Margaret Thatcher Part 2: Margaret Thatcher vs. Generation Y
In a recent half-comical, but genuinely critical article, a claim was made that Generation Y consists of a few problematic perspectives: Gen-Y’ers are “wildly ambitious,” without great respect to practicality. They have expectations only of a personally “fulfilling” career as opposed to a “secure” career. And, finally, they are imbued with a sense of their own emphatic uniqueness. The article claims that there is a subtle belief among Generation Y that outrageous, influential, and personally satisfying success is practically inevitable.
There are a few flaws with the article, however, in that it addresses only a certain section of society: those raised in comfortable middle and upper-middle class with a certain set of cultural values. Not all children of Generation Y in America were led to believe that they were God’s gift to mankind, and many learned early on the value of earning success one difficult step at a time.
That being said, this Gen Y mentality does appear extremely prevalent, and this article is not the only of its kind. Another source, on the topic of marketing to Gen Y, says “they now believe they deserve to live first and work second.” They are praised for their optimism, while often derided for their lack of realism.
In other words, it is a generation of people who want to be the Margaret Thatchers of today, who believe they may well deserve to be her, and yet do not necessarily have the proper raw material to achieve such a feat as becoming the leader of a nation, or a business, or a field.
It is perhaps too obvious to point out that believing you are due a position that requires an incredible amount of work is not the best starting point for success. Believing you are capable and believing you are owed are two very different things. Margaret Thatcher experienced failure, and had to work hard and steadily to achieve all that she did. She lived by and emphasized certain virtues: “Virtues such as generosity, duty, selflessness, perseverance.”
Generation Y has its virtues, certainly: ability to work in teams, social consciousness, and a strong drive to succeed. But Gen Y is often deemed to be a very self-interested, self-praising group and this is going to be problematic for those aspiring to leadership. A leader has to think of their subordinates and everyone affected by their decisions. A leader has to sacrifice convenience and lifestyle—Margaret Thatcher spoke of how lonely it was to be a leader—and a leader has to have focus and conviction. It is also extremely important—and this is the thing this generation must recognize—for a leader to have spent some serious time in the trenches learning what it means to be led as well.
As the writer of the Gen Y article said, if the generation can combine their ambition and optimism with more realistic expectations, less self-importance, and a patient, consistent work ethic they may be able to achieve some of their very grand dreams. But never forget about the time in the trenches, and don’t give up while you’re living there. It will give you the resilience you need later on, just as it did Margaret Thatcher
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