Laziness? Or just lost

I often hear people accuse others of being lazy. This is especially true regarding the baby-boomer’s attitude toward millennials who are perceived as self-entitled brats who don’t know the value of hard work and can’t put their phones down. “Kids today…” they say; “…they are not willing to work hard like we did.” Is there an epidemic of laziness among today’s youth? Or is this another case of an older generation in misalignment with values, beliefs, and norms of a younger generation.

I don’t believe there an epidemic of laziness. Today’s youth are not lazy, they are lost. Unlike the baby boomers, millennials can’t rely on a standard life-course involving smooth and predictable transitions between each stage. Baby boomers are right when they say, “the world was simpler then.” Social structures were much more stable, bound by stronger cultural norms regarding gender, sexuality, as well as the meaning of adulthood and family. If you didn’t fit into normal gender ideals, sexual orientations, or take on normal adult responsibilities, you were probably marginalized and considered weird.

Now, everything is becoming weird. Actually, weird is the new cool. Millennials are more free to experiment with the way they present their gender, who they engage with sexually, and how they make their money. This represents a great deal of progress for many sociologists who have been critiquing the hierarchical norms that have marginalized minorities.

Although we’ve seen progress regarding social justice, millennials are now tasked with navigating a highly fluid, highly complex social milieu where there are fewer clear signposts directing them along their life-course. Today’s youth see a multitude of paths but don’t know which way to go. Simply finishing high-school no longer guarantees a long line of employers offering you a position. Even finishing a post-secondary degree can’t guarantee that! Personally, I’ve finished three post-secondary degrees and still wonder if I’ll ever have stable employment.

There has been an explosion of both opportunity and uncertainty. Today’s youth are not lazier than the last generation’s, they are just more lost. Human beings function best with a clear sense of direction and purpose. Remember those essay assignments in school when the teacher told you to just write whoever you want? They were always the hardest. Whenever my assignments are too broad, students are quick to inquire about the assignment, seeking guiding regulations. When the regulations are clear, students thrive. When they are vague, students flounder, put it off, or take much longer to complete the assignment. Loosely structured assignments do not cause students to become lazy; the lack of regulation makes them feel lost. This is why we need to look at how our social environments may be doing the same thing.

Nietzsche tells us that when we have a “why” we can overcome almost any “how”. Rather than berating millennials, calling them lazy and unmotivated, we need to consider whether or not they have something to be motivated to move toward. In a world with so many options, we need to offer forms of institutional support that can provide guidance for our youth who are coming of age in this complicated age. This may come in the form of updated career counseling classes in schools, peer-support groups for young entrepreneurs, or community programs that give young people a chance to apply and build on their unique skills.

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  1. I don’t think younger people are lost, the entire world is lost because for the first time in history we are all quite plainly able to witness other people’s vacuous consumption of places, things and ideas via social media. If everything feels a bit strange and meaningless it’s because capitalism and technology and endless amounts of information at our fingertips are making it so. Young people may ‘feel lost’ as you call it because they are the first generation who are digital natives, and needing to live within many fracturing worlds with many disparate identities.

  2. So while am not a baby boomer, am not a millennial either. Will just say that the millennial feels lost because they let go off the anchor that would keep them stable. It is not that baby boomers call the millennials lazy.. It is the frustration that why are they just meandering through life without a purpose. I don’t subscribe to that… Read somewhere that just because a person is wandering around, doesn’t mean he is lost…

  3. Fantastic read. I believe that the laziness is true due to everything being at your fingertips. Being 36, it frustrates me when kids today put forth zero effort when it comes to school. All they have to do is go to google and they’ll have their answers. I’ve stated before that the internet was one of the best and worst inventions of our time. It has dumbed down an entire generation.

  4. Very compassionate, understanding and logical view! I remember growing up and being left to my own devices. But there was a lot less back then. Now, we have a lot of actions and will need to actually pay attention, weigh options and map out a plan with our youth.

  5. This is so spot on. Historically, there has always been a clear-cut path through life – the cliched progression from school to job to family to death (maybe with some fun in there). We all know we want out of that path, that we want to break out into our own direction, guided by our desires instead of those from society. But it is so fucking hard sometimes! There are no structures for us to give us guidance. We’re either doing the status quo thing where we know how to navigate everything or we’re off in some netherworld where there are not even lights to guide the way.

