Here's a letter I wrote to Jean Twenge, Ph.D., author of the book, Generation Me. It's a great book for any leader who works with what Dr. Twenge calls "Generation Me."
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Dear Dr. Twenge:
Thank you for bringing to light many of the things that I personally have experienced in my own life as someone who is part of what you call “Generation Me.” Now that I’ve read and studied your book, it is amazing to look at the amount, quality, and depth of research that you have performed for Generation Me. As someone who has hundreds of books on his bookshelf (many of them read, of course), your book is among the most researched and well supported that I have ever read. You don’t believe my critical acclaim? How about the fact that you base your book off of “twelve studies on generational differences, based on data from 1.3 million young Americans” (3). I have a tremendous amount of respect for you for the massive amount of work you’ve put into this book, and it truly shows that “Everyone belongs to a generation. . . society that molds you when you are young stays with you the rest of your life” (2). The generation that I belong to is rightly dubbed “Generation Me.” It’s a generation that is focused on me, myself, and I. We do things and act in ways that fulfill our own personal pleasure.
It should not surprise us that this young generation of people in their teens, twenties, and early thirties is the “me” generation. We all want what is best for ourselves: we want to make more money at work, have a nicer place to live, a more attractive spouse, and children who act like angels. We want these not because they are better for the world or help end world hunger, but because they feed our personal need to have an ego and, as you detest, an “unshakable belief that you’re important” (49). We want to be important and have a life of significance, and because of that we look to outward things to make us feel that way. However, as you outline in your book, our pursuit of what is best for us personally actually makes us more miserable, not because we don’t have more things and stuff, but because we no longer have a belief that we are important because of who we are inside. We try to believe we are important because of what we have, what we do, or how famous we are. We become more miserable when we try to make ourselves happy because we attempt to do it with iPods, new cars, flat screen TVs, and many other things. What truly makes us happy (at least I believe) is when we give a part of ourselves in an effort to serve others, which is a concept that is clearly not found in any of your research as being characteristic of my generation. Quite the contrary, your research has found that “young people have been consistently taught to put their own needs first and to focus on feeling good about themselves” (7). Part of that focus on ourselves comes in the form of self-esteem, which you have shown makes no difference in the lives of Generation Me.
High self-esteem used to be associated with good test scores and a successful life, but that is no longer the case. As you have clearly outlined in your book, self-esteem programs “encourage children to feel good about themselves for no particular reason” (56). This eventually leads to children having no real foundation for why they feel good. And when they finally do face the brutally tough real world, the self-esteem based on “no particular reason” will cause Generation Me individuals to experience “harsh realities of the real world” (68). This false sense of self-esteem causes even more issues when we get into the fact that Generation Me is taught that we can become “whatever you want to be” and “nothing is impossible” (77). This is because if we have a false sense of self-esteem, we are going to be easily knocked around when that “harsh” real world kicks us down, spits on us, and doesn’t let us get up, thereby resulting in young people having troubles with depression and anxiety that are much more prevalent in Generation Me than in past generations.
Coming back to your point of Generation Me focusing on “me,” we also see this in the area of sex as well. Generation Me has clearly engaged in the idea of “do what feels good for you” (160), regardless of if it will affect you later on in life. Many young people are told time and time again by both the faith and secular community that sex before marriage will lead to an unhappy marriage. But the common response from Generation Me is, “Why not do something pleasurable?” (160). This sounds ridiculous, but when you are thinking about yourself and nothing else, you don’t bother to ponder the consequences of your actions later on in life.
With that said, I am extremely impressed with your book, Generation Me. You compiled an amazing amount of research, and it shows in how clearly you have labeled and identified the generation of people who focus on “me.” While reading your book I found that I agree with you from my own personal experience and from the experience of my close friends.
One of those close friends and former college roommate who I dub “K-Rod,” often proclaims, “You have to look out for #1.” That brief but descriptive statement rings true for many people who are in their twenty something’s such as myself. We are out there looking out for #1. And why wouldn’t we be? Growing up were told that we are important, that our opinion matters, and that we are here to make an impact.
