Cupcake. Precious. Mama’s Boy.
As a Baby Boomer, if you wanted to tease someone who was whining or behaving in a mentally or physically wimpy manner, you picked one of those tags and slapped it on them. And you did it to help the offender recognize that they needed to toughen up, work harder, or move beyond whatever was holding them back because, well…
Life ain’t fair.
When the goin’ gets tough, the tough get goin’.
And… What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
The attitude was that in order to succeed at whatever you do, you needed to persevere through all kinds of challenges. And everyone has challenges. You are no different. You have good days and bad days. Not everyone is going to agree with you. Not everyone is going to like you. Life isn’t for cowards, so you’d better find the grit you need to survive.
Or as the Tyler Durden character stated in the Chuck Palahniuk book – and the 1996 movie adaptation, Fight Club
“Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying, organic matter as everything else.”
Today, with our collective indulgence of a politically correct society that supports participation trophies, safe spaces, and refining language to avoid the possibility of offending anyone, we have raised a generation of those aforementioned snowflakes.
As defined by Wikipedia, the Snowflake Generation refers to young adults of the 2010s “as being more prone to taking offense, are less resilient than previous generations, or are too emotionally vulnerable to cope with views that challenge their own.”
I think of them as young folks who are under the impression that they’re entitled to a life free from disappointment or disagreement. When the clouds roll in, their maturity evaporates.
To understand why the term snowflakes has gained traction, check out this video of Yale University students who in November of 2015 went berserk over a professor who sent an email that encouraged students to tolerate freedom of expression when it came to Halloween costumes. The professor stated that Yale shouldn’t tell students not to wear offensive Halloween costumes…you, know, that they should be treated like adults. The video shows Yale professor Nicholas Christakis, (husband of professor Erika Christakis who sent the email) trying to engage students in a conversation about the issue. It doesn’t take long before everything goes south.
I’m guessing that Professor Christakis had one of the Southwest Airlines “Want to Get Away?” moments during that little chat. In reality, after the issue snowballed and he and his wife continued to be targets of student anger, the couple stepped down from their positions as heads of Yale’s Silliman College, a residential community where they served as mentors.
Snowflakes were in the news again last week when Manhattan College basketball coach Steve Masiello decided to go beyond the typical post-game press conference to talk about his team’s lack of mental toughness in what he called a “fraudulent society.”
“Our society’s fraudulent. Everything about our society is edited. Everything about our society is prearranged, so this generation is a fraudulent generation,” the coach said.
“And what I mean by that is they put their Instagram picture the way they want. They put their tweet out the way they want. Nothing is interactive. Nothing is real. So when things don’t go the way people want them to, people really struggle with it. If it’s not 70 degrees and sunny and the stars aren’t aligned and it’s not exactly 4 p.m. and they didn’t get exactly eight hours of beauty sleep… young people today struggle with it. Our society struggles with that, and for me–I can’t speak for other coaches–I see it more than ever.”
But struggling with adversity isn’t the only trademark attached to the Snowflake Generation. Raised by parents who coddled them, did everything for them, and refused to allow them to fail (and hence, learn), snowflakes are short on life skills… skills that range from doing yard work and laundry to driving a car, buying insurance, budgeting, and actually speaking face-to-face with strangers. The prevalence of young adults who lack these skills is so high that a couple of enterprising ladies founded The Adulting School to help these struggling young men and women: http://theadultingschool.com
Every generation is different. And not every member of the millennial generation (roughly, ages 18-35) is a snowflake. I know plenty of very capable, personal, young adults. Unfortunately, when you have a recipe of overprotective parents who defer to the wishes of their spoiled kids, and you mix that with an Internet that offers equal weight to every conceivable opinion on the planet, plus you add a heaping helping of social media addiction (craving online approval from peers), it’s not surprising that many young adults are troubled, sensitive, frustrated…and asking, “Why can’t we all just get along??”
I’m no expert on snowflakes, or how such a large group of sensitive, young adults even accumulated. But they’re real, they’re here, they’re in the workplace, and as leaders, we must understand how this intelligent, but high-maintenance group is impacting business culture, customer service, training needs…every aspect of our organizations.
And as parents and grandparents, it is our responsibility to help (i.e. push) our youngsters to step outside of their comfort zones, and to interact with people who aren’t like them (face-to-face!). We need to train them to be self-sufficient, to expect to have many failures and successes in life – and how to cope with both.
We must teach them to understand that what makes them unique is the various life experiences that shape them…and the soft skills they develop, allowing them to appreciate different opinions while serving others.
Can you teach snowflakes not to melt? I don’t know.
But it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?