    I think part of that is because we are starting to accept that we can all have different journeys, all proceed along different paths, and with millions of us doing that it’s difficult to create a new societal structure that gives a one-size-fits-all set of guidelines and regulations to help give us boundaries to work within. It’s a conundrum, for sure, and not one I have been able to sort out in my very un status quo life. But I am really glad other people are mulling over too. Maybe we’ll figure it out together. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Great points! I think we have no “global guidance” because humans are no longer the primary species….technology is a new form of terrorism that has extracted our compassion, convictions and conscious.

  6. Great insight and suggestion. This is why the military has helped so many young adults find a path, but they experience the loss of hope and purpose when they leave the service or return from a deployment.

      1. Your right on in my opinion. As a veteran studying the transition strategy of women veterans, I see this pattern. Women seem to have different transition strategies due to numerous variables!

  7. As a baby-boomer, I have had many opportunities to personally witness differences between my generation and those to follow. For many years I found myself a manager in the commercial world to a multitude of these younger employees. I found them no different than those of my generation regarding laziness or personal drive. The difference I observed was their expectations that I believe was instilled by how my generation treated future generations as children.

    My generation grew up during post World War II as part of a culture of patriotism and a belief we lived in the greatest nation in the world. Most of us knew we would attend church every Sunday morning. We were taught to respect authority and to recognize hard work as the key to success. Should we step out of line, we expected a belt or paddle administered to our backside. Most held the belief of “better dead than red”, but once the late sixties arrived, a dramatic change occurred. I contend that one of the most significant changes ever to culture was fueled by the baby-boom generation during this time period.

    What fueled this change? Involvement in military activity escalated in Southeast Asia. Because we failed to take actions necessary to quickly end the conflict, the war grew and years of frustration affected the mindset of many young adults. The military draft, misinformation released by the government and a seven day a week broadcast of the horrors in Vietnam caused youth to challenge authority. Mixing in free love resulting from the development of the pill and the rising popularity of drugs an environment emerged foreign to our parents’. Everyone knew a friend who died in Vietnam… there were 58,200 of them. Millions of other deployed there with a substantial number scared for life. Many of our generation resisted, protested, rioted and succeeded in changing the course of the nation. But too many forgot principles our parents taught us that remained valid.

    With altered values, baby-boomers became parents, taught in our schools, ran for public office and became elected. Their children were no longer taught the importance of winning… they were given trophies for participation. For discipline these children were reasoned with… consequences for their actions were an afterthought. These children learned to expect they deserved everything. They have taken these attitudes to the adult world. They expect to start at the top for top pay, and when they discover they cannot, it affects them. No longer are young employees dedicated to their employer… the job is a stop-over while waiting for the next opportunity. After all, they deserve more.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. I’m curious to get your opinion on this: do you think this higher expectation is because of participation ribbons, or because they have spent several extra years in post-secondary education going into debt and feel like their parents were able to achieve the same entry-level positions without having this extra burden?

      1. Yes, the debt for a college education is a burden, but it’s another factor I believe has been caused by the changes in culture. Too man youth, who probably have no business in college attend. The numbers are so high, colleges and universities have a mindset to add more and more amenities to attract students who would be better suited for trade schools which in turn increases costs for higher education. As for their parents, many who had a higher education also had significant debt. The ten thousand dollars of debt in the sixties is near the average debt of students today when one considers the differing value of a dollar.

    2. This is one of the best posts I have come across in a while. Though I agree with Steve’s theory about how easier it is to get lost in a world that continuously offers more and more options as opposed to simplicity or less ideas or innovation, I agree with Terry Willson’s description 100 percent. Our generation seems to be diluted in terms of values, courage, loyalty and hard work ideals.

      It seems like in our attempt to make things “better” for our children, we continue to forget how important it is to teach the value of hard work. For many, things may be working out just fine, the question is for how long? Somewhere, I don’t remember where or the exact quote, but I read something that had this idea: “Where the parents work hard and they let their children play, the grandchildren will starve.”

      So… I just hope that even if we are lost, we work hard to figure out our place and most importantly work hard so we are not a burden to society.

      1. Exactly. Even though millennials have a bad reputation in regards to working hard, I think they are some of the hardest workers if working toward something that is particularly meaningful to them.

