The Occupy movement and jobs.
My friend Jim called from Washington state today. He was driving through on his way to Chelan from where he lives in Coeur d’Alene, ID. He passed the town I spent three months in this summer, thought of me, and called.
Jim has some very definite political opinions, some of which I agree with, others of which I don’t. We can speak civilly about politics but I often pull the plug when I get bored with the discussion. After all, I’ll never change his mind and he’ll never change mine.
We talked about a bunch of things and then our conversation turned to the Occupy Wall Street movement. He described a video he’d seen that showed two men at an Occupy camp with a table set up to help connect protesters to employers. What struck him was one of the protesters saying “I can’t do that” for many of the jobs listed. She seemed to imply that those jobs were beneath her.
I tracked down the video and watched it. Watch it for yourself:
Now I’m not naive enough to think that creative editing wasn’t involved here. Maybe they edited out a lot of the more positive responses from protesters. And yes, the whole thing could be fake.
But although I do think that creative editing might have emphasized a certain message, I don’t think it’s fake. And I do think there are a lot of unemployed young people out there — possibly many camped out as Occupy protesters — who think that the jobs available to them are beneath them.
And that’s the subject of this post: the feeling of entitlement among recent college graduates.
My Ancient History
I graduated college nearly thirty years ago. I had a degree with “highest honors” (I wrote an honors paper) in Accounting and was a member of the Accounting Honor’s Society at Hofstra University, which was then one of the big private universities for business. You’d think I’d have no trouble getting a job. But like everyone else, I went through the stressful process of interviewing on campus. I had six interviews and got one offer.
I took it.
It didn’t matter to me that I was making $14,097 — 25% less than a lot of my friends who had the same degree from the same college. It didn’t matter to me that I wasn’t working at one of the (then) Big Eight accounting firms. The only thing that mattered was that I had a job that would pay my rent and keep me fed. I assumed (rightly, it turned out) that if I worked hard and did my job the best I could, I’d get raises and promotions and work my way up.
Two years later, at age 22, I became a supervisor. Everyone who worked under me was older than me.
My raises averaged 10% to 15% a year.
After five years, I realized that the only way to move up was either for someone to die or retire or for me to move out. So I went to another company. And I worked my way up in that company, too.
At 28, I was earning more annually than my father had ever earned annually in his life.
Then I decided I didn’t want to be a number cruncher. I wanted to be a writer. So at age 29, I engineered a career change. After two rough years, my income recovered; after five years, I was doing very well. But I worked my ass off to get there.
At age 40, I engineered another career change — this time to be the owner of a helicopter charter business. But because of the cost and financial risk involved, I didn’t let go of that second career. Instead, I juggled two jobs — and I continue to do so to this very day.
Point: When I was a kid, I was taught that to get ahead in life, you had to work hard. I also later learned that you had to work smart. And guess what? It works.
It seems to me — not just from this video, but from the bits and pieces of what I hear young people say — that they think that just because they spent 4 or 5 years and countless thousands of dollars to go to college, they’re entitled to get a job when they graduate.
As if the world will step back and open up thousands of job opportunities a year just for them.
But its not just any job that they want. They want a cushy job — something that pays more than enough to cover the rent and feed a family. They don’t want to be a “wage slave” — whatever the hell that is. They want to use what they learned in school, that superior knowledge that sets them apart from people who actually work for a living.
I guess you can read the anger in my words. It’s hard to control it sometimes.
I think about my first job, at age 13: a paper route delivering 54 papers a day on foot. I think about my next job, a year later, spent scraping rust off a chain link fence with a wire brush, accompanied by three other underprivileged girls whose families were poor enough to qualify for summer work.
I think about the three part-time jobs I held down while I was carrying an 18-credit load in college just to make sure I graduated within four years. I think about how my weight dropped down to a ridiculous 105 pounds because I simply couldn’t eat enough to meet my energy needs.
I think about my first apartment, a studio four blocks away from a bus station where shootings had become routine. I think about learning how to float checks two days before payday, when the money ran out. I think about buying “no frills” pot pies for dinner at 33¢ each. I think about taking the subway to bad neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx because that’s where the audit I had to do happened to be. I think about the day a bum near Times Square — the old Times Square — grabbed my butt as I walked by during my lunch break and how I swung around and hit him.
And yes, I think about writing a monthly check to pay my school loans for ten straight years.
The hard times didn’t last long. I worked my way through them. I showed my bosses that I was a step above the others, not by waving a diploma and whining that I deserved a raise but by working harder, better, and faster than any of them. I got the promotions and pay raises I needed to move forward.
Why can’t today’s young people do the same?
No one is entitled to a job. You have to earn it. Earn it by being smart, by being a team player, by knowing what the hell you’re doing, by doing it right. Get off the fucking cellphone, stop texting your friends, and stop whining about “the man.”
This is real life, not a television show. You’re no better than the other thousands of young graduates looking for work — until you prove you are. What the hell are you waiting for?
Go Ahead, Make Your Excuse
I cannot support this entitlement attitude in any way, shape, or form. If you have no job, then no job is beneath you.
Comments are open. I’m sure this post will soon be inundated with excuses. Sound off. This is your chance. Just don’t expect me to accept excuses.