Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Is Optimism Good?

I was going to do the following by the time I was 25 years old, according to my 18-year-old self:
  1. Be an editor of a magazine
  2. Look into starting my own magazine
  3. Married (of course)
  4. Starting a family (because, you know, that is totally conducive to #s 1 and 2)
  5. Publish a book
I did exactly none of those. Instead, between the age of 21 and 25 I had 4 jobs in as many years, and finally gave up on Boston and moved back with my tail between my legs to Minnesota.

I still haven't done 1, 2, and 5. I've accepted I probably never will, largely because of 2 and 3.

The Huffington Post featured a piece by a self-proclaimed Gen-Y Expert saying that Generation Y has what she calls Expectation Hangovers. I should probably absolve myself now because I'm totally Gen X.  But I was also raised with the expectation that I could do anything, because I was great, we all get trophies for showing up, and gosh darnit, people like me.

The author illuminates the crisis I faced around age 25, and that I think a lot of my younger friends are facing now:

Some 20-somethings are less willing to take or stay at a job that they don't like since they believe they are supposed to -- dare I say... entitled to -- love their job because that is what was "promised." Moreover, many prefer not to make a lot of lifestyle sacrifices, and now that moving back to the Hotel of Mom and Dad has become more of a trend than an embarrassment, they don't have to.

So the question is, as a parent, what do we do here? How do we manage expectations without raining on our precious child's parade? Are successful people coddled like this, or did folks like Obama and Oprah grow up seeing the harsh realities, and just overcome them?

Is telling our kids "you can be anything, yes anything" realistic? What do we do, then, when they return to us, empty wallets open, saying "you said I can be anything, but NASA isn't hiring, can I stay on the couch?"

I have always been a big believer in the fact that my main job is to prepare my child for the REAL world. I just don't want to do so while crushing their hopeful spirit.

The fact that my parents raised me to think I could run the world if I wanted to gave me the confidence to reach for the university I wanted to (and did) attend, and the courage to leave home and go out on my own. I would never want to deny my child that, but I also don't want them going in to things with rose-colored glasses and then giving up when they realize their big dreams may need to be minimized some to fit in with real life.

The author does go on to give a few tips to the younger set still bent on ruling the world...or at least working on it (and frankly, this is good advice for anyone not in a job or on a career path now):
  • Get fiscally fit
  • Stop using the economy as a scapegoat
  • Get a job. Any job. Don't wait for a career
  • Get off your parents' payroll
  • Increase your financial IQ
 So, tell me your thoughts, readers. Did your parents raise you to think you can do anything? Are you raising your kids like that? When do you start talking about the reality of what they CAN do versus what they WANT to do? Or is figuring it out on your own part of the battle?

37 comments:

Erica@PLRH said...

I feel that my parents gave me the confidence that I could take on any challenge I wanted. But at the same time, I was raised to be practical. I know where my strengths and weakness lie. It must work because I don't feel limited in what I do.

Hopefully, I'm doing just as well with my kids. :)

Rach (DonutsMama) said...

I totally think a whole generation of parents raised their kids with a feel-good attitude, i.e. whatever makes you happy, no matter what. I really believe we need to find a healthy balance between happiness and obligation. I still struggle with that though, b/c I admit, sometimes I feel entitled and it's hard to just grin and bear it.

Life As Wife said...

I love this post! I was raised being told I could do anything I wanted but also was taught that dreams require hard work and time. I plan to raise Jack the same way! Dreams are important, even the unrealistic ones. I think that the people my age who are coming home and living off mommy and daddy are the people who dont have a good work ethic.

For the record Steph, you may have not become an editor or started your own magazine because of starting your own family but your dreams evolved and your writing a blog, which is the future of magazines!

Counselor Musings said...

Visiting from comment hour. This was a great post. It's always interesting to see how our perspective changes over the years...

Kerri said...

Love it..... I am nowhere near where I thought I would be at um, 30 something when I was 18

Ro Little said...

I'm absolutely teaching my kids they can be and do anything! Because they can! and you can still do anything that you want to do.
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Ro :)
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Cariann said...

There is a balance between optimism and realism. I want my kids to dream and desire to do whatever they can dream but also know what is a realistic dream

n0eLLe said...

You could maybe write an ebook instead of a book! So you could cross #5 of your list!!!

The Jammie Girl said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE this post! Sending a link to my college-age son. We all have big dreams, but avoiding the big pitfalls is even MORE important in the long run!

The Woven Moments said...

Happy to have found you through #commenthour.

Love this post - and I have to say that my goal is to raise kids that aspire to do something that makes them happy. Hard work and determination is easier to come by when your work lights you up inside. :)

Branson said...