  8. After reading this short post, the little intellectual inside of me smiled. After reading some of the comments about it, that smile went away. I don’t mean to argue that your theory here is 100% correct, but its points are valid and representative of the observational evidence. Its unfortunate that many people don’t understand one of the main tenets of sociology: the theory applies to society, not the individual. It’s all about making statistical predictions based on correlating evidence, NOT about saying YOU will do this, and YOU will do that. Many of the comments I read on here seemed to imply that you are mistaken due to that individual’s life course. To me, that is more than bias, but pure ignorance of how social understanding works.

    That being said, this post really resonates with me. As a mid-twenties male with two post-secondary degrees, I’ve been unemployed for 7 months searching for my “ideal” job. (*Technically I wouldn’t be unemployed had I not needed to move out of state for job opportunities). Since moving, I’ve come to realize that my “ideal” job is very fluid, and representative of many fields. I’ve applied for positions ranging from financial analysis, underwriting, fraud investigation, legal assistant, and product management. The fact is, there are very few (if any) post-secondary degrees that equal one specific career in the working world. I would argue that post-secondary education has become the equivalent of high school in the early 20th century. There is a reason that high school was made publicly funded education, and that reason exists today for post-secondary education.

    To put it simply, I don’t feel “entitled” to a good job. I don’t feel that I should be handed a great job making six-figures. However, I also don’t feel that I, nor anyone else, should have to enter years of debt in order to pursue the education that is now so necessary to find that “good” job, and odds are it will never be a six-figure job. Some of the happiest countries in the world have very strong social programs, including free education, and I would argue represent the structure you mention.

    1. Thank you for this thoughtful comment! I completely agree with your observation regarding the cost of post-secondary education. I am very curious to see how things might change if Bernie Sanders is elected in the U.S.

  9. As someone still in their 20s, I acknowledge the point but would add that: discipline within households and academia has become considerably less stringent. Our generation has a sense of security and entitlement, which has rendered us ‘thin-skinned’; hence we’re often less capable of taking constructive and earnest criticism (we’ve been raised in little ‘safe-bubbles’). This does a disservice to, and damages our cultivation of growth-orientated mind-sets. Today’s agenda is too often ‘what can we do to make our youths feel more comfortable?’, in lieu of ‘what can our ‘youths’ do, to improve their own circumstances?’.
    Also, take the internet, which has launched several careers, but also crippled generations when it comes to good health and social skills. Before they can graduate, even introverts need to augment these traits, to get start-up jobs which allow them to support themselves through college, as well as bolster their own work-ethics and their prepare them for the ‘real-world’.

    A degree of sympathy may be warranted, but I wouldn’t overlook the surge of monumental pandering, of which has hampered my generation, and is doing even more to infantilise the youths that stand to succeed it.

      1. I think we’re perpetuating a culture, where people neither expect nor are prepared to see their views and ideas be subjected to scrutiny. Adolescents today, are more prone to mental illness (fear of inducing suicide/self-harm limits the candour of critics/parents/teachers). There’s a slew of factors, but the crux lies in unclear direction (as per your points) and youths feeling too entitled to have respect and security (regardless if earned). Safe-spaces on campuses are the epitome of this mentality.

  10. Was just talking about this in Sunday School this morning. Have a habit of getting in trouble in there, but had to point out that church is irrelevant for most young people, families today because it’s still defined by how life was 50+ years ago.

    1. Exactly! This is also true of the career prep courses they run in high-schools. If I listened to the results of the surveys we took in that class regarding our ideal careers, I would be a musician or a police officer. Those career surveys are very much based on an older career landscape and usually just reinforces what the individual already thinks about their future.

  11. As a so-called baby boomer, your comment about “a standard life-course involving smooth and predictable transitions between each stage” doesn’t reflect my life. I worked out I’ve had five different types of jobs so far, & seen my state retirement age rise at least twice – again, so far.

    In my experience, relatively few people are lazy. Unwell, physically, mentally, or both; not very bright, brought up in appalling circumstances (neglect, abuse, both), etc. But lazy? No.

      1. Thank you, appreciate this. To be honest having mental health problems, and now working in mental health for over five years now has opened my eyes quite a bit. Some of the people I meet have so many problems, it’s unbelievable.

  12. I think a David Bowie song quote is appropriate here.

    “And those children that you spit on
    as they try to change their world
    are immune to your consultations,
    their quite aware what their going through.”

