Occupy Wall Street And The Limits Of Self-Esteem

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Part of growing up is about accepting responsibility for your decisions. Check out this somewhat horrifying chart:

That’s right, more American students are majoring in visual and performing arts than engineering. I don’t care if you’re only 18, if you decided to major in visual arts, you have to know that there’s not some fat paycheck waiting for you at the end of the rainbow. And while I don’t give these young adults a pass — plenty of people navigated life without benefit of parents who understood the job market — you do have to wonder what kind of advice their parents were giving them. I don’t think I got particularly good advice from my parents on this front. But whether or not I give my children good advice on their careers, I darn well better teach them that part of growing up is accepting responsibility for your decisions. If you pile up $100,000 in student loan debt without a good plan for how you’re going to pay that off, that’s not good. If you pick a line of work that is notoriously difficult to get hired into, that’s not good. Parents need to assist their children from a young age with how to make responsible decisions. Telling them they’re brilliant and everything will work out is not going to cut it.

On that note, this insane attitude about education begins with parents. Somehow we’ve all gotten the idea that education is the best investment when it comes to children. Many parents begin the competition with education in pre-school, paying an unbelievable amount of money to get into the best school. But the thing about education is that it doesn’t always stand that higher prices correlate with positive outcomes. And for many people, they’re overspending. They’re overspending in grammar school and they’re way overspending in college.

Teach your kids that effort is admirable. Achievement is valuable. Maybe I’m repeating myself, but one of the saddest things about this movement is just how little it has accomplished with so much effort. I know, I know, it’s part of the whole “consensus” approach. But maybe that approach isn’t working (for more on why, I recommend this New York Times op-ed by a sympathetic professor). This movement is failing to resonate with the public — beyond the very effective 99% messaging. Part of that is because they’ve accomplished so very little. It’s great to put energy and effort into something. It’s also great to accomplish something. Civil rights and social justice movements may have just looked like spontaneous gatherings of strong emotions from a distance, but the fact is that a lot of time and energy and effort went into designing these protests. They worked on messaging, targets, primary players. They had concrete goals. My friends in Occupy say that’s not the point of Occupy. And I’m willing to wait and see, but the lack of a coherent message and goals is not helping things right now.

I’m not giving up on the Occupy movement. It obviously needs to work on its messaging beyond “get us out of our student debt” and “police are the worst.” But I have hope it will. There really are systemic problems with how big businesses play the government racket. If enough people on left and right see this, and are willing to do what it takes to stop it, this could be a great moment in history.

And perhaps realizing that the world isn’t sitting around waiting to pat you on the back and tell you “Great job!” is the valuable lesson these guys need. Growing up is tough, but it’s actually kind of liberating to realize how it works and makes it easier to navigate life.

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