No Pain, No Gain

The evidence, both actual and anecdotal, started as a trickle, lately has seemed like a flood.

I know, it’s been the case since the dawn of time: each generation of adults laments the laziness and softness of each new generation of kids, saying stuff like: “Why, there, you whippersnapper, in my day I walked three miles barefoot to school, 17 of us shared an apple and counted ourselves lucky.” Etc, etc.

But it seems to clear to me from everything I hear and read these days that the generation currently coming of age is full of entitlement, and is labouring (or not labouring) under the misapprehension that they can have it all, become successful and so forth, without doing much in the way of paying dues, or suffering, or working particularly hard.

Disastrous notion. A recent survey of university professors gave incoming freshmen a failing grade. Kids these days, having been coddled and treated with kid gloves in high school, their self-esteem carefully nurtured, the notion of “failure” having been erased from the vocabulary of the classroom, arrive at university completely unprepared for the rigours of post-secondary life, according to the professors surveyed.

One prof, commenting on the survey, said: “It’s a wider societal issue, where leisure is very much valued and work habits are not necessarily reinforced in the way they were in the past. The work ethic is not what it used to be…no pain, no gain doesn’t seem to be prevalent anymore.”

And if these students can’t handle the so-called “rigours” of university (cushiest four years of Mac’s life), what’s going to happen when they hit the working world?

They’re screwed. I remember an hilarious interview Linda Frum did for Maclean’s with, I think, Debbie Travis. As a sociological study, Ms. Travis filmed her teenage son raking the leaves through the kitchen windows.

He lay on the lawn, lost focus, chatted on his cellphone. The job, which should have taken him half an hour, took somewhere in the neighbourhood of six hours.

Now, you might say ” ‘Twas ever thus, Mack Daddy.” And certainly I remember what Martin Amis calls “that endless adolescent cafard where it seemed to take the entire day to move a sock from one side of the room to the other.”

But evidence seems to be rolling in that this phenomenon is getting worse and worse. What with Twitter, texting, blogs, downloading and all the rest of it, kids these days are used to just pushing a button and getting what they want. Everything has been made so easy for them. They don’t even have to leave the house to buy a record! Or virtually anything for that matter.

And everything also looks so easy. Why bother to learn to sing and/or become an accomplished songwriter if all you have to do is wear the right outfit and mince around stage? Anyone who says you can’t sing: they’re a “hater.”

But even for those who succeed in this manner, for whom success comes easy, it can hardly be satisfactory. If I had an easy time of it and succeeded with no particular talent or hard work, I’d always be looking over my shoulder wondering when The Next Big Thing was going to come along and knock me off my perch…

Sometimes I worry, my bloggies, that my kids will be infected by this malaise, this cafard. They work pretty hard, get decent grades, but I notice they balk, they don’t always like to go that extra mile to really push it over the top.

And going that extra mile is the only way to survive, these days, let alone in the future. “Kids,” I want to tell them, “the way things are going it’s no longer going to be good enough to be ‘pretty good’ at whatever you do, 10,000 people are going to want to do the exact thing you do, you’ll have to be among the very best of the very best just to have any kind of job security.”

Next post I’ll consult a couple of experts to see if they have any insights into how to instill that kind of work ethic in one’s kids.

In the meantime, my bloggies, I welcome your suggestions: Do you have any thoughts as to how to instill in kids the type of work ethic where they push hard to become the best, to go that extra mile?