A few years ago I helped oversee a rather large intern program for a think tank in Washington, D.C. In addition to the Millennials I was fortunate enough to meet, I also had the luxury of flying all over the country to talk to them on college campuses. Before that, I worked as a substitute teacher in a high school for two years while saving money for graduate school. While many of the kids I met were incredibly nice, it was obvious that the generation they belonged to was setting itself up for failure. Writer Bret Easton Ellis’ new piece for Vanity Fair, “Generation Wuss,” sums up Millenials perfectly.

The entire piece is worth reading, but here is an excerpt:

My huge generalities touch on their over-sensitivity, their insistence that they are right despite the overwhelming proof that suggests they are not, their lack of placing things within context, the overreacting, the passive-aggressive positivity, and, of course, all of this exacerbated by the meds they’ve been fed since childhood by over-protective “helicopter” parents mapping their every move. These are late-end Baby Boomers and Generation X parents who were now rebelling against their own rebelliousness because of the love they felt that they never got from their selfish narcissistic Boomer parents and who end up smothering their kids, inducing a kind of inadequate preparation in how to deal with the hardships of life and the real way the world works: people won’t like you, that person may not love you back, kids are really cruel, work sucks, it’s hard to be good at something, life is made up of failure and disappointment, you’re not talented, people suffer, people grow old, people die. …

When Millennials are criticized […] they seem to collapse into a shame spiral and the person criticizing them is automatically labeled a hater, a contrarian, a troll. And then you have to look at the generation that raised them, that coddled them in praise—gold medals for everyone, four stars for just showing up—and tried to shield them from the dark side of life, and in turn created a generation that appears to be super confident and positive about things but when the least bit of darkness enters into their realm they become paralyzed and unable to process it. …

I’m sympathetic to Generation Wuss and their neurosis, their narcissism and their foolishness—add the fact that they were raised in the aftermath of 9/11, two wars, a brutal recession and it’s not hard to be sympathetic. […] In-fact in order to be an artist, to raise yourself above the din in an over-reactionary fear-based culture that considers criticism elitist, you need to be [caustic and sympathetic]. But this is a hard thing to do because Millennials can’t deal with that kind of cold-eye reality. This is why Generation Wuss only asks right now : please, please, please, only give positive feedback please.

I often wondered if I was going too hard on the Millennials I dealt with while living in the nation’s capital. My military background caused me question whether or not I had unrealistic expectations of how they should react to criticism. Now, I realize that any occasional friction between us had more to do with their own cloistered upbringing than a lack of empathy on my part.

Given what we know about Generation Wuss, it isn’t a shocker that they flocked to the “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for” messaging of then-Senator Obama in 2008, and it is no surprise that they again returned to vote for him in droves in 2012 — despite “overwhelming proof” that they had made a grievous mistake.

What will be interesting to see is whether NSA spying scandals, the rise of Islamic State, the collapse of Libya into a terrorist jungle gym, the annexation of Crimea, and whatever other calamities that befall the U.S. over the next two years will change the collective Millennial mindset. Is facing reality an option, or will they fail realize that it is a bad idea to adopt public policy created by men who presume they are infallible geniuses? There is a good chance Millennials will retreat into Reddit and Buzzfeed and Facebook streams with friends who are always ready to spoon them fuel for the ego, but perhaps not.

If Millennials are half as smart as they seem to think they are, then they will listen to what Mr. Ellis is accurately saying about their shortcomings. If they do not heed his advice, then they can expect many painful years ahead.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

22 comments

  1. That was interesting to read, thank you. This really rang true,

    “people won’t like you, that person may not love you back, kids are really cruel, work sucks, it’s hard to be good at something, life is made up of failure and disappointment, you’re not talented, people suffer, people grow old, people die… “

    We really did raise a generation of people who have no idea how to cope with the real world. When any of these things happen, they think they’re being oppressed, violated, and somebody needs to pay. The fact that this might just be life seldom occurs to them. The fact that everybody experiences these things doesn’t occur to them either.

    1. The thing that really struck me while I was working at a non-profit was that these kids would come in and think they were just as qualified to be a national security analyst as the guy who had spent over two decades leading troops in the military, teaching at the U.S. Army War College, cultivating relationships in the intelligence community, etc. It went beyond the cockiness of youth into something completely detached from reality. When they were called out on it they acted like the person giving them sound advice was the crazy one…

      I was talking to my mom, a former elementary school teacher, and she was telling me how the school she worked for did away with all the placement ribbons for “Field Day” towards the end of her career. When I was a kid they had 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons for any number of events (e.g., high jump, 50-yard dash), but by the time my mom was going to retire they did away with all of that because it might hurt someone’s “feelings” not to get a ribbon. Well, too bad. Some people are good at the 50-yard dash. Some aren’t. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and shielding people from their own weaknesses simply sets them up for failure. Eventually, that kid will run into reality at 90 miles per hour, and it’s going to hurt if they haven’t built up a thick enough skin in their formative years.

