Wait but Why? This is why.
Responding to the worst essay ever written
The worst essay ever written in the history of the internet has popped up more in my newsfeed than Grumpy Cat, and you need to stop sharing it.
The essay is objectively titled “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy” and it explains with overblown condescension that the reason many 20-30 year olds are unhappy, is because we’re all entitled yuppies. Or “GYPSYs”:
I have a term for yuppies in the Gen Y age group—I call them Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies, or GYPSYs. A GYPSY is a unique brand of yuppie, one who thinks they are the main character of a very special story.
The article, written by an unsigned (but presumably) Baby Boomer, irreverently spikes the football at Generation Y with lots of self-congratulatory advice on how their generation succeeded by working hard, while ours has not. We haven’t worked hard enough, and thus our expectations are too high. This makes us unhappy because our happiness is determined by this simple formula:
Happiness = reality — expectations.
It’s a simple enough explanation for a problem that can’t be too complex right? In fact, more scientific evidence of our plight emerges throughout the essay:
And since the real world has the nerve to consider merit a factor, a few years out of college Lucy finds herself [depressed]…
Let’s pretend for a moment that this is true. Generation Y is spoiled. Perhaps this is because we had the audacity to follow the advice we were given and pursue career trajectories that would be fulfilling, and not secure. We were told to do things that interested us and spoke to our talents, rather than doing the things we could make money doing. As the article points out, this is our fault. It’s our fault that we didn’t realize we were given really terrible advice, by Baby Boomers, as we made life-decisions at 17 or 18 without having the benefit of experience in the real world. We assumed we were special, when in reality, few of us are remarkably more intelligent or talented than the average Gen Yer.
The author does leave us some parting advice. Will it solve our unhappiness? Is it grounded in reality? Hardly.
1) Stay wildly ambitious. The current world is bubbling with opportunity for an ambitious person to find flowery, fulfilling success. The specific direction may be unclear, but it’ll work itself out—just dive in somewhere.
This nugget of wisdom sounds remarkably similar to “find a fulfilling career.” If I were an aspiring playwright, I would probably interpret that advice as a green light to dive head first into my avant-garde style of writing, instead of leaving the stage to attend business school with a focus in finance. No.
2) Stop thinking that you’re special. The fact is, right now, you’re not special. You’re another completely inexperienced young person who doesn’t have all that much to offer yet. You can become special by working really hard for a long time.
I find it hard to believe that anyone who has been out of college for more than a year doesn't already know this. We’re the work-several-internships generation. The move-back-with-our-parents-to-save-money generation. In fact, I would argue our expectations are quite realistic at this point. We know what it’s like to work a job that gets docked to 35 hours so the company doesn't have to offer us benefits. We know what it’s like to go without insurance altogether, and if we’re lucky, our parents can help pay the $500 a month cost for COBRA extensions on their plan.
This GYPSY himself has worked every inglorious job from dish-washing to house-painting to table-waiting starting at age 15, and it took three internships and graduate school (where I completed a 2-year program with a near perfect GPA in 1-year to save money) in order to land the job I have now.
How many internships did the average Baby Boomer have to work before they received salary? More than three, right? Do you people have ANY good advice?
3) Ignore everyone else. Other people’s grass seeming greener is no new concept, but in today’s image crafting world, other people’s grass looks like a glorious meadow. The truth is that everyone else is just as indecisive, self-doubting, and frustrated as you are, and if you just do your thing, you’ll never have any reason to envy others.
I’m not sure if this means that Gen Y is allowed to be envious for homeownership, a savings account they don’t have to dip into to cover everyday expenses, retirement funds, reasonable student debt, and health insurance?
Oh, and the other reason we’re miserable is because of Facebook.
So for those of you keeping score at home, the reasons Gen Y is unhappy are because they are brats, lazy, and Facebook. And the solution to our unhappiness is to find a unique opportunity that your peers haven’t yet, to work on being special, and to not be envious of the success of others.
Heeding this fantastic advice, the only conclusion I can draw is that I should immediately quit my boring 9-5 job and become a performance artist! Broadway here I come!
