When I Was Your Age – It was MUCH Easier

Category: Weekly Columns

When I was your age

How  extraordinary that these oh-so-familiar words – “When I was your age” – now have a completely opposite meaning! There was a time when parents often exhorted these words to induce guilt, motivation, and/or reason in their children to excel. Today’s generation of parents is the first perhaps in history that can’t realistically expect – across the entire generation – that their children will do better than they themselves did. That is a powerful statement, but I believe it to be true to the core of my being!

When I Was Your Age

My parents completely expected me to do better than the one-year of college my mom completed and the high school diploma my dad received. My parents expected me to graduate from college, and pursue something that might involve using my brain instead of my hands, as my father had done his entire life. My parents expected me to make much more money than they did, though they knew inherently that money was not an end in and of itself OR that money was any assurance of happiness.

I hope my children come close to the “success” I had in my life (professionally). I hope they do much better than I did when it comes to their family lives. And, in my fantasy life, I hope they do much better than me on both fronts. But, I’m a realist and the world is a more difficult place than it was when I was their age: in almost every way.

When I was your age on pregnancy

Getting into college didn’t require a 4.5 GPA, an off-the-charts SAT score, and lettering in multiple sports, along with numerous charitable activities in my day. I went to schools with grades from high school and a SAT score that wouldn’t get me in the front door of consideration today.

By the time I entered college, at the tender age of 16 (another story), I already had several jobs, from newspaper boy to camp counselor. I had a savings account full of money I had earned — NOT only from birthdays and my Bar Mitzvah — which is the only source of savings my boys have so far in their lives.

Dog comic

I had NO adult competition for all the jobs I had during the summers between college. Now, the line of adults competing for minimum wage jobs is literally unprecedented. The word “outsourcing” didn’t exist when I was a young adult. We actually manufactured things in the United States, and China was a very poor communist country in constant turmoil, and Detroit made the best cars in the world.

My older son, at 20, has had a handful of short-lived jobs. He was a delivery boy at a local pizza joint. He had a few “day” jobs at college, helping with Open Houses and such. He also got the run-around, in truly unprofessional ways, from several places that promised to hire him. One of these was a franchise and I was so incensed that I contacted the head office to complain.


How do our kids apply for a job today: mostly online. How much feedback do they receive on their applications? You know the answer: none.

Are there creative ways to find a job in today’s economy/job market? Of course there are. But, are all our kids “creative” and as assertive as is needed today? Do many of our kids have parents that might help them “get in the door?” Sure, some do and those will have a leg up on many others without such access.

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Couple all these changes with how we boomer parents have raised our children and how our society and government have changed, and it’s become a recipe for failure. Boomer parents have raised a very spoiled generation of kids. Our government doles out “entitlements” on mass levels that are also unprecedented. When JFK notably said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” in his inaugural address, that was the sentiment of the time.

Can you imagine ANY politician saying those words today, let alone a Democrat?

So, our kids face a tougher economy, a tougher time getting into college, and a tougher job market — BUT they are raised to believe they deserve IT ALL. This is completely counter-productive to their best interests and sets them up for disappointment and failure.


Add into the mix the proliferation of drugs – the legalization of marijuana and its increased potency – and you have another deterrent to our kid’s successful futures.

A final thought. Did you know that something like 85% of college grads come back home to live after college – for extended periods of time? Did YOU know any friend that came back home to live after college, except for a visit?


The world is indeed tougher. We parents are not helping our kids by coddling them. They need to know the harsh realities of today’s economy and the sooner we teach them, the better.

  • jack43

    When I was young I was an entrepreneur. I didn’t care much for “jobs” because the people who were hiring didn’t care much for me. I would hate to see what would happen to me today. Entrepreneurs are disliked by the government possibly more than I was disliked by my bosses. Well, it seems that way. First of all, the government is sucking up every cent of capital that is available to be loaned. Secondly, they are regulating entrepreneurs out of existence. I suspect this is because entrepreneurs tend to be individualists and that type of person scares bureaucrats.