    2. It’s somewhat astounding, isn’t it? We’re all “equal” and the same these days, so just because somebody has 20 years experience doing something, doesn’t mean they’re better at it than you. We’ve gotten rid of those ribbons and in some schools, we’ve done away with grades altogether, so no has to feel bad about their school work. It’s kind of cruel actually, because we have totally set people up for failure. At some point life rears it’s ugly head and you have to face the fact that all things are not equal and not fair.

    3. The real problem doesn’t just lie with the parents. It’s the schools and the teachers. Far too many teachers are militant apologists for America. They hate America and tell their students this flat out and then explain why. They tell them that Americans (and themselves) are evil and need to make amends by being whores for social justice. Even the kids who start off normal get the social justice plague and anti-American disease before they leave high school. And if they refuse to conform to this new ideal? They get shunned. And at that age nothing is worse than being shunned when your whole view of the world had been skewed by social media and the desire to be “liked” to be worth something.

      And the cockiness and assured way this generation responds to things is beyond the pale, when their education is so pathetic and they have no context. It;s the bluster of social media-speak.

      I only take offense at Bret’s calling it generation wuss. That’s insulting to women. It should be generation clueless – because that’s truly the best description.

    4. Thanks for the comment, Mr. Incredible. I appreciate it. I totally agree with you that the public school system does its best to churn out little P.C. robots. It doesn’t really encourage free thinking; it teaches conformity.

      Before I went to graduate school I started working in a local high school as a substitute teacher to save money. I spent a lot of time in the English and History departments. While most of the teachers were nice, as far as I know all the teachers in the English department were pretty hard-core liberal, and I can think of one guy who was conservative in the History department, and he was basically an outcast… I used to substitute teach for a guy who was a 9/11 Truther. I can’t tell you how much time I spent trying to untangle the mess he was making in his students’ minds.

  2. Stellar as always Douglas; you really hit the nail on the head here. I have watched some of these helicopter parents run themselves ragged protecting little Susie from every negative aspect of life, only to have the child grow to barely in her twenties, and suddenly is calling her mother down publicly as if she is the intellectual with an open mind and qualified to debate anything at that age. I have zero patience for impertinence, rudeness, or disrespect. This generation respects nothing but themselves because they have been conditioned that way.

    Society is going to get worse before it gets better, and no one seems prepared. Maybe Americans are victims of our own success; always looking to improve, do things better, make life easier, but we are ignoring the fact that the negatives in our lives is what builds us and make us stronger. Americans did not want any part of WWII; but because of what we had been through during the Great Depression, when the call came, we stepped up – all of us. Every man, woman, and child sacrificed in some way to help win the war. We had suffered before and were stronger for it. It made us successful; and we didn’t stop until the job was done, and done right.

    Now, even though we are going through a long and terrible recession, government has shielded many from the realities of hunger and no heat to the point the nation as a whole now is in hopeless debt and vulnerable. The government has become the new helicopter parent!

    1. The government has become the new helicopter parent!

      This is a pretty astute observation. In one sentence you convey that those who advocate for a more active government do sincerely care about these problems, but that the actual consequences of their actions are anathema to their stated intentions. I have no doubt that the vast majority of people who categorize themselves as liberal are very nice, but I also am quite confident that the means by which they go about accomplishing their goals are detrimental to the lives of those they seek to help.

  3. Real talk, man. I’m 17 and given how vapid and one-track minded most people my age seem to be, I’m a little scared for Gen Y as well. Even I have a few issues… I’m pretty useless socially, to the point where I feel awkward doing anything in public, I have a horrible work ethic, and I have a really hard time taking criticism (I’m getting better at this though, I think.)

    The blame for me, IMO, rests with myself, foremost, then the internet, electronics, and social media (I had them at a relatively early age), and finally my parents.

    I think Tyler the Creator sums things up best:

    1. The good news is that everyone has issues, Starfire. You’re not alone! 🙂 If you’re 17 years old and you’re already trying to smooth out your rough edges, then you’re ahead of the game.

      I really do think social media has ironically helped make people more socially awkward. There are so many ways to avoid speaking face-to-face with people, to post anonymously while adopted jerk personalities online, etc. … that people don’t know how to handle actual in-person discussions, debate, etc.

  4. My concern is that this generation was raised by parents who had no moral grounding in any Faith. Is there such a thing as Truth? This generation has been raised with your truth is as good as my truth and no truth is as good as truth.

    1. Thanks for the read and comment, Joe. I appreciate it. The repercussions of a society steeped in moral relativism has been a recurring subject at this blog over the years. Sometimes I’ll talk about it as it pertains to the comic book industry, and sometimes I talk about it in terms of electoral politics, etc.

