Kings of the hill
I spent last semester living and working in Washington, DC through the Best Semester program. I lived in an apartment in the shadow of the Capitol dome, walked past the Supreme Court on my way to work and regularly stood in line at Starbucks behind senators and members of Congress. I learned an incredible amount about my vocation, my field of study and my future career.
Most of my time was occupied by an internship in the United States Congress. I worked for a freshman member from California, an up-and-coming Congressman who holds a seat on the Foreign Affairs committee. I learned by listening and networking, striving to be the best intern I could. In Washington, jobs are not attained through job boards and applications. You get the job you want by excelling in internships and cultivating network connections. In order to be effective, I sought to listen to my superiors and supervisors to discover their points of view about hiring members of my generation.
Here was their complaint — young people have an absurdly large sense of entitlement. We graduate from our universities, brimming with a strongly held belief that the world is our oyster. We are raised to believe that participation is what counts — receiving trophies simply for showing up, being told that we are extraordinary, being coaxed into believing that our every passing thought is worth other people’s time.
My generation’s sense of entitlement nurtured by social media bleeds into our work habits. Members of my generation get internships and walk in on the first day expecting great and grand projects. They start a political internship and expect to start by writing laws.
When confronted with reality — that they are, for the most part, amateurs and treated as such — members of my generation react with indignation. “How dare you ask me to organize that file cabinet! Don’t you know that I was a ASB president in high school?!?”
Faced with such a “lowly task,” one of two things happen. They either begin whatever menial, intern-esque task they are assigned halfheartedly, complainingly and grudgingly, or they prove to lack even the basic competency to do these small jobs. In other words, they find themselves unable or unwilling to do a job they believe beneath them.
The generations preceding us knew the value of hard work. They understood that, when occupying an entry level position, no task is beneath them. They realized the quickest way to get out of a job you dislike is persistent, unrelenting excellence. Do they have you fetching coffee? Get every single order correct with a smile on your face and they might give you an actual job to do. No one has ever been promoted because of half-heartedness. Countless people have been promoted because of enthusiasm.
The crippling agent of our generation is our entitlement. We expect speed, affirmation and rapid promotion and refuse to settle for anything less.
If there is one thing I learned in our nation’s capital, it is the reality of our generation’s overwhelming arrogance. If we want to occupy positions of influence and prestige, we have to humble ourselves enough to be worthy of them.