When I look around at the world today I see so many great advancements and progress but I also see a deteriorating culture that is obsessed with “self”. One only needs to scroll through Facebook or a magazine to see how far we have tipped the scales towards selfishness and entitlement. What started out as a good intention in the 1970’s to build self esteem has lead us into a downward spiral. The financial markets which are ambivalent to how we feel about ourselves taught us a hard lesson in 2008 that there are limitations to satisfying “me”. Government is also suffering the results of entitlement policy with record high debt levels, welfare program participants and unemployment. At the core the individual is suffering the greatest with record high statistics of depression, obesity and regression in intelligence. The focus on “self” is crippling the financial markets, government and the individual. Yet we still regularly reaffirm its importance, here are just a few messages I continue see in cultural outlets that have been ingrained in our minds for decades now.
- Love yourself first and everything else will fall in line.
I’m going to do whats right for me.
- I won’t apologize for who I am.
- Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do.
- Believe in yourself and anything is possible.
- Express yourself and Be yourself.
Our culture is screaming that “its all about me”! I have no issue with self confidence and believe it to be a great quality but not at the expense of reality and truth. There are limitations in the world that we are teaching our children and young adults do not exist. It is now a regular occurrence to give everyone a trophy, grade inflation at universities is a real problem and we are constantly reaffirming our children that they are special even when their results do not warrant that title. Again, good intentions but its leaving the younger generations completely ill-equipped to deal with real life problems. As a result, we are lacking leadership in the younger generations and it has left the family and communities we live in broken. This trend has also left us behind emerging markets like China and India in the core areas of math, science and reading. I’m sure the emerging markets are amused at how smart we think we are while boasting lower tier test scores. It is both comical and depressing! Lets look at a few statistics and trends to show how far we have gone from selflessness to selfishness (the statistics were gathered over decades of survey’s from thousands of students). These statistics also show the disconnect in reality with the younger generations which score an “A” in self confidence and an “F” in actual results. This gap must be addressed and narrowed if we have any hope for our future.
- New data suggests students today are convinced of their own greatness regardless of whether they’ve accomplished anything.
- 70% of students today believe they are “above average” or in the “top 10%” as students.
- 30% increase in narcissism in students since 1979.
- While students are much more likely to call themselves gifted in writing abilities, objective test scores actually show that their writing abilities are far less than those of their 1960s counterparts.
- Also on the decline is the amount of time spent studying, with little more than a third of students saying they study for six or more hours a week compared to almost half of all students claiming the same in the late 1980s.
- over the last four decades there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being ‘above average’ in the areas of academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability, and self-confidence.
- Despite a library’s worth of self-help books promoting the idea we can achieve anything if we believe we can, there’s very little evidence that raising self-esteem produces positive, real-world outcomes.
The result of this disconnect is that we are producing decades of children and students with record high self esteem and sending them into a global economy that is more competitive than it ever has been in history. Simply put, we are sending our younger generations into a gun fight with a knife. What ensues is that “Jr” finds out real quick that he is not “special” compared to the talent and work ethic coming out of other parts of the world and the perfect life he was told he would have is not happening. What happens from here is entitlement, “Jr” is mad for realizing he has been sold a false story so now he turns to government, community and family for retribution. We are seeing all kinds of outlandish behavior due to this breakdown in our culture.
The “like” button may be making us feel better about ourselves but it is destroying our perception of reality. No society can grow or prosper when its built on selfishness and entitlement. Great sacrifices were made in order for the United States to become a reality and for over 200 years we have prospered due to selflessness not selfishness. We all have unique talents, backgrounds and perspectives that make up our nation, it is the collection of these attributes working together which allows a society to function. If we continue to move forward with the mindset of “whats in it for me” then we are in for a dark future.
In my own experience working with entrepreneurs and companies I see this disconnect between confidence and reality on a regular basis. No amount of self confidence or self help books or seminars can replace hard work, a good idea, leadership or market acceptance. It really frustrates me to see someone clearly heading for failure but because they were told they could do anything spend many wasted years chasing that ideal. Culture is a powerful force and I am not immune to it nor is anyone. There is no doubt that in certain ways I have added to the problem. I write this blog today as a reminder to myself and others that we must recognize the issues within our culture. Let the facts of this disconnect motivate the younger generation to not be defined by reckless selfishness and entitlement. The younger generation has the ability to utilize the benefits of the digital age and match it with timeless aspects of character and integrity to become another great generation. Lets look to the words of some of the great leaders that came before us for wisdom on how to take on a selfless attitude and live a life full of purpose.
“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” JFK
“Opportunity is often missed because it is disguised in overalls and looks like work.” Ann Landers
“We are what we repeatedly do, Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle
“The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.” Norman Peale
For those of you who want to learn more on this subject, I suggest you read the book Generation Me by Jean Twenge. My data points have all come from this book.