There’s fear and uncertainty about the future among many of today’s college students. The hiring outlook in many industries is tough. Over the last two years, employment rates and starting salaries have fallen off a cliff. One study found that 55 percent of recent humanities majors are either not working, or hold jobs that require no college degree.
I’ve heard of Stanford honors graduates who work as nannies, and political science graduates who are working the night shift at an Amazon warehouse. Here’s the scary part: Their friends call them “lucky.” The statistics on college graduates who will end up living at home with their parents—roughly seven out of ten–are pretty scary, too.
None of this is welcome news. Unfortunately, these are the times we are living in, and we all have to find a way to deal with the realities we face.
With that in mind, I want to pass along some thoughts on launching a career that I recently shared with more than 300 University of South Florida (USF) from two marketing classes. It had a shocking effect, but I like to think that they embraced the advice I had to offer. Here’s the first part of what I told them.
SECOND PLACE SUCKS. That’s the most important message I have to share with you today.
Why should I have to tell you that? Because, growing up, you were told that you were all winners. Remember? When you were younger, and you went to your weekend soccer matches … or your football games, or your tennis tournaments, or your cheerleading competitions, or your baseball games, or your debates, or your lacrosse matches — anybody who showed up got a trophy. That was WRONG.
There are winners AND losers in life. That is the big life lesson for all of us. This particular life lesson should start at a very young age. In your case, it didn’t.
It may not be much fun to hear now, but you need to hear it if you expect to survive out there: You are a generation that expects everything … without having to work hard for what you get. You are The Trophy Generation.
You’ve seen college dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates quit school and become billionaires. What you didn’t recognize was that these people were unique, one-in-a-million visionaries. They had an incredible ability to a) see what the world needed before the world realized it and b) act on what they knew. By the way, you also didn’t see how much hard work and sacrifice went into making their success stories possible.
What you have seen, though — up close, in color, and in detail — is way too many coarse, untalented people becoming famous overnight. Take Mike “The Situation” from the television show Jersey Shore. He’s rich. He’s famous. And he’s a dirtbag. Is that who you want to be? Is that what you want your children to imitate? I hope not. But today, America rewards that kind of disruptive, unscrupulous behavior with massive wealth and fame. Why? Because it entertains you.
You’ve had more access to instant information and instant gratification than any previous generation in the history of humanity. As a result of all that stimulation, you sometimes missed important lessons about basic survival skills. You were too busy playing games.
I repeat: You are The Trophy Generation. You expect way too much. You expect to be praised and rewarded for coming in second. Hell, you expect to be rewarded for just showing up. Guess what? There is no second place. And, in the real word, people don’t get paid for just showing up.
My message to you is pretty simple. If you play, you’d better play to win, especially now. Second place will not pay the bills. You’d better accept right now that “competition” is not a dirty word … but “runner-up” is.
This economy is based on competition, and so is everything that Zuckerberg, Jobs, and Gates achieved. Reality is based on winners and losers. Our agency, Zimmerman Advertising, is made up of competitive people. And we all have one thing in common: we hate like hell to lose. We have no use for second place. You shouldn’t either.
Outside the elevator at our agency is a sign: “Relentlessly pursue the client’s goal, but never rest in the glory.” We are only successful because our clients are successful. And, even when they are successful, we strive for more. That’s what we’re all about, and I hope to hell that it’s what you decide to be about, too.
You Sleep When You Die: The Trophy Generation: Series