As you know, I’m from the ’80s.
And according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, my life sucks:
They may be in their prime, but according to a new study, this is one unhappy group.
Baby boomers have decided to postpone retirement. Gen Y is laying claim to the social-networking bonanza. But what of those born between 1965 and 1978? Well, they’re underpaid, overworked, guilt-ridden, and deeply indebted.
The first thought that comes to mind is that ignorance is sometimes bliss. Various statistics show the cost to age 18 of having children, and one would think those costs being as high as they are would prevent anyone from having children. The related number is the sum of 30 years of house payments, which is more than twice the purchase price of a house, depending on interest rate, downpayment, etc. It’s not that money isn’t an issue, because it is; it is that one cannot predict very much of the future, so obsessing about the future is not a productive use of your brain cells.
One reason I don’t get into the class-envy thing that many of my more left-leaning high school classmates do (based on their Facebook posts, that is) is that I cannot control how much money someone else makes, but I can control my own life, to the extent that anyone can control his or her own life. If I’m envious of Warren Buffett’s wealth, what exactly can I do about his wealth? To blame someone other than yourself for your own circumstances is a copout.
The second thought is that there is a lot of whining here, and for that, I blame Baby Boomers. I’m specifically referring to the ABC-TV series “Thirtysomething,” which spent four seasons chronicling in tiresome fashion the angst of a group of late-30s friends from college. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications:
The series attracted a cult audience of viewers who strongly identified with one or more of its eight central characters, a circle of friends living in Philadelphia. And its stylistic and story-line innovations led critics to respect it for being “as close to the level of an art form as weekly television ever gets,” as the New York Times put it. When the series was canceled due to poor ratings, a Newsweekeulogy reflected the baby boomers’ sense of losing a rendezvous with their mirrored lifestyle: “the value of the Tuesday night meetings was that art, even on the small screen, reflected our lives back at us to be considered as new.” Hostile critics, on the other hand, were relieved that the self-indulgent whines of yuppiedom had finally been banished from the schedules.
Writing this brings back to memory (unfortunately) one of the most annoying characters possibly in TV history, Elliott (played by the annoying-to-watch Timothy Busfield), described as “a not-really-grown-up graphic artist,” and the fact that, as far as I was concerned, there was not one single sympathetic character on the entire series. The fun challenge would have been to figure out a way to write a finale that killed off every character in one fell Armageddon-like swoop.
The BusinessWeek graphic is a reminder that life is less about what happens to you than how you respond to what happens to you. I write that wearing my H-for-Hypocrite badge given that I believe from time to time that God and the entire universe is arrayed against me. (Which I usually assume to be emotional immaturity on my part. On the other hand, sometimes the paranoid are right.)
The emotional wimpiness of apparently every generation from the Baby Boomers to now is quite off-putting. Consider that the generation that came of age during World War II, having first survived a depression, defeated the evils that were Nazi Germany and imperial Japan, and then created the postwar boom by coming home, getting educations, getting married and having babies. Those babies became Baby Boomers, then the most prosperous generation of the most prosperous planet on Earth.
The entire concept of retirement is a recent invention. A couple of generations ago, people retired from their jobs by dying. (When Social Security was established in the 1930s, the retirement age was set at 65, three years after the average age of death.) As recently as the 1950s, people were dying or becoming permanently disabled from polio, and polio outbreaks caused mass closings of such public places as swimming pools and movie theaters. As recently as the 1940s, death by infection was commonplace because antibiotics hadn’t been perfected yet. There are, I suspect, a lot of people reading this blog who without modern medicine intervening in their parents’ lives would not have been born. (That includes me: My mother nearly died from pneumonia in her childhood, and my father was nearly killed in a car crash years before I was born.) Moreover, the number of families with children who died before becoming adults is thankfully dropping.
Much of what you see in the BusinessWeek graphic could be symptoms of affluenza. Not the “Affluenza” dreamed up by PBS that operated on the core assumption that American society, particularly capitalism, is primarily bad. My own definition of affluenza is the kind of angst in a person who seeks the bad to such an extent that he or she can’t see the good in his or her life.
The concept that one can achieve self-actualization through one’s career is a relatively recent development, and perhaps a substitute for human connections such as families and friends. To even our parents, jobs were mostly a means to various ends, such as home ownership and the ability to pay for new cars and family vacations. Our parents had (and still have) no guarantee that they would be able to sell their houses for more than they purchased them. And one would think that someone who has been in the workplace for at least a decade would have figured out by now that (1) no one is irreplaceable, and (2) you should not love your job, because neither your job nor your employer love you back. (Of course, someone who has been on this planet for at least three decades should have figured out by now that life is not fair.)
Consider the quote in the graphic about latchkey kids: “I think the experience of growing up and being so self-reliant has shaped how I view the work world.” On what planet is this a bad thing?
Or this quote: “The people I’ve seen who have been successful put in a gazillion hours a week. It’s just too much work.” Unions will remind you until they’re blue in the face that they’re responsible for your 40-hour week. Of course, entrepreneurs have closer to 40-hour days than 40-hour weeks. And those who really like what they do certainly do not count the number of hours they’re working. The price to be paid for success (as defined by the preceding quote) is lots of work, so if you’re not concerned about being that successful, or if what you do is not the be-all and end-all of your existence, then don’t work that hard. But don’t complain about the consequences.
In fact, stop complaining. Period. Life is difficult, and your bitching about your life only serves to remind others that as bad as they think they have it, someone has it worse, or you handle your life worse than others do.