Not such a good job…

The other night I was on the train and there were two college-aged kids sitting near me.  They were commuting home from their summer internships and they were discussing how their summers had been going.  Unfortunately, they were talking loud enough for the entire train to hear and even though I didn’t want to, I ended up listening to their conversation.

The girl was working in entertainment…maybe on a TV show.  She was going on and on about how important her position was and how her bosses relied on her opinions so much.  I assumed she was just trying to impress the guy she was talking to by making herself sound more important that she was.  But then the guy started talking.

He was working for Major League Baseball and to hear him tell it, he had singlehandedly chosen the roster for the all-star game.  He went on and on about how much his bosses loved him and how great of a job he was doing.  Again, I thought he was just trying to impress the girl.  But then he started talking about how one of his bosses liked “tease him” about things.  I thought maybe he was going to say that he was getting harassed for his Justin Bieber haircut…but instead he told a story about a spreadsheet he prepared for this particular boss.  He said he’d done  a great job and the spreadsheet was perfect, but he hadn’t used the format his boss requested and so his boss gave him a hard time and made him redo the whole thing.  But he reiterated again what a great job he’d done on this task

It took everything I had in me not to lean over and say “Um…that’s not teasing.  And you didn’t do the great job you seem to think you did.  Your boss gave you what sounds like a very specific task and you did it wrong.  Telling you to re-do it wasn’t teasing.  It was a nice way of telling you that you’re an idiot.”

I realized while listening to the guy talk that this kid is the product of the overindulgence and hyper-recognition that parents favor so much now.  I can only imagine that this kid has been told that every single thing he’s ever done was the most brilliant thing ever and now he can’t wrap his head around the fact that something he did was short of wonderful and amazing.

It reminded me of something that happened when I first started working.  I made a pretty stupid…and pretty obvious…mistake on a tax return that I handed in for review.  If I had looked at the return after printing it, I would have noticed the mistake…but I was rushing and I just picked the return up off the printer and handed it to the manager.  A little while later, he called me into his office, held up the tax return and said “Did you look at this before you gave it to me?”  I didn’t want to say no, but I didn’t want to lie, so instead I said “Why, is there a problem?”.  The manager said “Maybe…because if you looked at this before you gave it to me, then you are a fucking idiot.  If you didn’t look at it, then at least there’s an explanation.”

Believe it or not…this person was the best manager I ever worked for.  He taught me so many things over the years I worked for him…and I will never forget the lesson I learned that day.  It’s been 14 years and I still never give anyone anything without looking at it first.

I called my old manager and told him the story about the kids on the train and how it reminded me of the lesson he taught me.  He laughed and said that he’s no longer allowed to talk to his staff that way.  In fact, he can’t really reprimand them at all anymore.  Or require them to work overtime.  Or basically do anything that might upset them.  Because when they get upset, they complain to HR and they threaten to quit.

I can’t even imagine that.  Because when I worked there, no one cared whether or not we were upset.  No one cared how many hours we worked.  We were given our assignments and we were expected to keep working until we were done.  And we weren’t expected to complain.  Ever.  And we didn’t…we just did what we had to do and felt lucky we had jobs.

I wish parents would understand that they aren’t doing their kids any favors.  Someday they are going to screw something up and they are going to be told they are a fucking idiot and they aren’t going to be able to handle it.  Isn’t it better for their parents to prepare them now?



  1. Effing millennials. Even though I’m only a year outside of their birth-year range, I feel like there’s a definite shift somewhere between me and some of the “kids” I work for when it comes to expectations. They’ve never been told ‘no’ or that what they do isn’t amazing. It honestly makes me a little relieved I don’t have parenting duties, because I can’t imagine raising something so entitled and self-centered. Interesting article from Washington Post:

  2. Sadly, I see this far too often. I had bosses like your ex-manager and I think we might be part of the last generation who truly understands what it means to work hard for our accomplishments. I can’t ever imagine raising my kids to think the same way; that everything they do is brilliant and worthy of bragging rights. Because they will fuck up. And that’s okay. They need to know when they do, own it, and learn from their mistakes so they can improve their work performance going forward.

    I feel like we speak a whole different language than the kids you saw on the train the other day though :(

  3. Its crazy – there is a big controversy up here right now about a no-zero rule in public schools.
    Essentially, teachers aren’t allowed to give students a zero on any test or assignment no matter how much they deserve it.
    Because that is so obviously the best way to prepare them for adulthood.

  4. I’m shocked that kid on the train didn’t tell the girl about the awesome trophy and juice box he received for participating in his work day.

    I don’t get this new mentality at all – my office is still a bit old school when it comes to telling you if you’ve done something wrong but I’m sure it would get overly PC if needed.

    This is not a win win at all, IMO.

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