The culture of hazing in this country — from boot camp to band camp — is no doubt born of a dangerous delusion, conflating the notion of earning your place with debasing yourself at best and putting yourself in a potentially fatal situation at worst. The problem now is that working hard for something is such a loosely defined concept to some that swinging the pendulum too far in any direction is an easy task.
Look at what’s currently happening to interns, “assistant tos” and the like. The New York Times recently uncovered the apparently new trend of “hardworking 20-somethings ” — folks in “rock star” jobs that put in long hours for short (or no) pay.
“Children of helicopter parents who have been overscheduled since nursery school might find it especially hard to set professional limits,” according to the Times. I would assume the same goes for the flip side of that argument: Could those same children, as in the case of the disgruntled wannabe AKAs, just assume they’ve worked hard enough by evidence of their sheer existence?
I had nervous nightmares about my first internship after graduating college. Would I have to pick up dry cleaning? Walk my boss’s dog? Be on the receiving end of a tongue-lashing for fudging a salad order? Would it be worth it? No matter how many fill-in-the-blank menial tasks were completed in the Mad Libs of making it in entry-level New York City, the answer to that last question would almost always be yes.
But hard work doesn’t always pay off — a hard lesson you won’t hear in your graduation speech. Interning somewhere didn’t guarantee me a job there (if so, I’d be Oprah’s righthand woman), and running 10 blocks to bring my boss that file she forgot before she left on the jitney to the Hamptons for the weekend didn’t mean she’d remember how to pronounce my name on Monday.
That’s the lesson Cofield and Compton may have missed. No matter how much you might want or think you deserve something, that doesn’t make it your own — it only makes it your goal. And not every goal gets counted in your win column.