I see quite a few references to the fact that Boomer parents have passed on to their Millennial and Gen-X offspring a “formula for success” in life that said offspring must follow.
This “formula” will have the following elements (among others:)
- Get a good education (preferably at university.)
- Get a job.
- Buy a house. Prices always go up, you know.
- Stick it out at your job for 35-40 years.
- Retire with a pension.
Now I cannot deny that using such a formula has worked out very well for early boomers such as Maria and myself. We attended university when it didn’t cost a fortune, got out debt-free. always had a job available, bought a house at a reasonable price, worked the required time and yes ended up with the pension income.
However, the time when you didn’t have crushing university debts, when a decent job was taken for granted in Canada, when a house cost 2-3 X your income, when steady economic growth meant stability in society – those days seem to have gone forever. So I can’t see how we old folks can propose such a formula for today’s Millennials – and blithely assume it’ll work for them because it worked for us.
Our own parents didn’t give us any such formula for success. Most of them had to live through the Depression and World War II when life was anything but predictable and steady. My dad worked as a grocery clerk most of his life and later on had his own grocery shop. My mother worked with him in the store and when she was widowed got a job as a clerk in the local hospital. Neither of them had much chance to get an education.
Maria’s parents probably had an even worse time of it. Her dad spent his 20s in a POW camp in Iraq. Later on he had to leave his family in Italy and go work in Venezuela for a while. When the family came to Canada he worked hard as a Terrazzo floor installer. Maria’s mother had two jobs – one in a school and the other in a university dorm – and she spent a fair bit of time cleaning toilets and other fancy stuff.
So what formula could our parents give us? Sure, they had advice which we were free to accept or ignore – but it wasn’t a formula that was guaranteed to work. They weren’t that naive.
Our parents did teach us to:
- Make the most of our talent and go with it as far as it would take us.
- Respect ourselves and respect others.
- Try to leave any place we stayed better than when we arrived.
- Make a difference no matter what our circumstances were.
- Above all, be kind.
So as far as a formula goes that was it. These are choices you can make in life, not a pre-programmed method which if followed equals success – or if not followed, equals failure.
Our Millennial and Gen X kids often blame us for insisting they do exactly this or that, when circumstances have changed so much that our advice doesn’t apply any more. And in my view, they are more than justified to say so. However what our own parents taught us was the wisdom of life. Maybe that’s what we should be advising our kids to do, rather than exactly duplicate our life trajectory.