Every generation as they grow older looks at the ones coming up with a jaundiced eye. They look and say “In my day we walked to school – barefoot – in snow – uphill – both ways!” However there seems to be something quite different today. Everybody’s still in school.
Although many will pile on that kids are different today because of this or that, I’ll contend there is one over arching reason for the problems that plague most of them: Most never had the ability to learn or start adulthood early as many like myself did.
We started becoming self-sufficient at about age 13. For those trying to put the age to a year. I was born in the early 1960’s. So that’s my time frame for this discussion.
When I was a kid we had very little. My father left and child support was something akin to unicorns. I had relatives that helped when possible, but basically money was tight. So if I wanted something I had to work for it. The difference between then and today is this – I could. By the age of 12 or 13 a kid could find work one way or another. Today that world is as ancient or as mythical as Aesop’s fables.
People of my ilk worked a myriad of jobs growing up. One example not just in my town but nearly everywhere were local grocery stores of one size or another. You would go in and ask the owner if he had anything you could do. This usually came back with a yes. Then you would find yourself doing the most disgusting, gruesome cleaning of some corner or backroom that the owner just never had the time (or guts) to clean themselves. So if you wanted to make money, there you’d go.
But we did it. Why? Because you needed to earn or you went without. There was no alternative. Did they take advantage of us? Well – yes, and no. Some paid better than others. Some you never went back to, and some you could end up working there steady part or full-time. However if you wanted clothes, arcade money, bicycles, or (heaven help you) a car. You did what ever was available. Period.
Those opportunities no longer exist. Today an owner can’t take the chance of hiring a kid for fear of being called before a committee on child labor laws. And God forbid that kid ever received so much as a paper cut. The parents would have a midtown lawyer suing you faster than one can bag groceries. (I believe you have to be 18 today to do that also)
Another way to earn was you could always get a route delivering newspapers. We all had one at one time or another. Some had more than one, and you could earn substantial money for a kid if you were good. All you needed was your feet and back. No barrier with age. If you could do the route, it was yours whether 12, 13, and so on.
Another great difference is this. When we were 16 or 17 most of us wanted nothing more than to be out of school and working so we could run our own lives. Every single person I knew wanted to get a job and move out on their own. Personally I was out of my mother’s home at 17. I was not an outlier. So were most of the people I grew up with.
The effect of starting so early for us was that by the age of 26 we were far away from anything that could ever be called a kid. Today’s generation looks upon their 20’s as a reason to still live at home, stay on mom & dad’s insurance, and continue going to school. The antitheses of everything we were just a short time ago.
Just for context. When I was 16 (and skipping school) I Finagled a job at the local bar to clean. By 17 I was a bartender. (Drinking age was 18 then) At 19 I was the manager, and had an apartment on top of the club. At 23 I made upper management in the meat business, and by 25 conducted my first leveraged buyout and became a CEO. (that’s just a thumbnail sketch)
Today far too many “kids” are living in their parent’s basement or attic. Today those areas are finished with game rooms, bathrooms, separate entrances or more. For us, there wasn’t any of that.
If your parents owned a home in the first place the attic or basement was for storage only. It was used that way because it was either smelly, mildewed, nasty, or all that combined. No place you were going to spend a night let alone live. Yet, a broken down drafty studio apartment of you own with barely any furniture was like paradise because – it was yours!
The take away from all this was our exposure to a work ethic, and we gained early insight into life’s truths that if you wanted something; you had to go out and get it yourself.
However there’s also another side of all this that doesn’t get talked about: The knowing or learning just how hard some jobs were, and how difficult it was for the people who filled them. Many of us that worked in places whether they’d be factories or something else saw just what a real “hard days” work meant.
I remember when I was working in the mills pushing an 1100 pound rolling lunch wagon through the floors of the local textile mills. Right where people were working at their stations making shoes, clothes. leather, and more. You saw up close and personal what the term “work” meant. You also instinctively knew if you didn’t want that for yourself – you had better start getting on the ball with your own life because if you didn’t – life was going to be getting on with you.
That kind of stark reality is not available to today’s youth. I mean truly, what is considered a tough job for today’s “kids?” Flipping burgers? Working at the mall? That would be seen as gravy work compared to some 14-year-old kid cleaning out grease traps in a local grocery store. However you can’t flip a burger till you’re about 18 today because of insurance fears. Which again is the main part of the problem.
The biggest challenge to “kids” today in my opinion is this:
As they continue considering what they want to do with their lives, the adults that are ahead of them with decades of learned experience look and feel healthier than the “kids” that are now half their age.
And coming up behind are the other 26 year old “kids” that skipped the whole school thing and now have nearly a decades worth of real work and life experience while they may have also simultaneously taken night courses.
So whom do you think will be more valuable in today’s turbulent workforce? The ones that went to work 10 years ago now toting a near decades worth of work experience? The healthier adults of this day and age with decades of real experience? Or a “kid” just out of school with some degree at 26 living at home with their parents?
Think about it. Because life doesn’t think – it does.
© 2012 Mark St.Cyr