When my son was just shy of his fifth year, we found ourselves in an Old Country Buffet on a Saturday afternoon. For those of you not familiar with the format of the all-you-can-eat-for-one-low-price buffet, these places usually have a lower price afternoon service that did not include carved meats and a higher price evening service that started about 4:00pm. For the extra savvy buffet-goer, it was generally known that if you came in about 3:30 or so and stalled a bit on some salad, you could sneak in and get the good stuff for a lunch price. I did not partake of this little loophole but sometimes, we found ourselves in that limbo time.
On this particular Saturday, we had started lunch late and my son had eyed the ham they were putting out for dinner. On that day, he really, really wanted a piece of ham and asked if I would get him one. I told him, “If you want ham, you will have to get it yourself.” He knew the lunch/dinner rule. He thought about it and spent the next ten minutes or so pleading with me to get him a slice of ham. I stood fast.
Finally, he stood up and held his plate in his two little hands. “Please, please, please,” he kept saying with his cute little face, two blue eyes and his shock of white blond hair. Sensing I was not going to budge, he started walking backwards toward the buffet line. I suspect that he thought if he kept his face toward me, I would relent. I stood firm. “If you want ham, you will get it yourself.” “What do I say?” “You’ll figure it out.” “Please, daddy. Please, please.” “You’ll figure it out.”
This kept going for thirty feet or so until he disappeared behind the wall of the buffet. My heart was pounding as I waited for him to come back. Within minutes, he came tearing out from behind the wall, with a plate of ham in his hands, face beaming and grinning as wide as I’ve ever seen. He hopped onto his chair and ate and chatted breathlessly about how Serge gave him some ham. “I just asked and he gave it to me,” he said over and over.
I have a memory that has not diminished or flickered in twenty years. He learned self-reliance and hadn’t stopped since. To this day, I need only say, “Get your own ham” and we both know what that means. His younger sister has also since learned the lesson, but that is a story for another day.
What does that have to do with college education?
Learning self-reliance doesn’t start when you graduate from college or when you enter college. It starts much, much sooner. It could even start as early as four years-old when you really want a slice of ham. As a parent of two full-grown adults, I was a bit shocked at how hard the task of teaching self-reliance lay ahead.
When I turned eleven, I got three paper routes that started my working life that has yet to take a break. Throughout high school, I worked evenings and weekends and extra long hours in the summer in hot restaurant kitchens and grimy back-room retail stockrooms. Throughput college, I lived in the worst cockroach-infested hole, drove a broken-down Chevette and lived on coffee, cigarettes and vending machine food for four years. I carried a full-time load and worked a minimum of forty hours a week. For me and most of my college peers, there was no safety net or checks from mom and dad. This was it. I learned self-reliance early and well.
I assumed it was going to be the same for my kids. And I was wrong.
By the time my kids were old enough to have paper routes, the opportunity disappeared. Child labor laws swooped in and made that illegal. “Think of the children” was the rally cry. Baby-sitting and lawn mowing were also out. No good parent now-a-days leaves a twelve year-old in charge of their baby and operating a power lawnmower at such a young age is dangerous. They might cut a foot off.
My job as a parent determined to teach my kids self-reliance became extra hard as I had to fight the school system, the state and even my own parent peers. When I expected my kids to solve their own problems, I was being a bad parent. When I expected my kids to resolve personality conflicts with their teachers, I was being an uninvolved parent. When I expected my kids to fight for their own spot on the team, I was being cruel. In truth, they were expected to get their own ham and they knew it, though they did beg, “please daddy, fix this, just this once.” Looking back now at the self-reliant adults they have become at nineteen and twenty-five, not one of us would have had it any other way.
The earliest a kid can get a work permit in the state of Ohio is sixteen and only when signed off through the school system. The hours are limited and the rules are such a ridiculous burden for employers that most don’t even bother to hire anyone under seventeen. Banks no longer issue checking accounts to anyone of minor age. As a result, most kids enter college having no employment experience and no self-reliance skill.
Colleges know that and they have adapted as quickly and firmly as any institution ever has. In a span of one generation, they have shifted focus from providing an education to being in the food and housing business. Colleges have adopted a Disney Resorts approach where the classes and degrees are just the draw to fill rooms and bellies, all the while milking the parental cows on whom most students are entirely dependent. And that group has more money than starving college students living in rat holes and driving broken-down Chevettes, so prices go up. After all, what parent wouldn’t want the best for their children?
And the dependence continues for another five to six years as colleges institute two-year minimum dorm policies, mandate meal plans and load the curriculum with more courses than can be finished in a four-year period just to ensure students will stay another year. With the extra load, there is no time for working and students and their parents take out larger and larger loans. And still, they learn no self-reliance.
And they graduate in their early-to-mid twenties having been taken care of their entire lives. They step blinking into the sun with their freshly minted degree in one hand and a huge load of debt in another. Nowhere in their entire arsenal can they produce a shred of self-reliance. So they move back home to mom and dad. Or they move into an apartment subsidized by mom and dad, using their huge student loans to justify their living arrangement. And the cycle of dependance continues.
But are recent college grads ready for the working world?
Some are. Those who have figured out that it is mostly about self-reliance will be fine. They will figure out how to get out from underneath their mountain of debt on their own and many are rapidly learning skills they should have learned a few years back. Many will be forced into self-reliance as their parents are forced out of employment or into early retirement with their bank accounts drained and their home foreclosed upon. For those whose reality is shockingly alarmingly, I have no doubt that they will emerge stronger because of it and the working world will be stronger on the other side for them. They will also become better parents, hopefully teaching their kids self-reliance earlier and defying the school and social systems that work to remove that bit of responsibility from parenting.
And then there are some of the mis-guided companies who will hire others and endeavor to continue to cradle them through HR-sponsored training instead of going out and finding college grads who have self-reliance skills and paying them a bit more. I cringe every time I see a new GenY book published about how companies are going to have to be flexible and change to meet the expectations of a generation who has been engineered to have everything done for them. Fortunately, not many of these are being published now as the economy slow-down is forcing a new reality for the GenY generation. Many are seeing how not teaching our kids self-reliance was actually a bad thing long term and are reversing their point of view.
In the end, though, we will all be fine as the Geezer Generations and the GenY generations will band together to ward off the upcoming generations who will also have a sense of entitlement. But this might be a hard fight as this next group will have learned self-reliance.
I am very much aware this opinion piece contains a lot of generalizations, but that doesn’t mean that they are any less true. Your experience as a twenty-something, recent college grad may be entirely different. You may have learned self-reliance early on and if so, great; you are years ahead of your peers and you’ll probably have lost the urge to set us older geezers straight about it. But if you are still walking around with that big chip on your shoulder, feel free to comment below and rant on about how I got everything wrong and stereotyped. Afterwards, if you still have the energy, go out and get your own ham. I’m dining here on mine.
This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about “Recent college grads being prepared for the working world.” To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.
|Bonnie Harris||@waxgirl333||Wax Marketing|
|Sean Lintow, Sr.||@SLSconstruction||sls-construction.com|
|Amy Good||@Splintergirl||Amy’s Blog|
|Richard Holschuh||@concretedetail||Concrete Detail|
|Tim Bogan||@TimBogan||Windbag International|
|Hollie Holcombe||@GreenRascal||Rascal Design|
|Steve Mouzon||@stevemouzon||Original Green|