  13. You have very interesting outlook on the situation. As a witness to thisgenerational divide, it’s always been an us against them kind of stance. The truth is its a little bit of both. Baby boomers think millennials should be satisfied with the scraps they leave. While millennials follow the examples set by the baby boomers greed & lack of respect for one another. The answer is out there, but because we only see the fault in our stars, we dont learn to let our own light shine. Looking forward to the next post. As a product of a baby boomer, #NOTHINGMatters, but what’s in You!

      1. Not a problem. IMHO, I don’t think so. Baby boomers see change as a threat. Gen X, didn’t know how to navigate the tides of change. Minnellials, have no reason to change because they’re already aware of the end result. It’s not greed. They think no one is paying attention, & For the most part they’re right.

  14. I think saying, “Today’s youth are not lazy, they are lost,” is a bit unfair, Steve; even a bit biased. I’m not sure that today’s kids would agree they’re lost, let alone more lost than you were or I was at their age. I think they’d probably say that we are the lost ones.

    We feel the difference between yesteryear’s “standard life-course involving smooth and predictable transitions between each stage” (which we look back on now and realized was a propagandized myth manufactured by conscious, deliberate socializing programs) and today’s multitude of paths and explosion of both opportunity and uncertainty. They don’t. This uncertain (and extremely exciting and scary) churn of a world is all they’ve known. They look at us and wonder how and why we could let things get so screwed up that getting three university degrees bears no necessary relationship to the degree of living we’re capable of afterward. They don’t feel lazy, and they know we’re not lazy — but look at what all our industriousness resulted in for them. Laziness is a side-issue if they’ve decided that we’re chumps and losers.

    The big miss here is that the kids aren’t the problem, and their inability to deal with a world screwed up this badly is not on them. It’s on us. So the question whether or not they’re lazy is wholly beside the point.

    Comparing these days to our rosy golden days is no less cognitively biased now when we do it than it was when my parent’s generation said the same things about us (and all we did was grow long hair and beards, wear miniskirts with tops optional, smoke a bunch of weed and drop a bit of acid and dance to rock-n-roll) and tooted the same nostalgic crap about the days of their youth when everything was so much simpler, made so much more sense, and morals actually had fiber. (I never did understand how morals could have fiber, he he.)

    As to supposed laziness, what goal-hyped, survival-pressurized oldsters just don’t get is that the kids know better. If you knew for a fact that it was futile to gear up for “success” that — especially if you’re from a disprivileged social sector — you’re virtually guaranteed never to realize, you’d ease off on the achievement bluster, too. That might look like laziness to the clueless. The problem isn’t overly broad assignments, lack of guidance and regulations, etc. It’s that kids are convinced it isn’t worth it — and they’re right.

    You still have faith in the system. They don’t. It’s not a motivational problem — it’s a credibility problem. We let the world get to the point that it no longer makes sense. Hell, people your age and mine increasingly struggle to make sense of it anymore, and we thought it up! We expect the kids to do a better job, or maybe just swallow harder? Not gonna happen.

    Kids today aren’t lazy. They’re not even disillusioned. I’m not even sure I’d call them cynical. indifferent, disillusioned, and cynical about the crumbling ideologies and institutions we’re barely able to kluge and keep standing — no doubt. But they know something most of those in our generations don’t — our game isn’t the only one in town. And it’s not even close to the only one that will be in town tomorrow of next year. They’re not lazy — they’re silently transforming their expectations and readying a world we won’t recognize, one that operates by completely different rules, creating their own games. And don’t expect them to give us easy access to them.

    1. Thank you for this comment! I actually think your comment is longer than my post! You have touched on the exact theme of a future post on this. I agree that they are operating by a different rule. The crumbling ideologies are making way for greater authenticity and the ability to make a living in a way that better suits individual strengths and abilities. I look forward to your comments in the future when I elaborate on this.

    2. I completely agree with this comment, as well. The entire system that was created, that people are born into, we now recognize as dysfunctional. It takes a lot to map out an entirely different system, and although I believe people today are up to the task, I also believe that they are unsure how to map out a new way of being; in addition to having a lot of anxiety within because they were told for so much of their lives that they have no power to do anything to create lasting change.

      I really enjoyed your comment!! Thank you for adding it to the discussion.

