Friday, March 11, 2022

Spoiled Rotten? (Who Spoiled Them?)

When you grow up living a certain lifestyle, the reality of living on your own can be very disappointing.

Note:  This is an older post which I just finished today.

A lot of young people today, or at least a few very loud voices among young people, are complaining that they somehow got a raw deal in life. Their parents have a certain lifestyle that they aspire to, and the younger generation wonders why they are not living that lifestyle already. It appears they fail to realize that the lifestyle of their parents' generation was only achieved after 30 years of hard work. You don't get the corner office in the six-figure salary your first year out of college.

But that raises the question as to why people expect this. And I think it's because we are such a wealthy country today. No one wants to hear this, but we are far wealthier country than when I was a child. When I was growing up, most families had one maybe two cars at most. The house had one television set and one dial telephone. Maybe if you were wealthy you might have a second television in the parents' bedroom as well as an extension phone. But that was about it.

Yes, college is a lot less expensive back then, but then again not everyone went. It was only for people who came from a certain social class, or people who were very smart and got good grades and worked their way through school, climbing the social ladder. People such as my grandfather whose mother was flat broke after her husband killed himself. He worked his way through City College and became a lawyer. It wasn't easy.

Even when I was in school, it was not necessarily a luxurious lifestyle. We lived in student housing, which comprised either ratty dormitories or off-campus housing which was roach-infested apartment buildings which were converted from old houses. The idea of luxury student housing, which is so prevalent today, was not even imagined.

Even the concept of spring break was something fairly scarce. I never went on a spring break vacation, as I felt that since I wasn't working, I didn't deserve a vacation. Besides, college students had the entire summer off, so what did you need a spring vacation for?  Because of all that hard work in college? Back in the day, some of my classmates felt entitled to these things. To my parents' generation, though, the idea of a vacation while you're in college was completely alien. My mother and father never drove down to Fort Lauderdale to party on the beach. This is not to say they didn't have a good time at fraternity parties and whatnot, only that perhaps their life was a little more austere and serious.  There was a World War going on.

Today, we have a lot more money as a country and as individuals. Middle-class kids get a new car when they turn 16 or their parents buy one when they send them off to college. When I was school-age, you weren't even allowed to have a car the first year or two of college. as they felt it would distract from your educationMy brother wasn't allowed to bring his car to campus until his Junior year.  Fortunately for me, this wasn't the case, but then again, I went to school at General Motors Institute.  The more cars you bought, the better!

Last year, I drove by my old alma mater, Syracuse University, and they had a huge billboard advertising new luxury student apartments. Such things didn't exist when I was there back in the 1980s. Today it's pretty much the norm.

The kids today are spoiled, and it's not their fault, it's the fault of their parents. Their parents' generation is far wealthier than previous generations and they can afford to lavish their children with every possible luxury. From brand new cars to cell phones to computers to gaming consoles and designer clothes, to everything else that a middle-class kid has today in the suburbs.  And those houses in the suburbs - huge!  Everyone has their own bedroom and bathroom.  None of this sharing bathrooms and sleeping in bunk beds nonsense!

This is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it sets up a set of expectations that are bound to cause trouble in the future. When one graduates from college, the harsh realities of the real world suddenly are thrust upon you. No longer can you afford that luxury student housing unless your parents are willing to subsidize your rent. And that brand-new car the parents bought you when you graduated from high school is now five years old and needing work.

Suddenly, you have to pay for everything in life and the prices seem pretty high.  Oh, and those student loans come due - didn't see that coming, eh?  What's more, not many people are going to pay you very much money, even if you have a degree in a highly desirable field. You're just starting out without much in the way of experience, and people want to have at least three or four years experience before they pay you serious money.

(This is why, during my 14 years of night school, I always got the job first and the education second, and made my employer pay the tuition.  You can still do this today - co-op programs do exist, but not for agitation studies majors).

Others are less fortunate. They major in silly things such as Communications and then get crummy grades and wonder why they haven't been made the next Tom Brokaw.  They struggle and they flail and they try to find a job which they find is impossible to do. Many end up moving back home with their parents. Many struggle for years before they finally settle down to some other job which doesn't pay nearly as well as what they thought they should receive. They become bitter and angry as their lives appear to have gone downhill.

And if they have student loan debt, the problem is even worse. Not only does their life suck compared to their life in college and in high school, but now they owe all this money and they're not earning any. Moreover, they weren't properly trained and how to handle money. So they accumulate more debt through credit cards and whatnot and fall into all the same stupid traps that we all did at that age.

