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The why-worry generation

[ 2010-08-23 10:22]     字号 [] [] []  
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By Judith Warner

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For the past few years, it’s been open season on Generation Y—also known as the millennials, echo boomers or, less flatteringly, Generation Me.[1] Once described by the trend-watchers Neil Howe and William Strauss as “the next great generation”—optimistic, idealistic and destined to do good—millennials, born between 1982 and 2002, have been depicted more recently by employers, professors and earnestly concerned mental-health experts as entitled whiners who have been spoiled by parents who overstoked their self-esteem, teachers who granted undeserved A’s and sports coaches who bestowed trophies on any player who showed up.[2]

As they’ve entered adulthood, they have inspired a number of books on how unmanageable they are in the workplace, with their ubiquitous iPods, flip-flops and inability to take criticism.[3] Stories abound about them as college students, requiring 24/7 e-mail access to professors and running to Mom and Dad for help with papers or to contest a bad grade.[4] A consensus has emerged that, psychologically, they’re a generation of basket cases: profoundly narcissistic and deprived of a sense of agency by their anxiously overinvolved parents.[5]

The behavior of many of this year’s college seniors might further fuel this story line.[6] They are graduating into a labor market decimated[7] by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate for early 20-somethings[8] is close to 20 percent. Increased applications to grad school have turned that option of sitting out the recession into a reach.[9] Even going into teaching—hyped a year ago as the most acceptable Plan B for high achievers turned off by (or turned away from) Wall Street—has become much tougher, as school districts have been devastated by budget cuts.[10] Yet despite the fact that the new graduates are in no position to pose conditions for employers, many are increasingly declaring themselves unwilling to work more than 40 hours a week. Graduates are turning down job offers in high numbers—essentially opting to move back home with their parents if the work offered doesn’t match their self-assessed market value.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which every year surveys thousands of college graduates about their job prospects and work attitudes, fully 41 percent of job seekers this year turned down offers—the exact percentage that did so in 2007, when the economy was booming. And though less than a quarter of seniors who applied for work had postgraduation job offers in hand by late April (compared with 52 percent in 2007), many are still approaching work with attitudes suited for a full-employment[11] economy.

“Almost universally they want to find a job that’s not just a job but an expression of their identity, a form of self-fulfillment,” says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a Clark University psychology professor who interviewed hundreds of young people.

Not only do they believe these perfect jobs exist, but today’s recent graduates also think they’re good enough to get them. “They see themselves as really well prepared and supremely good candidates for the job market,” says Edwin Koc, director of research for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “Over 90 percent think they have a perfect résumé. The percentage who think they will have a job in hand three months after graduation is now 57 percent. They’re still supremely confident in themselves.”

For critics, this is irrational exuberance, an example of group psychosis, proof that this generation is headed for a major crash.[12] “It’s not confidence; it’s overconfidence,” Jean Twenge, a professor in the department of psychology at San Diego State University and author of “Generation Me,” said. “And when it reaches that level, it’s problematic.”

But at a time when so many of their elders are struggling emotionally to keep their heads above water—dealing with layoffs or the fear of layoffs, feeling the walls closing in around them as whole professions contract in new and unanticipated ways—the children, you have to consider, might be on to something.[13] I interviewed nine students recommended to me by college professors and officials, yielding a picture of emerging adults with a striking ability to keep self-doubt—and deep discouragement—at bay[14]. Many were jobless, others were dissatisfied with their work or graduate-school choices, yet they didn’t blame themselves if life failed to meet their expectations. They didn’t call into question[15] their choices or competencies. It was as if all the cries of “Good job!” they heard as children armed them against[16] the repeated blows of frustration and rejection now coming their way.

“They’re extraordinarily optimistic that life will work out for them,” Arnett says. “Everybody thinks bright days are ahead and eventually they will find that terrific job.”


