressed trying something new. I always have confidence that he will succeed in whatever he does – he’s proven it to me over and over again. But he doesn’t believe it. He’s afraid of failure.
And I’ve worked with a woman so fearful of criticism, she would cry over the tiniest insignificant mistakes. “Don’t fire me,” she pleaded when she needed surgery. What the hell had her childhood been like? I only know that she once mentioned that she grew up in her grandfather’s house, and that he did not allow children to step on his lawn – or make any noise.
Some of our parents had the best of intentions. One of my friends had protective parents. They didn’t want her to be disappointed. They didn’t want her hurt by failure. So they didn’t want her to try. She was plucky enough to defy her parents and take chances anyway. But her tendency now is to get her back up when anyone tries to give her advice. She will do exactly the opposite. Even when the advice is good.
And for us in the Low-Self-Esteem Generation, a lot of our insecurities revolve around our looks. I don’t know a single woman my age who didn’t grow up thinking she was ugly.
I’m one of those. I always hated the way I looked. And my sweet but honest parents didn’t lie to me nearly enough. I hardly ever heard them say that I was pretty. It didn’t help that I developed scoliosis at puberty. My crooked spine was an enormous source of shame to me.
On the positive side, I consider myself the very latest of Late Bloomers. I’m now sixty-five and I feel rather beautiful. Better late than never, I guess.
But it’s tenuous.
This weekend we went to a local theater for a musical review called “The Taffetas” – four women singing songs from the 50s. They were terrific singers.
It’s a small theater and we had good seats. I could see that these young woman were nice-looking but not stunning beauties. What I would call attractive and approachable. Nice.
And at one point in the production, they all turned their backs to the audience at the dramatic ending to the song.
And all I could see were four young straight backs.
And I fell apart just a little bit.
I’ll try to feel beautiful again tomorrow.