03/28/2008 02:47 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Go Forth and Prosper!

With graduation season upon us yet again, it's no surprise much of the public dialogue is turning to young people coming of age, finding independence, and staking their claim in the real world. But if you've been listening closely enough, you'll notice that the dialogue has changed... a lot. And so have the definitions of success and today's role models. Some are funny, others are downright scary, but what's most troublesome is that sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

There's no doubt that this is the most sophisticated, well-trained generation to hit the working world, but there's a lot more on their mind than their final grade point average.

How do I look?

Typical graduation presents used to be pens, laptops, Dr. Seuss books, even cars. Today, add plastic surgery, shopping sprees and makeovers to the list. You've got to look your best, right? Oh, and don't forget accessories -- designer sunglasses, shoes, purses, and bags to match that new professional wardrobe. New PDAs, cell phones, and of course, a great digital camera to capture daily events are also critical to a smooth transition into the workforce.

Bottom Line: What you do for a living should not take a back seat to how you look doing it. Sure, they may look fabulous and project confidence, but what's all that confidence really based on -- what they have or who they are? And an even better question is "Who's paying?" With greater access to multiple credit cards and no one teaching them about compound interest, young people are racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt to keep up appearances.

What would Paris do?

If you find yourself wondering where some ideas about working life came from, look no further than The Simple Life, The OC, The Hills, or any of the dozens of other shows that glorify the clueless. This obsession with celebrities is definitely taking its toll on the expectations and paradigms of an entire generation. With a steady diet of the fabulous life streaming in at all hours of the day -- online, in magazines, on television, radio or podcasts -- there's more information about how celebrities and television characters deal with life than there is about real role models, mentors or former bosses.

Bottom Line: For many, there's a serious change of context needed. Checking paradigms at the door can mitigate some of the more frustrating conversations so you can figure out where their ideas about life were formed and then proceed accordingly. Once they're on their own, the rules change dramatically and it's their responsibility to adapt to their new environment as best as they can.

Mom, Dad, What do you think?

It really is wonderful that kids these days are so close to their parents. Most see them every week, half see them every day and many speak three, four or even five times a day. But now parents are getting involved in conversations with professors about grades, future employers about starting salaries, and even current bosses about benefits and perks. Oh my!

Bottom Line: Kids have to learn to stand on their own two feet -- the sooner the better. There's a big difference between preparing them for the real world and holding their hands every step of the way. Many today can't operate independently because they've never had the chance to make mistakes on their own. That just makes them hold tighter to the past and makes them more dependent on those around them. This is when their life really begins -- set them free, mom and dad!

Getting Paid

The conversation about what a person is worth is a tricky one at any age. Starting out used to mean starting at the bottom, but not for this generation! They want to get paid, seriously paid. Big salary, perks, bonuses, benefits, office with a window -- the whole package. Setting realistic expectations can be tough especially when you have a particular lifestyle already in mind. .

Bottom Line: This sets a bad tone for the employer-employee relationship. In doing this, it gives companies the impression that they're more concerned with money than experience, opportunity, and the chance to prove themselves. When you're starting out at work, remember: there are plenty of other people looking for jobs too. Do some research, find out what's fair and know which of their expectations might have to sacrifice.

If I don't like it, I'll just leave.

Job hopping has gotten really popular these days and it's no surprise given the new "on demand" lifestyle -- remote controls, speed dating, DVRs and even YouTube. No wonder patience is no longer a virtue! Before, the commitment you made to a company was second only to the one you made to your spouse (although instead of "'til death do you part," it was retirement). Today, kids typically get bored of their first jobs in one to two years, and leave to find something else. They'll keep moving around until they find something they like too.

Bottom Line: There needs to be more conversation about commitment. Getting into a relationship with an employer is a serious thing. They're taking a risk, too, and are typically making a big investment so everyone's decision should be made wisely.


Let's not forget the basic rule of life: Being young is the best time to make mistakes and struggle a bit. The real world is a different place with different rules and it takes time -- years even -- to adjust, and find a path and purpose.