Definitely something to think about. I think it is good to encourage dreams, as long as there is a realistic sense of having to work for it...

Miss-ology said...

Really interesting issue. My parents raised me to love whatever I do rather than necessarily do whatever I love. I feel like I'm little more resilient with a tough job than some of my peers...then again, I'm not really a Gen-Y either, but some good points about having realistic expectations here.

Tara said...

Amazing post- all too true. There is a fine line between ability, reality, and expectations.

Jessica said...

This is such a great topic. I'm not a big believe in the whole 'you can do anything you put your mind to' ideal. My kids are young so I try to balance a dose of reality with the wonder of childhood. As they get older I'll move on to more reality, less wonder...

Bewildered Bug said...

That's a hard question when you put it like that!

My parents did raise me to be all I could ever dream of - and I don't think I've ever lived up to it.

However, I don't believe in telling a child otherwise because they reach lower than their potential. I believe the child should stretch themselves.

A friend of mine from high school aptly put it - reach up for the moon because if you miss, you'll be among the stars.

Julie @ Pickles and I Scream said...

I was always told I could be anything I wanted to be and I will tell my daughter the same. I still believe I can be anything I want to be, I just haven't figured out exactly what that is and how it will pay the bills.

I think the trick to "being whatever you want to be" when you grow up is realizing that most people don't become rich, famous, whatevers but to figure out how to incorporate what it is you're passionate about into the career path you choose.

{new follower,visiting from comment hour}

Ixy said...

I feel really strongly about this - you're not doing your child (or the world) a favour by pretending they can do anything they want. That said, the world is so cruel and parents should be the support kids can always count on. I think our job is to guide our kids about the consequences of their decisions, and encourage them to ask questions that will get them thinking realistically. For example, "what else would you like to do if becoming a rock star is taking longer than expected"?

smellslikeinsanity said...

While I'm teaching my children that it's important to try, I'm also teaching them to follow their strengths. If they try and fail, pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and try something new. It's ok to fail, what's important is that you don't let failure stand in your way of truly living.

Terri said...

We had the same list, Stephanie... and just like you, I've only done 3 & 4. My parents did teach me that I can do anything I want and they still tell me that to this day. But, in the midst of all that I learned how important family was to them and that above all doing what's best for your family is most important.

I think what many Gen Xer's & Yer's don't understand is that you may be able to do it all... just not at once! Who says you can't start that magazine once the kids are out of the house!! (Then call me up & we can collaborate and create a new, rockin' magazine!)

rachel said...

I was so career driven, early on my career. I was going to be partner by 30. then i had kids and all my priorities changed...great post!

Trish said...

Never been career driven. Was so relieved to quit working when I had kids! Now that the youngest (of 3) is almost 3, I'm starting to get the itch to go back to work. Still a believer that you can do anything, if you put your mind to it. #commenthour

TheProDiva said...

Well, my parents raised me to believe I could do whatever I wanted. They also made it clear that I had to work for it, and that it would not be easy. They were quite realistic with me about how the "real world" worked. Most important, they were there to catch me whenever I fell on my journey. I intend to do the same for my children, when I have them!

admin said...

Yes, my parents told us girls that we could be anything we wanted to be if we worked hard for it. I believed them then, and still believe now. I will be telling my son the same.

Mama Spaghetti said...

I love this post! I am a Gen-Y-er, but I am constantly frustrated by my peers and how entitled they feel about, well, pretty much everything. Somewhere along the way it was like building self-esteem steam-rolled right over realism, and it's left a lot of people I know floundering.

Between that and the fact that childhood seems to linger into a lot of people's mid-20's, I'd say we've done ourselves a huge disservice.

Long story short, that's not how I hope to raise my son. I want him to know the value of hard work, and that I will be proud of him no matter what. But sometimes failure is part of the equation, too.

Nicole Rivera said...

My parents raised me to believe I could be anything. I was a dreamer, but I was raised by a teacher and a banker who ended up on disability. I think having my mom on disability from when I was about 4 years old indirectly taught me that whatever we want is NOT what we always get. If this wasn't enough to learn the lesson, my father passed away when I was 12.

Through it all my mom kept teaching us (my brother and I) that we could be anything. We believed it, but LIFE taught us that while we worked toward our dreams there might be bumps, obstacles and detours. And we also knew it wouldn't be easy.

I struggle with how I can teach my own someday children (that's part of my plan that has its own obstacle these days) this delicate lesson:

You can BE anything, but you are not OWED anything. If you want it, work for it and if it is what is meant for you it will happen. If it doesn't, then keep your eyes open - something is on the horizon! Don't miss or squander opportunities and don't force square pegs into round holes...

