Generation Y Is Not Impatient

Young people did not invent their definitions of success; they reflect the values of their parents.

This was previously published on Student Loan CPA.

When we talk about student loans and young people’s finances, patience always comes up. You are accused of not being patient enough for the things you want. People criticize Occupy Wall Street, pointing out that the demonstrators all have Macs, iPods, and Smart Phones. Even I appear to be an accomplice, because my article about rejecting my parents’ lifestyle implies that I have any fault in the matter. But today, I will set the record straight.

Generation Y is not particularly impatient as a group, nor are we less patient than the larger society. In fact, most of what we know is what we have been taught.


If you read Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist or her blog, you’ll hear her talk about howGeneration Y crowd-sources decisions or how they’ve been taught their whole lives to be great team players. This contradicts impatience. A great team player knows that he will not have what he wants when he wants it, because he knows HE is not king. I know that this doesn’t disprove the assertion that we are impatient, but it does reveal an inconsistency. It’s very difficult for me to be both impatient and incredibly collaborative.

Americans are an impatient group. The truth is that the kid Occupying Wall Street isn’t mad that he didn’t get a job with his unmarketable Liberal Arts degree*. He is angry that he can’t get a job even though he did “everything” right.

(*The idea that Liberal Arts degrees are “unmarketable” is a commonly held myth in my opinion. Maybe I’ll cover it later—but not in this article.)


One guy named James graduated at the top of his class in high school, and was voted most likely to succeed. He got a few scholarships to a top selective university in his region (out-of-state) with an excellent reputation. He did everything he was told to do by parents, teachers, and his community—but it didn’t work.

He can’t find a decent job. On his current income, he won’t be able to buy the American Dream for at least another decade. Is he impatient or are his teachers and parents impatient? I think the latter is true. They’re the ones that made him think he could have so much within a few years of graduation! Young people do not set social standards or norms in any society—nor do they drive country-wide trends. We only know what we have been taught.

You can’t blame James for thinking he should have a great job now, because he hasn’t been in the world long enough to find out for himself what it takes to get a great job. All he knows is what he’s been told, and what he’s been told is just not true (it might have been in the past). His parents never told him that college is designed for rich people, so he didn’t infer that a higher education guarantees nothing as far as income is concerned. His teachers never told him that the best GPA doesn’t necessarily get the highest starting salary, so he didn’t realize that graduating from college is the beginning of intense hard work, not the end.

James’ parents also didn’t ever teach him to live like a poor person. They took for granted that their talented child would be able to afford at 25 what they didn’t afford till they were 55. They bought him iPods, vacations, and other expensive gifts, leaving him to think they were reasonable purchases for a young adult starting out. Maybe this was wishful thinking? Their child is really smart, right? If HE can’t afford the American Dream, who can?


The important thing for us to know is that what adults don’t know, they will not pass on to their children. Some young people are employed, others are not; but many of them are falling behind financially because what they were taught is not working. People with the best educations available in their profession have salaries that can’t justify the student loans they incurred. There are top college graduates with absolutely no idea how to find a job or where the jobs they want have gone.

We should all stop saying that young people are impatient because it implies that we are more so than older people. We did not invent credit cards, nor pioneer their use. We did not fabricate the idea that a higher education is worth attaining at any price or debt level. We did create the notion that Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, Engineering or Accounting are “prestigious” professions—or the only ones with long-term job security. We did not buy our first electronic gadget, video game, or designer jeans. We did not invent money, nor do we set the standard in society for how it is used today.

Our parents and the people around us did all of this or taught it to us. They are the impatient ones, and for now we are just a reflection of their attitudes.


Read more on Quarter-Life Crisis in The Good Life.

Image of mini college graduation cap courtesy of Shutterstock

About Albert Okagbue

Albert has devoted his life to understanding money and wealth, especially how they mix with culture. He writes and is the author of Stop Budgeting Start Living: How to Sync Your Money and Your Life. He is a licensed Certified Public Accountant and has a Tax & Financial Planning practice in Houston.


  1. This is a good post, and contrary to popular belief, STEM fields are not the saving grace that the media tells us they are. Most colleges design their STEM programs to weed people out, and even if you do get your B.S. degree you still need to go to grad school. Not to mention the fact that STEM jobs are being given to foreign workers, not because they’re smarter, but because they are cheaper.

    I am a gen Yer. I wanted to work my way up from the bottom, but working for free, be it volunteering or interning is the new bottom. I’ll do it for as long as I have to, and my family is supportive, but this can’t go on forever.

  2. I’m between the x and y generations as well. Fall into that funky area. Was not raised by boomers (had older parents). I was raised with one college educated parent and one laborer and lived in a small town much of my childhood which had about an 80% unemployment rate due to industry failure. For me, what is going on right now is old hand. I’ve been through this economy before and I’ll survive this time too because my parents taught me survival.

    I don’t think parents can be universally be blamed. As someone in the cusp I was taught college was an option. We were poor. I didn’t get all the gadgets and special clothes so when I moved out at 18 I knew how to survive and be poor. As did everyone in my community at that time regardless of age. I would bet if one looked around the country one would find that more often than not that the regional mores are more to blame for the behavior of a generation than parenting. I have a great deal of difficulty identifying with these articles. Because I and those 10 years older than me and 10 year younger than me where I live aren’t told what’s right. We have all been told to figure it out regardless of parental generation because that is the norm of where we live.

