Ada Ferrer-i-Carbonell’s research finds that “there is an asymmetry in the way people compare themselves with others. We tend to look exclusively at those better off than us, rather than contemplate our position within the full range of outcomes. When the lot of others improves, we react negatively, but when our own lot improves, we shift our reference group to those who are still better off. In other words, we are never satisfied, since we quickly become accustomed to our own achievements. Perhaps that is what spurs people to earn more, and economies to grow.”
Source: Bright Side
Lucy is part of Generation Y, the generation born between the late 1970s and the mid 1990s. She’s also part of a yuppie culture that makes up a large portion of Gen Y.
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.
So Lucy’s enjoying her GYPSY life, and she’s very pleased to be Lucy. Only issue is this one thing:
Lucy’s kind of unhappy.
To get to the bottom of why, we need to define what makes someone happy or unhappy in the first place. It comes down to a simple formula:
It’s pretty straightforward—when the reality of someone’s life is better than they had expected, they’re happy. When reality turns out to be worse than the expectations, they’re unhappy.
To provide some context, let’s start by bringing Lucy’s parents into the discussion:
Lucy’s parents were born in the 50s—they’re Baby Boomers. They were raised by Lucy’s grandparents, members of the G.I. Generation, or “the Greatest Generation,” who grew up during the Great Depression and fought in World War II, and were most definitely not GYPSYs.
Lucy’s Depression Era grandparents were obsessed with economic security and raised her parents to build practical, secure careers. They wanted her parents’ careers to have greener grass than their own, and Lucy’s parents were brought up to envision a prosperous and stable career for themselves. Something like this:
They were taught that there was nothing stopping them from getting to that lush, green lawn of a career, but that they’d need to put in years of hard work to make it happen.
After graduating from being insufferable hippies, Lucy’s parents embarked on their careers. As the 70s, 80s, and 90s rolled along, the world entered a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. Lucy’s parents did even better than they expected to. This left them feeling gratified and optimistic.
With a smoother, more positive life experience than that of their own parents, Lucy’s parents raised Lucy with a sense of optimism and unbounded possibility. And they weren’t alone. Baby Boomers all around the country and world told their Gen Y kids that they could be whatever they wanted to be, instilling the special protagonist identity deep within their psyches.
This left GYPSYs feeling tremendously hopeful about their careers, to the point where their parents’ goals of a green lawn of secure prosperity didn’t really do it for them. A GYPSY-worthy lawn has flowers.
This leads to our first fact about GYPSYs:
GYPSYs Are Wildly Ambitious
The GYPSY needs a lot more from a career than a nice green lawn of prosperity and security. The fact is, a green lawn isn’t quite exceptional or unique enough for a GYPSY. Where the Baby Boomers wanted to live The American Dream, GYPSYs want to live Their Own Personal Dream.
Cal Newport points out that “follow your passion“ is a catchphrase that has only gotten going in the last 20 years, according to Google’s Ngram viewer, a tool that shows how prominently a given phrase appears in English print over any period of time. The same Ngram viewer shows that the phrase ”a secure career“ has gone out of style, just as the phrase “a fulfilling career” has gotten hot.
To be clear, GYPSYs want economic prosperity just like their parents did—they just also want to be fulfilled by their career in a way their parents didn’t think about as much.
But something else is happening too. While the career goals of Gen Y as a whole have become much more particular and ambitious, Lucy has been given a second message throughout her childhood as well:
This would probably be a good time to bring in our second fact about GYPSYs:
GYPSYs Are Delusional
”Sure,“ Lucy has been taught, ”everyone will go and get themselves some fulfilling career, but I am unusually wonderful and as such, my career and life path will stand out amongst the crowd.“ So on top of the generation as a whole having the bold goal of a flowery career lawn, each individual GYPSY thinks that he or she is destined for something even better—
A shiny unicorn on top of the flowery lawn.
So why is this delusional? Because this is what all GYPSYs think, which defies the definition of special:
SPECIAL: better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.
According to this definition, most people are not special—otherwise “special” wouldn’t mean anything.
Even right now, the GYPSYs reading this are thinking, “Good point…but I actually am one of the few special ones“—and this is the problem.