The difference between today's generation and my generation is that when I went to college we didn't have very high expectations of our lifestyle. We drove rusted beat up cars and even then only in our junior and senior years. We lived in roach-infested rundown houses and thought that's what we deserved. When we finally graduated and got a job, we might have struggled a bit, but the struggle was no worse than what we had in college. In fact, our lifestyle seem to improve.

From my perspective graduating from college was a step forward in life, not a regression. And I think that's the problem for today's generation. They had a great time in college, funded by their parents and student loan money, and now the bills are coming due and the reality of the harsh working conditions in the world are thrust upon them.

I saw a posting on the internet the other day from a young fellow who just graduated and got a job. He's one of the lucky ones in that he has a job. But he complained that he didn't like going to work for 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, and didn't want to do this for the rest of his life. It seemed so unfair. Only a few months earlier, he was goofing off in the dorm and playing video games and enjoying himself and doing the absolute minimum to pass his courses. Now he has to do this horrible work thing that his parents had to go through. Why can't you just cut to the chase and be the wealthy retirees at this point?

And I sympathize with his plight because I felt sort of the same way when I was his age. It seemed like I was never going to get ahead in the world and that all this work was just pointless. But then I hit age 25 and realized the complaining about it wasn't going to change anything. I went back to school, got an advanced degree, and got serious about my career and buckled down.  As I've noted time and time again in this blog, within a decade things changed radically. I went from flat broke (negative net worth actually) to millionaire.  Ten years after graduation from law school, I had my own law practice, I owned my own office building, and we owned several investment properties as well as our own home.

That did not come without some effort, as well as luck.  Being broke at age 25, though, seems to be a norm, not an outlier.  At least it was for me - until age 35, at least!

It's amazing what you can accomplish in life when you put your mind to it. And although many of the kids today probably will never achieve that level of success, many more will.

There's a great quote from Alexander Graham Bell (no relation) that when God closes a door he often opens another one. The rest of the quote is more interesting though, in that it says we spend so much time looking at that closed door we fail to see the new opportunities available to us.

And that perhaps is a problem for our young graduate. He's mourning the loss of his collegiate lifestyle and fails to see the opportunities provided to him - a world where he controls his own destiny and doesn't have to rely on student loans or the largess of his parents, which must often be paid for by acquiescence to their demands.

Maybe that's the greatest gift my parents gave me - being the annoying pains in the ass that they were. I wanted to get out from underneath their proverbia thumb as quickly as possible and definitely had no intention of ever moving back home with them.

For me, freedom from their tyrannical rule, such as it was, was more valuable than all the fancy gimcracks and toys in the world. I would rather have live in a hovel with nothing but what I could earn on my own, then to be showered with largess but having to dance to their tune.

Others seem to have less trouble with the concept. I know of many bounce-back children who live with their parents.  I know many parents who keep them as adult pets. You never achieve their own success in life, but do their parents bidding and sort of live in a constant stasis, waiting for their parents to die so they can inherit a modest sum of money and us live out the rest of their own lives.

I suppose it's a way of surviving, but it's not a way of living.

The problem is, of course, not entirely the fault of the children.  Parents who coddle and spoil their kids set them up for failure.  When you give a teenager a lifestyle that a 30-year-old wouldn't have - with cars, electronic toys, nice clothes and everything they ask for - you set this expectation that life will always be like that.  Adulthood comes as a shock as everything now has a price tag attached to it.

In addition to being annoying pains-in-the-ass, my parents didn't buy me cars or high-end stereo systems or other stuff.  I asked for an AM/FM clock radio one year for Christmas, and they gave me an AM radio - because FM was too high-falutin' for a teenager!

As a result, when I went to live on my own, my expectations were lower.  I didn't have shit when I was a kid - a succession of $50 and $100 junker cars that were mounds of rust.  Having a decent reliable car, even if it had no frills, was a big deal for me.  It took a long time for me to realize I was able to afford more.  I was 30 before I had a car with air conditioning!

Again, this is not to blame "kids today" for their plight, only to understand it better.  And I get where they are coming from - spoiled by a middle-class suburban lifestyle, they freak out when they realize that post-college life can be at or near the poverty line.  What's worse, even if you make "good money" you still have to go to work, kow tow to a boss, and all the nice toys you want have a price tag attached to them.  It is a shock to the system.

On the other hand, not many people feel sorry for entitled rich kids (and they are rich, by world standards) discovering what real life is all about.

I mean, boo-fucking-hoo.