These emerging adults may be off-putting to a worried 40-something—their sense of entitlement and their lack of humility are somewhat hard to take—but they’re not necessarily maladapted.[17] On the contrary, with their seemingly inexhaustible well of positive self-regard, their refusal to have their horizons be defined by the limitations of our era, they just may bear witness to the precise sort of resilience that all parents, educators and pop psychologists now say they view as proof of a successful upbringing.[18]

It may be that this resilience—this annoying yet admirable ability to stay positive in depressing and frightening times—has nothing to do with the parents. Perhaps it’s a result, as some longtime observers of this generation have suggested, of growing up in an era of almost unremitting ambient anxiety: school years spent in the shadow of Columbine,[19] 9/11 and, lately, widespread parental job losses. Maybe chronic unease[20] has simply raised this generation’s tolerance level for stress, leaving it uniquely well equipped to deal with uncertainty.

Or maybe having a bulked-up ego really does serve as a buffer to adversity.[21] Just like the self-esteem gurus[22] always said that it would.


1. open season: (针对某人或某事物)的言论开放期,此处指对Generation Y有很多批评声的一段时期;Generation Y: 指1982年至2002年出生的一代人,区别于Generation X(1961年至1981年出生的一代),Generation Y又称millennials或echo boomers,前者因为这代人是跨世纪的一代,后者因为是“婴儿潮一代”(baby boomers)的后代,并造成了新一拨生育高峰;flatteringly: 谄媚地,奉承地。

2. 趋势观察家尼尔•豪和威廉•斯特劳斯曾将1982年至2002年期间出生的“跨世纪一代”称为“下一个伟大的一代”,认为这一代人乐观、有理想、注定有所成就,但最近,雇主、教授和忧心忡忡的心理健康专家们认为这一代人总是有权利哭哭啼啼,他们被家长宠坏,自尊心过强,他们从老师那儿得到的“A等”名不副实,他们只要参加运动就能从教练那儿得到奖品。

3. ubiquitous: 无处不在的;iPod: 指iPod音乐播放器;flip-flop: 人字拖。

4. abound: 大量存在;24/7 e-mail access to professors: 一天24小时、一周7天都能用电子邮件联系到老师;contest a bad grade: 对低分提出质疑。

5. 越来越多的人有相同的感受:从心理角度讲,这一代人是不健全的人——他们极其自恋,被爱操心和过分干涉的父母剥夺了责任感和自主感。basket case: <美俚>精神极度紧张的人,精神濒于崩溃的人。

6. college senior: (美国四年制大学的)四年级学生;fuel: 刺激,火上加油;story line: 故事情节。

7. decimate: 大批毁灭,极大削弱。

8. 20-something: 20多岁的人。

9. sit out: 坐在一旁不参加,此处指通过读研逃避经济危机;turn... into a reach: 变得有点儿够不着,实现起来有点儿困难。

10. hype: 大肆宣传;turn off: 使沮丧;turn away: 拒绝(进入)。

11. full-employment: 充分就业,指在某一工资水平之下,所有愿意接受工作的人都获得了就业机会。

12. 对批评人士而言,这是非理性的情绪高涨,是集体精神失常的病例,证明这一代人正朝着一次重大打击前行。

13. keep one’s head above water: 使自己免于负债(或失败、损失等),凑合着活下去;contract: 收缩;be on to: 了解,知道。

14. keep at bay: 使(严重、危险或令人不快的)事物无法接近,防止某结果产生。

15. call sth. into question: 对……表示怀疑。

16. arm against: 武装起来,从而免于遭受(打击等)。

17. off-putting: 令人不快的;entitlement: 应得的权利;maladapt: 使不适应。

18. inexhaustible: 无穷无尽的,用不完的;have their horizons be defined: 他们的眼界被局限;bear witness to: 证明;resilience: 达观,适应力。

19. unremitting: 不间断的,持续的;ambient: 周围的,围绕的;Columbine: 哥伦拜恩枪击案。背景:1994年4月20日,美国科罗拉多州哥伦拜恩高中发生校园枪击事件,两名学生配备枪械和爆炸物进入校园,枪杀了12名学生和1名教师,并造成其他24人受伤,两人随即自杀身亡,这起事件被视为美国历史上最血腥的校园枪击事件之一。

20. chronic unease: 长期的忧患和担心。

21. 或者,他们不断增强的自负也许真能在其面对逆境时起到缓冲作用。

22. guru: 专家,权威。