A second GYPSY delusion comes into play once the GYPSY enters the job market. While Lucy’s parents’ expectation was that many years of hard work would eventually lead to a great career, Lucy considers a great career an obvious given for someone as exceptional as she, and for her it’s just a matter of time and choosing which way to go. Her pre-workforce expectations look something like this:
Unfortunately, the funny thing about the world is that it turns out to not be that easy of a place, and the weird thing about careers is that they’re actually quite hard. Great careers take years of blood, sweat and tears to build—even the ones with no flowers or unicorns on them—and even the most successful people are rarely doing anything that great in their early or mid-20s.
But GYPSYs aren’t about to just accept that.
Paul Harvey, a University of New Hampshire professor and GYPSY expert, has researched this, finding that Gen Y has ”unrealistic expectations and a strong resistance toward accepting negative feedback,” and “an inflated view of oneself.” He says that ”a great source of frustration for people with a strong sense of entitlement is unmet expectations. They often feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren’t in line with their actual ability and effort levels, and so they might not get the level of respect and rewards they are expecting.“
For those hiring members of Gen Y, Harvey suggests asking the interview question, ”Do you feel you are generally superior to your coworkers/classmates/etc., and if so, why?“ He says that “if the candidate answers yes to the first part but struggles with the ‘why,’ there may be an entitlement issue. This is because entitlement perceptions are often based on an unfounded sense of superiority and deservingness. They’ve been led to believe, perhaps through overzealous self-esteem building exercises in their youth, that they are somehow special but often lack any real justification for this belief.”
And since the real world has the nerve to consider merit a factor, a few years out of college Lucy finds herself here:
Lucy’s extreme ambition, coupled with the arrogance that comes along with being a bit deluded about one’s own self-worth, has left her with huge expectations for even the early years out of college. And her reality pales in comparison to those expectations, leaving her ”reality — expectations” happy score coming out at a negative.
And it gets even worse. On top of all this, GYPSYs have an extra problem that applies to their whole generation:
GYPSYs Are Taunted.
Sure, some people from Lucy’s parents’ high school or college classes ended up more successful than her parents did. And while they may have heard about some of it from time to time through the grapevine, for the most part they didn’t really know what was going on in too many other peoples’ careers.
Lucy, on the other hand, finds herself constantly taunted by a modern phenomenon: Facebook Image Crafting.
Social media creates a world for Lucy where A) what everyone else is doing is very out in the open, B) most people present an inflated version of their own existence, and C) the people who chime in the most about their careers are usually those whose careers (or relationships) are going the best, while struggling people tend not to broadcast their situation. This leaves Lucy feeling, incorrectly, like everyone else is doing really well, only adding to her misery:
So that’s why Lucy is unhappy, or at the least, feeling a bit frustrated and inadequate. In fact, she’s probably started off her career perfectly well, but to her, it feels very disappointing.
Here’s my advice for Lucy:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
“Don’t just have career or academic goals. Set goals to give you a balanced, successful life. Balanced means ensuring your health, relationships, mental peace are all in good order. There is no point of getting a promotion on the day of your breakup. There is no fun in driving a car if your back hurts. Shopping is not enjoyable if your mind is full of tensions. Don’t take life too seriously. Life is not meant to be taken seriously, as we are really temporarily here. We are like a prepaid card with limited validity. If we are lucky, we may last another 50 years. And 50 years is just 2500 weekends. Do we really need to get so worked up? Its okay, bunk few classes, take leave from work, fall in love, fight a little with your spouse, its okay. We are people, not programmed devices. Don’t be too serious, enjoy life as it comes.” – Ratan Tata
I’m thinking I need to set different kind of goals now 🙂
Not very often that I feel too strongly about ‘most’ feminist agendas because I see an ideal world to be accommodating for both genders, as opposed to equal for both genders, but financial freedom and financial ambition is something I have felt very strongly about and all of it came back to me when I came across an article on LinkedIn called ‘Message for Women in Business: Its Okay to Love Money‘. This struck a cord with me as I remember being told, ‘its not your job to earn money’. Well, its noone’s birth right to do or don’t, its a choice – a choice people, men and women, should be able to make. Both men and women can choose to dedicate their time to building a fortune, or volunteering to something humanitarian, or both.
What makes me sad about this article, is that its intended for women only, which makes sense because men who love money are called ambitious, powerful, even arrogant (God knows when that became a compliment?). Now, by no means do I suggest earning money with wrongful means is justified (however you might define that), but its okay to have financial goals, ambitions and to work for it, for everyone, if that’s what makes you happy because at the end of the day, its not just money you’re trying to earn, its the ability to live well, experience life and make things happen.