Furthermore, the concept of Generation Me is very relevant to my personal life because when I was younger I would always look to the outside. It was all about what I did, what I accomplished, and what I made happen. Dr. Twenge, you are correct when you point out that “Materialism is the most obvious outcome of a straightforward, practical focus on self” (100). This is one of the main ways that I feel your research is relevant to my life as a man who is smack dab in the middle of Generation Me. When I was growing up and playing golf, I had a focus on myself. I wanted to do well, I wanted to succeed, and I wanted to be fulfilled in that process. In short, this means I was focused on myself, which as you and I know is a perfect description of a Generation Me individual. The catch is that if golf was going well, everything seemed to be good in life. But if golf was not going well, nothing seemed to be good in life. Even though I had a great family and good friends who loved me and supported me, none of that mattered if golf was not going well. This eventually landed me in a doctor’s office in Turlock where I was diagnosed as being depressed and was offered anti-depressant medicine, which I hastily refused. If I would have said yes to that offer for anti-depressant medicine, I could have become an unofficial member of the “8.5% of Americans [who] took an antidepressant at some time” (106). Yes, it is hard to believe that a college student with a loving family, good friends, and a golf scholarship could be depressed.
Similar to many other Generation Me individuals, I fell into what you describe as the attitudes of “You can be whatever you want to be” and “Nothing is impossible” (77). In my heart, I thought that as long as I believed in myself and did my best, I could be whatever I wanted to be and that I could become whatever I wanted. Similar to the rest of
my generation which has been brought up with self-esteem teaching but no real foundation, for example, I couldn’t keep up when I failed. I’m not one who often makes excuses, but some of my leanings toward depression might have stemmed from what you define as self-esteem, a term which many Generation Me’ers are very familiar with. I am especially so because I was placed into what was called “Special Friends,” a school program that took me outside of the classroom to play games and talk about my feelings with an adult. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, the program was specifically targeted toward helping kids with slow self-esteem feel better about themselves. The only issue is that the school did this with games and fun activities, not any deep counseling or digging into a child’s real issues. You portrayed the lack of significance of self-esteem very clearly when you reasoned “self-esteem based on nothing does not serve children well in the long run” (66). And my life proves that self-esteem enhancement as a young boy didn’t help me as I grew up lacking a solid foundation of my self-worth and confidence that could have come from who I was and the effort I gave, not what I had or what I accomplished. Dr. Twenge, my experience of being told I can be whatever I want to be, given a false sense of self confidence through self-esteem, and then becoming depressed has shown how your book accurately portrays the Generation Me I have another important element of your book I would like to share with you that I have not experienced personally, but I’m sad to say that it has proved to be true in the lives of many of my friends.
Many of my friends have been sexually active throughout high school, college, and now into adulthood without a formal marriage or even a relationship. It has baffled my mind how sex with multiple partners has become something so casual and part of everyday life among some of my friends. As you observe in your research, there is a “disconnect between sex and emotional involvement” (167). For instance, I have one friend who by the age of twenty three had well over twenty different sexual partners. He would proudly display written messages left by his female sexual partners in his living room quoting, “It was fun, let’s do it again,” or, “The sex was great, call me.” This accurately epitomizes your observation that sex has become a “‘recreation,’ as if it were tennis or jogging” (168). It has become something that is enjoyed every weekend with someone new and different. Even though I am the exception of the many Generation Me’ers who have engaged in sex in high school and college, it has been apparent that it is a significant change from past generations who also expressed their sexuality freely but didn’t do at a young age. This has also led to some of the emotional problems that my friends have had because even though they’ve tried to not become emotionally involved, they do as a natural occurrence of such an intimate act.
With that said, your book, Generation Me is a revealing read for people who are like me, part of or interacting with Generation Me. I agree that much of your research is valid, and you have appropriately labeled, Generation Me.
Christopher L. Scott