“Here’s the fundamental lesson your generation was never taught, which is on us, your parents — Winning a “participation badge” means you are a loser.”
I agree that your generation missed teaching a crucial lesson, but I disagree that it’s as simple as misguidedly rewarding participation. In my opinion, being in a fairly comfortable position, many parents missed how quickly this economy was getting more competitive and how necessary it is/was to pull yourself together at 18–24. There are very few great “starter jobs” for anyone over 25, as they’ve become increasingly tracked for certain undergrad and graduate degrees. You get off the rails after that first failed job attempt, or never get on the rails to begin with, and the subsequent uphill battle requires a lot more effort to get back on track. I think this came as a shock to a lot of people my age, because there was this very laissez-faire attitude that encouraged exploration in college, the byproduct being a de-emphasis on focus or planning in a specific direction. This is of course a generalization, but the common thread I see in people I know who are doing well, is simply that they picked a path very early on, and stuck with it. Everyone else has been floating around in the low skill/low wage pool. Berating them after the fact isn’t going to change that though.