Delusional Baby Boomers, please sit down and join me on planet earth. Because I have a theory as to a few other reasons this generation might be unhappy. It involves a couple of facts and figures that weren’t on your condescending graphs with unicorns vomiting rainbows.
In the “Wait but Why” essay we met “Unhappy Lucy.” Let’s meet Lucy’s sister, “Real World Sally.”
Sally is 18 years old and is trying to decide what she wants to do with her life. She doesn’t believe she’ll graduate college and instantly become a rock-star captain of industry. She’s just wants to get a steady professional job like her parents had. She also knows that when she’s 30 years old, she’ll want to own a home. She also wants some job security, health insurance, and a retirement fund so she can quit working when she’s older like her parents did.
Sally decides to go to a good 4-year public university. Her parents would have paid on average about $7,040 for a degree in 1975. In 2013, that average cost has exploded to nearly $62,420. But if we only adjusted for inflation that number should be $30,604.
Sally, lacking formal education and training, works a minimum wage job to defer the cost of school, like her dad did. In 1975, the minimum wage was $2.10. So for 12, 40-hour summer job weeks, her father brought in $1,008. Not enough to completely pay for school, but damn close.
In 2013, Sally works at the federal minimum wage of $7.80. She works the same hours as her dad, but only brings home $3,744. That’s not going to do much to pay for $62,420 worth of college costs.
Oh, and if we had matched the minimum wage with inflation since the 60's, Sally would actually earn $10.56 an hour.
When Sally eventually graduates college she gets her second real world challenge. The first is the massive debt she’s carrying, oodles more than her parents had. The second is that unemployment for recent college graduates is at 18.3%. It’s an ugly place to be with student loan payments kicking in. Part of the reason Sally’s degree was so expensive is that her university gets less support from the government and has to pass the rising costs onto its students through tuition increases. The government gives less money, because they collect less. The top tax bracket was taxed 70% in 1975. Now it’s only taxed 35%.
This is a welcome development for the people that Sally will be working for once she gets hired. Since 1978, CEO pay has risen an astonishing 726.7%! Worker pay? 5.7%.
What was it again that’s making Sally unhappy? Facebook, right?
As she approaches retirement, Sally can only hope her 401k wasn’t railroaded by another bank crisis, or she didn’t have to dip into it if she got laid off . Because Social Security will run out by 2036 (we have to pay Baby Boomers first, you see). And pensions? Those are going to appear as antiquated and unfamiliar as typewriters and rotary phones by the time our kids start saving for retirement.
Hey — remember that house Sally wanted to buy? Well the average cost of a house has doubled. Even if you adjust for inflation the average home costs twice as much as it did in 1975. Which means Sally will be renting (perhaps indefinitely). Turn that number around. It means that Sally has to earn twice as much as her dad did in order to buy a house.
So you could say that Sally has an entitled attitude, and her inflated self-worth, multiplied by her perception of her peers’ success on Facebook has made her unhappy.
Or you could say that Sally has realized that she has inherited a broken world, which has arrived here by no accident. It’s a world where the generation before her made itself wealthier by systematically applying policies that were deliberately engineered to take money, resources, and opportunities away from Sally and her peers.
In short, Sally got fucked over.
Now, I recognize that none of the toxic policies that have impacted the happiness of “Real World Sally” are caused by some unnamed blogger on a website with unicorn drawings, so please believe me when I say that my frustration isn’t directed solely at the “Wait But Why” folks. But if you think for a moment that the plight of this generation is just a “bad attitude” then frankly, it’s time to wake the fuck up and smell The Economist.
One more thing. Let me beat you to the “well, you have a liberal arts degree — you should have picked something more in demand, then life would be easier!” sentiment. Because frankly, that’s the only argument within this entire clusterfuck of a generation crisis that sprouts any teeth. I have a degree in advertising. You might say it’s a useless degree to have in this economy so I can’t complain about how hard it was to find a job, because I should have known better.
Hell, you might be right.
But one thing I studied that wasn’t covered in the STEM majors, was how people with money can engineer and target messages to the public in order to convince them to buy things, believe ideas, and vote for people that are against their best-interests.
Guess what happened?
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Thanks for reading!