Lessons from the Trophy Generation

Our generation was taught to follow our passion.

It’s starting to go down as one of the greatest lies our parents told us: right up there with “go to college so you don’t have to flip burgers” and “you REALLY earned this ‘best goggles-wearer’ trophy from your swim team!” (which is, by the way, a trophy I do in fact actually own).  We were told we were talented and perfect, every single one of us.  We were shuffled from swim team to school to Girl Scouts to homework and bed, we had to call our parents when we got safely to the next door neighbor’s house.  As we got older, anything less than straight-A report cards was a failure; anything less than 100% on a test was unacceptable.

Now they call us the “Trophy Generation”, because everyone got a trophy in every team.  And you know what? I love the term.  Not because we’re entitled, but because we were shown off like 20-year-old candy on an 80-year-old’s arm.  We were the trophy kids.  Our parents cawed and kvelled and displayed us like we needed a case and a pedestal. We were taught that we were perfect, and if we were not perfect we were worthless.

As adults, we have a reputation for being unskilled.  Entitled.  Antisocial.

Can you blame us?

“You have to be perfect”

This is the lie I never bought into.

High expectations mean that we’ve always expected immediate success.  Low standards mean that people who may simply need to work harder are used to less effort.  And as I said before, we were trophies: if we were flawed we were scolded.  Mistakes weren’t allowed.

This isn’t how the real world works.

“Follow your passion”

I’ve written before about following your dreams.  This is the lie I still believe: that you can be or do anything you want.  Within reason.

Those last two words are something I struggle with.  I was taught to dream big: I literally had an identity crisis at age thirteen when I realized I would never be a child prodigy. But just because I’m not Mozart doesn’t mean I can’t decide to go back to school and get a degree in music theory.  Not being Shakespeare doesn’t mean I should give up on writing.

The lie our parents told us wasn’t that we could be anything.  The lie was that it would be easy.

There’s a misconception among my peers that when you love something, you already inherently know how to do it.  If you love art, you never need art lessons; if you love writing, you never get critique.  If you’re meant to do it, it’s supposed to come easy to you.

This is of course bullshit.  Actually, legitimately following your passion is hard.  It’s really, really hard.  This is coming from someone who’s trying to make it as a writer: it sucks. If you’re any sort of artist, the change of making money with your passion is insanely low, especially at my age.   This means working to support yourself AND following your heart, which means long hours, low income, and a chance of absolutely no return.

And that’s after you actually get passably good at it.

We’re entitled.  We’re lazy. We’re antisocial.

We’re learning.  We’re learning skills that our parents learned in high school– our parents who wanted the best for us, who never let us skin our knees or go without insurance for a couple months.  That’s the problem.  The reason we’ve stayed so dependent for so long is that we haven’t had the chance to get on our feet.

Admittedly, the “antisocial” bit is just plain miscommunication: we’re actually one of the most social generations in history.  Sure, we have less face-to-face communication, but my best friend from childhood grew up a thousand miles away from me.  I have friends in Russia, California, Texas, Scotland– all over the country and all over the world. We’re just different.  We talk constantly, even if it’s through a screen.

So what’s your point?

What can we learn from all this?  The opposite of what we were taught:

It’s okay to make mistakes: you don’t have to be perfect.

Work hard at something you want. Don’t just follow things you like.

Don’t stop learning.


One thought on “Lessons from the Trophy Generation

  1. Pingback: Lessons from the Trophy Generation: The Meaning of Success | The Evening Ramble

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