      1. Thanks so much Juana! I agree with you, it’s a daunting task under the circumstances, but it’s already happening. I think part of what makes it daunting is our expectation that there be a one-size-fits-all map worked out ahead of time. But when you think about it, that’s an authoritarian approach. When things in life work well, they happen because people get together, each with their own contributions, and they figure out how to put it all together and make it work. The real map emerges as they cooperate and create together — and it’s often very different than any preconceived map they might have begun with. So, if we rely less on preconceived maps and more on the collective intelligence that eventually yields working systems and the maps that emerge from them, maybe the task won’t seem so daunting after all. The synergy and potency of creative momentum generated when people get together intent on achieving a vision never gets captured in any blueprint or master plan, anyway — not one I’ve ever seen, at least. 🙂

  15. Really good post and topic, I agree that we humans function best with a clear sense of purpose and direction but I would add that this people have never experienced need , I believe that instead making thing too easy for our children we should teach them rather to fight for things they want so they can develop a sense of need and even pride at the end of such a journey. Nothing worth having comes easy …

  16. The family has to be supportive to the changing needs of the children and the stress they undergo. A strong family can then use their strong relationships and/or spirituality to resolve some issues. Some issues would require professional counselling. For all these one need to communicate. The parents and the children (by now adults) are both equally responsible to ensure that they communicate about the issue at hand.

    1. I agree that the family is a key agent of socialization, in this regard. I’m curious to know more about your perspective on what it might look like to facilitate spiritual development.

  17. Great post! Being a baby boomer myself, I do see the lack of work ethic with some of my younger co-workers. I think the distraction of electronic devices leads to being perceived as lazy. I can’t tell you how many times I have caught my younger co-workers constantly on their cell phones. I’m in upper management, and frankly I get very tired of their attitude of entitlement.

        1. Thank you for clarifying. I think this might have something to do with the extra years of post-secondary schooling that are putting young people into debt which makes a low income seem like the investment was not worth it. This might be a disjuncture between the education system and the professional world.

  18. Yes, yes, yes, yes! I absolutely agree, especially with your last paragraph. With so much on our plates, we become lost wading through everything, worried about making a mistake and ending up trapped in a miserable job or relationship or living situation. It all is overwhelming and causes considerable stress.

    Although I consider the fluidity of society nowadays a good thing, I wish that we were truly taught to look inward for our own inner guidance, and encouraged to follow what that says to us. It might provide people with a sense of purpose much sooner.

    1. Thank you! I also completely agree with your comment! The weight of the decisions can be paralyzing, but the fluidity is also a good thing and we need to look inward a great deal more.

  19. Nice piece. I would agree with Natalie Edwards’ comment on the possible value of spirituality, broadly defined and not limited by religion. Many of the millenials I deal with actually spent much of their late adolesence/early adulthood in uniform yet face similar challenges

    1. Thanks for you comment, Richard! I really want to hear more about your definition of “spirituality.” Do you think we have have it in the absence of religious tradition? Could you define it as a deep level of introspection and the development of a guiding worldview based on one’s authentic experience of some form of transcendent or universal reality? Just made that up right now, but though i’d just throw it out there to see what you think.

      1. Steve, is it possible to have a clear or one defining point of “spirituality?” I think personal convictions, values and ethics really blend to culminate that for an individual. It is becoming expanded and more diverse simply because the youngest generation is the most diverse historically. They bring more creative concepts to our forefront. Love your work!

  20. Substantial and contributive thought to a topic always relevant in the generational war. Great post! I wonder if spirituality can, should or does play a part in motivation and guidance in moving towards something meaningful in life? It’s interesting to think about for sure!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I would like to know more about your perspective on spirituality. How would you define spirituality and what do you think of how it relates to religious traditions?

      1. I would define spirituality as an insatiable longing for something more beyond ourselves and a desire to connect with that. Some religious traditions are merely ritualistic and absent of spirituality. I think true spirituality will always redirect our souls to the God who created us because then we can satisfy that insatiable longing.

        1. I like that idea a lot. I think spirituality is absent in many religious traditions, frankly. I also think of “god” in terms of a divinity found in all things, not just people and not just a select few people. The trouble with religions, in my opinion, is that it strips people of their inherent divinity (or makes them believe they have none), and continually promises that they can recover their divinity only by adhering to a proposed moral code, created by the Church, which was created by the people in power within the Church. I think that’s inherently a “conflict of interest,” if you will, and lends itself to corruption.

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