I think about this a lot.

Stephanie, if you still feel the need to fulfill your entire list from your 18 year old self, don't put a deadline on it. You have a long life ahead of you. You have a blog, you are writing, and a number of comments above have already pointed out that THIS could be your path. I think something is on the horizon!!

Laura said...

I felt the same way at 25. It was nice growing up and being able to dream, but a bit tough when the harsh reality set in. Even so, I think growing up with that attitude enabled me as an adult to keep making changes to my situation until I was satisfied as opposed to simply settling. And I'll probably end up doing the same with my children when the time comes. ;-)

theyeyodiaries said...

Excellent post! My parents didn't exactly show me the yellow brick road to success. I grew up having to carve out my own path - as far as where I wanted to be in life. I knew I wanted to go to college, get a master's degree, get married, and have a family...all of which I've done (all by 30!). So I would say that no matter what your parents did, you have the choice to do things your own way. I hope to set a good example for my daughter to do the same.

Radha said...

My parents were always optimistic, in the "you can do anything you set your mind to"... and it's not like it still doesn't hold true. If I don't accomplish it, then my mind wandered and so did my drive and life happened and blah blah blah... which is the disclaimer hardly anyone tells you when you announce you want to achieve your dreams.

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Amy said...

I never really had huge dreams. I just wanted a husband and children and a job I liked. And I have all those things (well, half of the "children" part, since I only have one so far). I don't think the expectations are too high though, since I do believe you can do anything, if you're truly willing to work at it. And work HARD. Also, your priorities change as you get older and wiser, and really find what your calling is. #CommentHour

Amy @ A Little Nosh

Amanda @ It's Blogworthy said...

This is a really interesting topic for me because I feel like too many kids out of college feel they are very entitled. I can't say I didn't feel that way too, but I swallowed my pride and took a terrible sales job that a high school grad could have done. seriously, it just required a high school diploma. Even my husband says, "when I got my ma I vowed I'd never work weekends again"...well, I mean, if it makes going bankrupt or working weekends, you'd work weekends. You have your whole life to pursue dreams, but sometimes you have to be practical too. This is inspired me for my own post....You get an MA in inspiration from It's Blogworthy University ;)

eileenludwig said...

Might want to find out how to change your comment thing to allow open id url because right now the way it is - I have to point to my old wordpress blog

ok now to your story.

I have wondered how that would play out with those who all get their kids glam'd up as princesses or pirates and where will that lead to

It is hard to know the right way to hack kids since there is no instruction book and it changes every generation. The next generation does it different and then finds out the pendulum went too far.

Find the right path for you at this point is the challenge. Forget those other sayings and find the next right thing

Mimzy Wimzy said...

I've always tried to bring reality in to my kids life. They are entitled to have dreams and try to make those dreams come true. However, they need to suck it up and become positive, productive members of society in the meantime. Get a job. Pay bills. Stay out of trouble. I've actually told therapists & other professionals "As long as my kids grow up and don't live under a bridge or end up in jail, I'll be happy."
#CommentHour

Micha said...

Nothing wrong with having dreams and lofty goals as long as you are willing to work towards them and not expect everything to just fall in your lap.

My life doesn't look like I thought it would when I was 18 but I can't imagine it any other way.

Ameena said...

I have learned from my parents' mistakes...that's for sure. They raised me to be sensible and realistic, which are good traits, but they also raised me to never think outside the box.

Business, doctor, lawyer - those were my career choices. Needless to say that at 35 I am so frustrated with my ultimate choice!

I am letting my daughter experience a whole lot more than I ever got to - and I hope she chooses a career because she loves it, not just because it seems like the responsible thing to do.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I'm generation X or Y. I think X, I am 31. Either way I definately suffer from Expectation Hangovers. I constantly find my self thinking this is not how I thought things would be... Great post very relatable. ~ Chasing Joy (http://www.chasing-joy.com/)

Missy said...

I'm Gen X. And it's a totaly balance. I want to raise them to be ready for the real world, but I also probably coddle them way too much (though I know I don't coddle them as much as other people).

My parents were a little over the top with the things I "could" do. At 18 and 25, I had a totally unrealistic expectation of my capabilities and superstardom.


Life itself kind of teaches you the unrealistic nature of your expectations. If I could go back, I would wish that my parents had helped me figure out how to turn my dreams into a reality. THAT'S what I hope to teach mine - dream big and here's how to make it happen.

Missy said...

Uh, I meant "total" balance, not "totaly" balance.