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Janet Lee

Editorial Specialist, Content Distribution, TED Conferences

TEDCRED 100+

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Has Gen Y in America become a generation of laziness, self entitlement, and failure of will? If so, who/ what is to blame?

As a 20-something, I am a living, breathing testament to America's Gen Y population, and have been hearing a lot in the media from Gen x and the baby boomers that we are a generation of laziness, failure of will, self entitlement and loss of the "American Dream." I'd love to pose this question to the TED community (of all generations), how this idea became more prominent in American culture, and if this is something our generation is at fault for, or a product of something else...

Topics: generation y
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        Aug 17 2011: i am almost 22, and i agree with your point at the end. at the same time, generations of the past i am sure did the same. i think the state of technology today can leave one thinking less, if they chose.
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        Aug 17 2011: like, our president? my point is, everyone one as far as i have seen in 22 years does it.
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          Aug 17 2011: Really Tim?

          Sometimes I have no idea what drives you to blurt things out like you do… I agree with Birdia that it sometimes feels that there is a complacency bordering on apathy to this generation; a distinct sense of entitlement and instant gratification that is disturbing - I work side by side with many of them. I do what I can to mentor, collaborate, but there is often something missing from their involvement and it seems like it's passion. Unlike Birdia's pursuit of happiness, I see many more young people today than ever before who don't want to pursue their dreams but instead see it as something they can somehow acquire, as if happiness is a commodity. Generalization? Yes, but It has merit.

          I often like your quick, no frills shoot-from-the-hip comments, but sometimes I get the feeling you might be one of the generation that I find so frustrating.
          Here is a long passage from one of my favorite thinkers and writers. I hope you will slow down long enough to read it:

          "The great tragedy of speed as an answer to the complexities and responsibilities of existence is that very soon we cannot recognize anything or anyone who is not traveling at the same velocity as we are...We start to lose sight of any colleagues who are moving at a slower pace, and we start to lose sight of the bigger, slower cycles that underlie our work. We especially lose sight of the big, unfolding wave form passing through our lives that is indicative of our central character. On the personal side, as slaves to speed, we start to lose sight of family members, especially children, or those who are ill or infirm, who are not flying through the world as quickly and determinedly as we are. Just as seriously, we begin to leave behind the parts of our own selves that limp a little, the vulnerabilities that actually give us color and character. We forget that our sanity is dependent on a relationship with longer, more patient cycles extending beyond the urgencies and madness of the office.”
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          Aug 17 2011: That is a good quote, Jim, but it neglects the idea that we often change our speed as we move through life. When we are young and sprightly, our speed is set to full throttle- and it would be a damn shame if it was not. There is a time, to each season of our life. From the passage, it sounds like David Whyte is complaining about the Difference in speed between the rate at which he is going on life's freeway, and the crazy reckless driving from other occupants on the road.

          The trick, I think, is that we eventually do slow down. That hardly any of us go insane from our short term fixation on short term cycles, because all of us who survived the "live fast die young" mantra eventually do settle down to enjoy the comfort of longer waves.

          We want to pursue our dreams as a commodity? What does that mean? Who is offering to sell us happiness in an unprecedented way? Don't tell me that adveritising has gotten more subversive since olden times, look at http://boingboing.net/2008/09/18/vintage-marlboro-ads.html. Advertisement since time immemorial has told us that we will have our hearts desire if we buy so-and-so product, that is not something that has changed drastically since the first cave man bragged that his spear will make your cavewoman love you for bringing home the caribou faster.
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          Aug 18 2011: Not everyone's speed is set on full-throttle when young. Some think deeply.

          And I do think it would benefit everyone - young, old and everywhere in between - to not be fooled into speeding through life at any point thinking that "more is better". Especially in the modern world of today where there are so many many many many many many many things that push our buttons and send us multi-tasking at break-neck speed. This is not a generational thing - it''s a "today's world". thing.

          Even those who are middle-aged and older today are speeding along trying to keep up with the clutter that constantly fills our day and blocks us from focusing on things that matter. Not that everyone should go around thinking serious thoughts all the time!! It's just that it's easy to get distracted by "junk mail" and sometimes hard to separate it from the things that have true meaning for me personally.

          Do you know the song by the beatles "A Day In The Life"? It's a great artistic interpretation of the speed at which we get caught up in life's clutter. The best part of the song (though it stresses me out listening to it) is the end when the music begins to crescendo higher and higher, tighter and tighter, until the whole thing bursts. If you listen to it closely the final cord lasts for over a minute. Amazing song.
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      Aug 17 2011: Tommy has it right here. I don't think that there is such a substantial gap between generations. Rather, what should interest us is the precise re-iteration that we find throughout each generation, all of them pass through phases of rebellion, conformity, aggression, reflection. The universality of a human life's progress outweighs the supposed "differences," whose exact modes of expression are determined by the prevailing cultural winds at the time. But the essence does not change all that much. We are still all human, we still search for meaning in life, we still wrestle with ways to define ourselves in relation to society.
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    Aug 17 2011: Hello all!

    Based on the way this conversation is going, perhaps I should have re-phrased my question. Birdia, thanks for your feedback. I suppose I can only speak from personal experience, but I too just like you and your siblings, have been fortunate with a family who has supported me financially and emotionally with my "journey" through my 20's. I have never taken advantage of this and have worked really hard to support myself, and find my own path, even if it meant getting yelled at and being cut off financially. I have had my moments of laziness, self-entitlement, and blaming other people--that being said, I think that the "laziness" and "blaming" and "self-entitlement" is a front for those who are actually scared, who don't have a good support group, who are afraid of taking risks, who want to find their stride, but are struggling to figure out how to do it and get it done.

    Easy answer: just do it. But, if it were that easy, why aren't more of us doing it?

    How can we get out of this frame of mind? What can we do individually and collectively to get out of the "frustration" that is effecting not just 20-somethings, but everyone?

    (They don't call it the quarter life crisis for nothing!)
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      Aug 17 2011: I am sure all generations and individuals have aksed the "who am I and why am I here" question in some way or to some degree at different phases of their lives. The difference with your generation (and even bleeds into mine as I am 35) is that you have been born into a world where information is bombarded at you in every direction. Through technology there has been an array of opportunities and connections, and possibilities someone in the past did not have. Your choices now are vast, where generations prior, perhaps not so vast. My grandmother in her generation was told she has 2 choices: become a teacher or a nurse" and it was her duty to marry and raise a family. Of course not everyone followed that, but many had because well, its "the way things are". As for those that went a different path, they still had less known opportunities as they explored.

      Fewer choices can seem easier. Not saying fewer choices is key to happiness, but people sought to find what happiness they could in the lives they were expected to lead.

      I come from a generation where we were told we could be anything, no matter your gender or race, etc. The self help age, and then, your generation never really had a taste of too many limtations. Technology has provided you with means to seek, search and connect all over the world with one click. This provides a sense of instant gratification. Yet at the same time no real map for sifting through all the information, possibilities, and opportunities available to you. A feeling where too much choice is not the answer to finding oneself, a path, or happiness. A feeling where you can become lost in the shuffle and feeling you may never truly having anything unique to give.

      I don't feel condenming technology is helpful, for it will continue. Perhaps it is more about balance. Finding meaning in your life and journey...your higher purpose, talents, passions and utilizing the powerful tools and resources available to you. Taking responsibilit