Something for Nothing by Trish Milburn“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
— Thomas Edison, inventor and businessman
When I was a kid, I remember rolling my eyes at adults who would talk about how much things had changed since they were young, how young people didn’t know how good they had it. I remember thinking, “I won’t be like that.”
Uh, well, I was wrong.
But I’m not talking about changes in fashions or music preferences. I’m talking about what I’ve come to think of as the plague of entitlement, that sense that we want it all right now and don’t want to work too hard for it, that the world owes us something. I’ve seen it in just about every aspect of life – potential homeowners refusing to pay anywhere near the asking price for a house because they “can’t live without hardwood floors and marble baths”; college graduates who go into debt up to their eyeballs so they can have the best of everything right out of the gate; writers who think they shouldn’t have to work too hard or stoop to writing what the market demands or who think if they have to wait two weeks to hear back from an editor or agent it’s the end of the world; or some people so used to living off the government that they think the government owes them a check every month. It all comes down to a lack of respect for the good, old-fashioned work ethic — one of the building blocks on which this country was built.
And before you picture me as some tottering, old lady thinking back to the days of the Great Depression when people really had to work hard to survive, here’s a news flash. I’m 35 years old. It hasn’t been that long since I was a high school or college student. And while there was the occasional student who didn’t have to work for his car or her sequined prom dress back when I was a teen, they were the exception rather than the rule. I don’t know when things started to change, but change they have. Yes, you still see teens working the counters at McDonald’s, but you also see kids using their credit cards to buy term papers off the Internet. I judge an annual writing contest sponsored by my former employer, and it’s amazing how little effort is seemingly put into the entries, supposedly from the top students in their classes. There’s no pride in the effort, no pride in something accomplished by hard work.
I have the sad suspicion that if I were to tell many teenagers that they would appreciate the possessions they have a lot more if they had to work for them, they’d either laugh at me or look at me as if I’d lost my mind. Not all of them of course, but enough that I think it can safely be called a trend.
So, what caused this shift in attitude? Was it the economic prosperity of the 1990s? The daily deluge of glitzy media images? Was it just a natural, generational progression? Or do we all just have a lazy gene somewhere in our DNA? What do you think?