      Needless to say, I think you’ve brought up a very important subject. It’s definitely one worth exploring…

  5. Great post Douglas – As a 24 year old British Gen Y/Millennial I am guilty of a lot of the points covered in Brett Easton Ellis’ post – (I came across is after reading about him as I am currently reading American Psycho!)

    My main issues in the past stemmed from having an absent father (due to mental health issues whilst I was a teenager) which I used to fuel years of self pity and loathing. It was only once I went to see a counsellor that I realized how futile I was and then decided to make a change (i.e. realising I have many things to be thankful for, that life is not fair, and that working consistently pays off)

    As corny as it sounds I am always on the lookout for positive male role models.

    Based off your life experience what advice would you give to someone in my position who wants to move forward and be a better man (I want to avoid some of my dads mistakes and be a man worth respecting, and be a good husband/father if that happens!)

    Thanks for your time.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, GA. I really appreciate it.

      It sounds as if you’re definitely on the right track. Finding things to be thankful for, working hard, and looking for positive role models indicates to me that you’re well on your way to becoming the man you truly want to be.

      If you get a chance, there’s a post I wrote awhile ago that may be of interest to you. Check out the video embedded in the post when you get a chance. I think you’ll like it: Earl Nightingale had it right on success: ‘We become what we think about’

      I’ve found that everywhere I worked, there were always a few jerks. But the jerks do not have the power to keep you from ultimately attaining the vast majority of your long-term goals. Hard work, a good attitude, a good bit of humility, and a “can do” attitude really pay off over the long haul. I’d also include punctuality. At job after job you see people casually stroll in 10, 15 minutes late. Be the guy who is always five minutes early. Be the guy who does his job as diligently one year in as he did his first few weeks. Be the guy who does the right thing — even when no one is looking. Eventually, the right people notice that sort of thing.

      I’d also add that it’s important to take calculated risks, if you believe that the payoff will be doing the thing that will truly make you happy. Years ago I left a good-paying job with quite a bit of security for one with less security and less pay. I did that because deep down I just wasn’t happy with what I was doing. What good is money if I’m a nervous wreck all the time, having weird heart palpitations because of stress, etc.? The moment I started doing what I really believed, deep down, I was supposed to be doing was the moment my weird heart palpitations stopped. Time really does fly. We only have a small window of time on earth, and the longer we sit wallowing in self-pity or staying put in miserable jobs out of fear, the less time we have to realize our hopes and dreams.

      I can go on and on. Hopefully that helps. Let me know if you ever have any other questions and I’d be happy to answer them for you to the best of my ability.

  6. To an extent, both my parents were helicopter parents, my mom more so than my dad. My mom always monitored my grades and would flip out if I ever got anything lower than an A-. My dad simply encouraged me to do my best. That’s just one example. Also, I typically wasn’t allowed to go places unless an adult was present.

    I don’t harbor any ill will toward them; I think I turned out alright. As an adult nearing 25, I can understand their reasons for wanting to protect me. I grew up in the late 1990s/ early 2000s, after all, and there were somewhat legitimate concerns about child molesters. But as a kid, it was a bit frustrating.

    1. Great to hear from you, Carl. From what you’ve disclosed to me in the comments section of this very blog, I’m not inclined to think you would be anything like the worst elements of “Generation Wuss.” From my conversations with you, my take on is that you’re a really nice guy with a good attitude. If I were an employer looking to hire someone and you applied, I’d definitely give you a call to set up an in-person interview.

    2. Thank you, I’d do the same for you if I were an employer and you applied. I like to think I’m a bit more mature than most members of Generation Wuss.

      It’s hard to believe I’ve been commenting here for three years.

    3. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say, Carl. A blog just isn’t the writing, you know. 😉 It also is composed of the people who take the time to comment. You’ve made quality contributions. Thanks!

    4. “I always enjoy hearing what you have to say, Carl. A blog just isn’t the writing, you know. 😉 It also is composed of the people who take the time to comment. You’ve made quality contributions. Thanks!”

      No problem, Doug! I enjoy commenting here and at Colossus of Rhodey.

      Nothing’s changed for me since I last commented. Still working on the book. I normally don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but I hope to have it done by year’s end, if not sooner. My mom was laid off in November, and we’re sort of entering a period of uncertainty. Fear of losing the house (that won’t happen, I don’t think, but you never know…) has motivated me to set that goal for myself.

    5. Nothing’s changed for me since I last commented. Still working on the book. I normally don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but I hope to have it done by year’s end, if not sooner. My mom was laid off in November, and we’re sort of entering a period of uncertainty. Fear of losing the house (that won’t happen, I don’t think, but you never know…) has motivated me to set that goal for myself.

      Glad to hear that the book is coming along, and I’m looking forward to reading it once it’s completed.

      I’m sorry to hear that your mom lost her job. I’m not sure where she’ll end up, but I subscribe to the “when one door closes, another door opens” philosophy. I’m sure that she’ll find another door worth walking through in due time. As always, you have an ear here if you need to get something off your chest.

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