The Whiny Generation

EVER SINCE THE PUBLICATION OF DOUGLAS COUPLAND'S book "Generation X," we've been subjected to a barrage of essays, op-ed pieces and feature articles blaming us baby boomers for the sad face of the twentysomething generation: the boomers took all the good jobs; the boomers are destroying the planet, the media is boomer-dominated and boomer-obsessed. The litany is never-ending. If you believe the Generation X essayists, all the troubles of the world can be traced to us fortysomethings.

Well, enough is enough. As a baby boomer, I'm fed up with the ceaseless carping of a handful of spoiled, self-indulgent, overgrown adolescents. Generation Xers may like to call themselves the "Why Me?" generation, but they should be called the "Whiny" generation. If these pusillanimous purveyors of pseudo-angst would put as much effort into getting a life as they do into writing about their horrible fate, we'd be spared the weekly diatribes that pass for reasoned argument in newspapers and magazines.

Let's examine for a moment the horrible fate visited on Generation X. This is a generation that was raised with the highest standard of living in the history of the world. By the time they arrived on the scene, their parents were comfortably established in the middle class and could afford to satisfy their offspring's every whim. And they did, in spades.

Growing up in the '70s and '80s, the twentysomethings were indulged with every toy, game and electronic device available. They didn't even have to learn how to amuse themselves since Mom and Dad were always there to ferry them from one organized activity to another. If we baby boomers were spoiled, the Whiny Generation was left out to rot. They had it all.

That's the essence of the Generation X problem. We have a generation (or at least part of a generation) whose every need has been catered to since birth. Now, when they finally face adulthood, they expect the gift-giving to continue. I'm 28 and I'll never own a house, whines the Generation Xer. I'm 25 and I don't have a high-paying job, says another.

Are these realistic expectations? Of course not. It's the rare individual in the last 40 years who had a high-paying job and owned a home prior to his or her 30th birthday. But the Whiners want everything now. A generation raised on the principle of instant satisfaction simply can't understand the concepts of long-term planning and deferred gratification. What's their reaction when they don't get what they want? That's right--they throw a tantrum.

The Whiners' most common complaint is that they've been relegated to what Mr. Coupland calls Mcjobs-low-paying, low-end positions in the service industry. I don't doubt that many Whiners are stuck in such jobs. But whose fault is that? Here's a generation that had enormous educational opportunities. But many Whiners squandered those chances figuring that a good job was a right not a privilege.

My parents' generation provided a better shot at postsecondary education for their boomer children than they themselves had enjoyed. And we took advantage of that situation in droves as the number of college and university graduates soared. The Whiners were afforded even greater scope for educational success but many of them failed to maximize their opportunities. They had the chance to reach higher but often chose not to or chose foolishly or unwisely.

Those who pursued a liberal-arts degree with a view to obtaining a job were either wealthy or naive. Those who thought that fine arts or film studies would yield more than a subsistence living were only fooling themselves. And those who entered law school will find sympathy hard to come by. More lawyers is one thing we definitely don't need.

The twentysomethings who planned their education wisely and spent the required years specializing in the technologies of the '90s now have the inside track in the job market. Those who chose to slide through high school to achieve semiliteracy are understandably unemployed or underemployed. Their cries of anguish do not now ring true. In fact, the youth unemployment rate is lower today than it was during the babyboom recession of the early '80s. And despite the current recession, there are still plenty of positions available for highly skilled workers who exhibited the foresight and determination to achieve the necessary abilities.

The Whiners decry the lack of entry-level professional positions in the marketplace. Granted, during this current recession there are fewer such jobs. But that was also true in the early '80s. Instead of blaming everyone for this state of affairs, the Whiners should acquire more skills, education and specialized knowledge for the careers of the 21st century that will be awaiting those who have prepared themselves. Forget a career in law; start thinking about computers, telecommunications and health care.

As for the Whiners' complaint about the media being boomer-dominated and boomer-obsessed, that's nothing new. Once a generation has worked long and hard enough, it's only natural that some of its members become ensconced in positions of power. And once in power, it's not that surprising that they reflect the views, tastes and concerns of their contemporaries. Why should the media revolve around the lives of 25-year-olds? Remember, this is the generation whose biggest achievement to date is something called grunge rock. Once they've accomplished more, they'll get the media coverage.

So, I invite the Whiners to put aside their TV-generation values and accept cold, hard reality. Interesting, high-paying jobs and rich lifestyles are not automatic; they're not even commonplace. Most people live ordinary lives of quiet desperation stuck in uninteresting jobs that they're afraid to lose. If you want more than that, move out of your parents' houses, start working and, for heaven's sake, stop whining.

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