    I don’t know. I see a lot of excuses made by all generations trying to shift the blame away from themselves. I, eventually, went and got a master’s degree. I moved back to where I grew up knowing I was going to take a hit in pay I would have made in more populated areas. But it was a calculated choice. I have friends from college moving here now fro the combined low cost of living with job options. I think a lot of the problem is (be it generationally or whatever) is that a lot of people get these degrees and have never ever had to witness working from the ground up on something. In grad school I saw numerous people of varied generations thinking that the perfect job would fall into their laps. That is is the academic illusion. That is not due to parenting that is due to the college justifying its own existence. That is not a generational problem.

    But yeah I really feel it’s less about generations and more about regional norms and mores.

    • Kat – I agree that everyone is blaming someone else.
      “That is is the academic illusion. That is not due to parenting that is due to the college justifying its own existence. That is not a generational problem. ”
      This is a really great point you make. Although it makes me curious about the choices to buy into that illusion. My father is a Professor, so college in my family isn’t what you do to become wealthy – it’s just what you do. It seems many people have bought into the illusion you are referring to and I’m surprised your family didn’t.

      Why didn’t your family think college was a MUST like so many others? Why didn’t they send you out of an area of 80% unemployment into other areas that eventually boomed?

  3. What resonates with me in this post is the sense of injustice my generation experiences when we truly feel that we “did everything right.” Did all of us get it “right”? Certainly not. Do I think I’m special and that I deserve to be coddled? No. However, it is troubling when MANY of us with Master’s degrees and high GPAs are having to wait tables and answer phones in doctors’ offices, because we can’t find anything else. We’ve swallowed our pride, and now we just stare in horror at our student loans, wondering if we should have gone to college at all. What used to be entry level jobs are now unpaid internships, but at a certain point, we can’t just keep working for free. So, we’re thrilled when we get a random job that pays $20,000. Benefits are a pipe dream. Ten years ago, when I graduated from high school, teachers and nurses were in high demand. Now, sadly, hiring freezes and mass lay-offs have made even those degrees useless. No doubt, plenty of my generation’s members regret not having the newest iPhone (I’m not interested, personally). Many more of us just don’t where to go from here. Life will go on, of course, and many of us will just change paths and start over again, turning regret into resilience. As far as impatience goes, though: I’m not the one asking when I’m going to buy a house and have kids. That credit goes to my family.

    • Kim – thanks for your candid comment. I’m with you 100%. Your comment about unpaid internships is so true because it’s the “new” thing in a world where almost half of people between 20 and 30 are unemployed.
      As you said, we will go on. We will turn regret into resilience. Maybe for us the American dream will be not filing bankruptcy or defaulting on student loans?

  4. Somewhat tangentially, I’ve noticed that US culture seems to expect a person to both move out of their parents’ house and own and drive a car at or close to age eighteen. Anyone who does not do these things according to that strict schedule seems to be thought of as laggardly and possibly lazy.

  5. All I can say is it sounds like Baby Boomer parents were way different than my parents (who were Depression babies, born in the late 1930’s). If we had a family motto, it was “Don’t think you’re special!” I find there is quite a cultural difference between myself (Gen X) and my younger Gen Y co-workers. They already think they are special, in fact they KNOW they are special, when they’ve done absolutely nothing yet to prove themselves! Many of them take criticism very poorly as they expect to be praised for effort even if their results are dead wrong. I don’t know what’s worse though — I’ve always struggled with low self esteem and feeling like I am failing even when I’ not, so maybe it would be better to assume I’m succeeding when I’m not.

    • Thanks for commenting Sarah. Most people would agree with you. Baby boomer parents doted FAR too much on their kids. Generation Y kids got awards for “participation” and didn’t have to actually win…etc

      So, why wouldn’t they feel special?

      In your case, did the opposite happen? What was your upbringing like – what do you think makes you have low self-esteem?

    • That’s an interesting point, Sarah. I am on the X-Y cusp. I relate to both sides of the equation.

      I was raised by two (divorced) Boomers, one of whom is from a military family. I was raised to believe that greatness, praise, etc., were earned; participant ribbons were an abomination. At the same time, I was praised heavily and taught (through positive reinforcement) that achievement is possible, and a goal shouldn’t be taken to represent the highest I can possibly reach, but rather the beginning of what I’m capable of. It was a blend.

      Fast forward, and I, too, have self-esteem issues. It’s not because I wasn’t praised, but rather because if I am not, I feel it must translate to a failure on my part. It’s black and white. And I’m not saying that I expect praise, either; rather, that I expect NOT receiving it is some indication of complete and utter failure on my part, when it in fact may mean the results met expectations rather than being remarkable enough to warrant fanfare.

      I don’t know if that makes sense…but I think it’s important to consider that the positive Gen-Y upbringing just brings with it a different set of challenges. As I mentioned, I am a bit on the cusp, so I suppose I can’t speak fully to the Gen-Y reality. Furthermore, we’re all individuals (even if not all SPECIAL), so I don’t think it’s fair for me to speak on behalf of any group anyhow.

      I want to close with one last thought. I don’t think it’s fair to BLAME our parents, who (I think, mostly) did their best to ensure that we didn’t want for anything and that we had good lives. It can be hard to know how parenting will affect your kid until the work is done. I’m not suggesting that blaming is what’s happening here, but rather that it’s important to be careful with the matter.

      • Thanks for your comment Rachel. Being in between the two generations has to be a unique experience. I very much agree that there are TWO sets of challenges – and one is not better or worse.

        As far as blaming is concerned, I wanted to clear something up. This article is a rebuttal of sorts to all the older people who complain about us. They call us names. My point is that until you experience the world for yourself, it’s your parents who tell you what to expect.

        After that of course, you will have to correct whatever they missed…it’s the pattern of life.

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