    No, I don’t envy kids these days. Indeed, I feel guilty that I ignored government while it grew into the monster that it is today. Sorry

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      How sad @jack43:disqus that we don’t envy kids today – I’m so grateful to have grown up in a MUCH MORE free America!

  • Mei

    Things are very competitive in Singapore too – I don’t even have to look far to know that everything is ‘advanced’ – for one, my preschooler is learning words that I only knew in high school! I haven’t even wrapped my mind around thinking what job my child would have, but uncertainty led to me thinking that having her be passionate and persevering is very important! And that’s the theme of my school volunteer project too, if I get selected (less than 10% chance) to be a volunteer!

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      Wow, it sounds even HARDER in Singapore @disqus_mAYzV8PM6A:disqus – every parent here can volunteer!

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  • David Weber

    Lots to reflect on here. First: I don’t get the “skawee rewet” gag (last photo). Second: I did return to live with my folks after getting my college degree, but it was only as an initial base of operations as I entered the “adult world.” I couldn’t wait to get out of there and my parents were just as happy as I was when I got my first apartment after six months with them.

    Third: Bruce is correct, there were SO many more options and opportunities then for a recent college grad. At the time it seemed as though there weren’t, however, because there was the problem of tens of millions of so-called “vanguard baby-boomers” (i.e., those born 1946-1954) coming out of universities and into the workplace. But we didn’t know how bad it could have been — a look into the crystal ball for the years 2000-2014 would have revealed what Bruce described, and we would have been sobered and thankful for the decent, if not “fulfilling,” jobs many of us were in fact able to secure.

    For a year or perhaps two, I pieced together a lifestyle based on holding a series of such jobs, full- and part-time. Many of my friends were in law school and medical school and I felt like an underachiever. Then, however, the light bulbs came on for me and I began moving into jobs in career fields.

    The point here is, there was that career “space” to inhabit sooner or later…entry-level work to be found in good careers.

    If I were a high-school student today, I like to think that I would get my high school degree and then enter a technical training program at a community college, choosing a program that would align with where job growth is and will be. Information about such growth areas abounds in business magazines and various websites. I would want some kind of program that trained me for something that at least in the immediate future would not likely be outsourced until I would not be struggling to learn and enter that field.

    Instead of or in addition to that, I might consider enlisting in the armed forces, perhaps with military specialty in mind that would transfer well to the civilian world I would be entering as a veteran.

    Continuing with this thought experiment: I like to think I would go to college when I entered my late twenties, perhaps even early thirties. I would then be more mature than the typical late-teens college student, and therefore more able to take full advantages of a university’s resources and programming, many of which are woefully underutilized by students. With a technical background and perhaps a hitch in the service behind me, I would have some good practical grounding that could serve as the basis of transitioning from working with my hands to doing what used to be called “white-collar” work–a career in the traditional professions or management.

    I think that the point of my “thought experiment” here is that today, the way in which one’s life may unfold requires much more strategic thinking and planning than it did when Bruce and I were young (I am M*U*C*H older than Bruce, but we are APPROXIMATELY from the same era). Unfortunately, strategic thought and planning is precisely the kind of thinking that is NOT done effectively, if at all, until one’s mid-twenties, when certain lobes in the brain are fully developed. Women develop along those lines sooner than men do, which in part — it is not the whole story, just part of it — may explain why the majority of college students are female. (And how it is that, in my own observations as a university professor, that my BEST students are much more often female than male; and that among those who major in my field, the most motivated, mature and enthusiastic students major in my field tend to be female.)

    • http://www.brucesallan.com Bruce Sallan

      David, don’t you remember the sounds that our modems made when we had dial-up?

      You in the Armed Forces? I had no idea you’d be interested in that…LOL…the irony is that with all the cut-backs entering (e.g. volunteering) in the Armed Forces is ALSO hard to do now!

      NO surprise on your observations about who is doing best in your (college) courses…sad. War on Women? BUNK – it’s a war on boys and men!