Recently, my mind’s been running paths to see where my career and life is going. I have had some career development mentor-ship and a read around. It is not surprising that when I began to collect my thoughts about where I see my career in 10 years, I had to consider the fact that I ‘d probably be taking a few years out to have kids and wait until they are old enough to go to a nursery for me to head back to work. Its interesting how a plan for my career, not much later, became a plan for my life where I saw the personal and professional struggling against each other – such is the life for women, right? And for the rare men who decide to make the same share of contribution at home.
I thought to myself, if at 30 my husband makes a director, I probably make a manager, or senior manager at best having spent fewer years in the workforce.
Having to leave the workforce for a few years, here I assumed was my choice but there’s possible solutions women (and other) leaders are presenting. Like encouraging growth in the child care industry, making it safer, cheaper and a more viable option. And by making maternal leaves more generous and creating a culture where men play a bigger role in child care and house work.
But there’s a counter argument to this, which I do feel very fondly for. Can the caretaker really bring up your kid the way you’d like? Is that how we want our next generation to be raised? And shouldn’t you (women and men) have the right to enjoy your parenthood? It’s not just about checking it off your list, right?
So what really is the solution? I am sure solutions and priorities are different for everybody. Not everybody has to leave the workforce, or have kids for that matter – but for me, I wondered how I could do justice to both my professional and personal pursuits.
So, what’s the solution if you do want to do all of that (which applies to me)? I thought hard and far and I think what would work best for me and for those who want to have a career, enjoy their kids and have a work-life balance, is to have options for flexible working. I have seen great examples in the workplace I am currently a part of it, which makes me rather fond of it. There’s executives who work from home and have little kids, visit the office once in a while and believe me I don’t feel any difference in the way they operate or work, especially as the companies are now global and teams scattered worldwide, where meetings happen over online conferences more often than in the conference rooms. I don’t think this is a permanent solution (while it could also be), but if you could have a few years to work flexibly, you never have to leave the workforce or miss out on seeing your children grow up. And you can always go back in full swing when you’re ready – sure you’d be making some compromise, but is there a better option?
Choosing between jobs and comparing the offers to my dream job, I am starting to wonder if I need to do what everyone else is doing, to be able to do what I really want to do? Choosing jobs has been relatively easier so far, as I knew they wouldn’t last once I finish grad school, but now choosing the ‘one’ has got me contemplating what I can do and what I want to do.
Ofcourse, you pick the most exciting and rewarding option, but would this bring you closer to finding that dream opportunity of a lifetime? Would it lead you into finding new things you enjoy working on? Would it completely drift you away from what was once the dream? Or do you wait until you find just what you wanted?
Even though, I ‘ve got lots of wondering and thinking to do, but the point really is to make the best of everything that comes your way, exhaust your potential completely and wonderfully in whatever way ‘possible’ and hopefully discover, meet people, learn ideas, which will show you what you stand for in five or ten years. And maybe there is a reason that people do what they do, making norms. I wouldn’t want to be complete handicapped by the norms and I have always had the freedom to think within and beyond them, but I am starting to understand why people do what they do.
So many questions to answer and mysteries to solve. Is this the beginning of my quarter life crisis?
I have had my life changed drastically in the past few days, with lots happening all at once, great and not to great things. I have been making all the efforts I can to learn tricks of the trade of this society and work, which are very different to have I had become accustomed to and it has been an interesting ride, so far.
I chose to blog today about this as I have a better feeling about things today than I usually do. I have been making applications for jobs and the process can become a rather long one, longer than what I am used to in London anyway but today I felt like I was getting somewhere with it. Unlike in London, recruitment in Pakistan is not all about finding the right posts and applying for them wisely, but talking to people and networking is not only a plus, but absolutely necessary if you’re going to get somewhere with it. Through this ‘process’ so far, I have felt all sorts of different things; anxiety, excitement, nervousness … But there’s one thing I didn’t feel so far (thankfully). To me, the worst place anyone can be in is where one can do nothing to change their situation. We are made with no points of self-actualisation and we always need progress in one way or the other, and moving for me is a huge opportunity to progress into the next phase of my life.
So, today I feel that yes the systems, people and culture are different, with their own good and bad sides to it, but they can all be worked around and there’s always something you can do to bring you closer to where you really want to be. And if you’re really going to do something, you better make sure you do it in the best way possible.
I am sure I ‘ll be blogging about ‘the transition’ for a while, with this blog being one of my firsts – but I hope it all leads to somewhere I want to be.