Death of Anticipation
The Christmas season is over and as I reflect back I see that for all it’s rushing and busyness, there is something to be said for a time of year that forces us to wait for something. Christmas Day is the one day of the year that still has the build of anticipation. That giddy feeling that something you really want is coming. That the promise of what’s ahead is so exciting you can barely sleep. It’s a special feeling, and one we are sorely lacking in today’s highly technological and immediate world.
Years ago I read an article in Cookie Magazine about the Death of Anticipation and it stuck with me. Our modern world leaves less and less room for expectation and excitement and in many ways I think that’s a shame. I’ll take you through the top points heralded in Cookie to better illustrate what I mean:
In 1969 Nathaniel Branden wrote The Psychology of Self Esteem which established a link between healthy self esteem and future success. Though I believe this to be true, that a healthy sense of self worth is essential to future success, I believe we might have gone a bit too far. Every child is important and every effort is worthy of praise but we’ve found ourselves in a world where every child gets a medal. Where simply showing up is considered success. A world where children aren’t to be singled out for bad OR good behavior. Loch got his first medal at his pre-school annual Thanksgiving fundraiser. It’s called the Turkey Trot. The kids run as many laps as they can around the school and then everyone gets a certificate printed with their name and number of laps and a medal. I thought this was terrific. He was proud. I was proud. The kids are all included. Whether you did 50 laps or 5, no one is left out. But they’re in preschool. The oldest kid is 5. I think the problem stems from extending this mentality straight through high school. Why should anyone get excited about winning a race when the people who just put on their shoes get as much fanfare. In 1996 Dr. Jean M. Twenge published a fascinating book called Generation Me. Generation Me is defined as anyone born in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. Though being born in the mid 70’s myself, I’d say I see this phenomenon more in the 80’s and 90’s babies, but for the purpose of the example you can lump us 1970’s kids in there. The Me Generation is the generation that take it for granted that self comes first. We’re also known as the Entitlement Generation. “Generation Me has never known a world that put duty before self, and believes that the needs of the individual should come first. This is not the same thing as being selfish – it is captured, instead, in the phrases we so often hear: “Be yourself,” “Believe in yourself,” “Love yourself before you can love someone else.”* These have become some of our most deeply entrenched beliefs.
“We live in a time when high self-esteem is encouraged from childhood, when young people have more freedom and independence than ever, but also far more depression, anxiety, cynicism, and loneliness. Today’s young people have been raised to aim for the stars at a time when it is more difficult than ever to get into college, find a good job, and afford a house. Our expectations are very high just as the world is becoming more competitive, so there’s a huge clash between expectations and reality. More than any other generation in history, the children of Baby Boomers are disappointed by what they find when they arrive at adulthood.” ** The question becomes are we raising our children, and have we ourselves been raised with, unrealistic hopes, undisciplined self-assertion, and endless, baseless self-congratulation.*** You find examples of this in the school system every day. In Canada you can no longer fail a student. Grade inflation is a big gaff of the United States that runs right into college, and “independent spelling” and self grading has become way more accepted than it should. According to Twenge 30% of students polled believed they should pass a class simply because they showed up. If everything we do is fabulous and worthy then how do we adjust when everything doesn’t go our way?
If just being there earns us a medal, it creates a disconnect in our brain regarding what we are worth and what we deserve with very little effort on our parts. In a world where reality stars make more money than doctors what are we teaching our children? It’s the Teen Mom / Kardashian empire phenomenon. I was recently talking to a 17 year old who was graduating from High School and when I asked her what she wanted to do she said she wanted to be a reality star or, tongue and cheek, a trophy wife. It was depressing. She wasn’t really joking. But why shouldn’t she want that? Lack of talent and shame is now a calling card in our society. It’s as if we’ve been told we’re so great for so long that we buy our own press. Why wouldn’t everyone want to know what I’m eating for dinner? Tweet. Why should I start at the bottom of this company? I’m really smart and special. Quit. Why should I work for a company in the first place? I’ll just start my own business. Fail. It’s tough. Upbringing and celebrity culture are at a real cross roads with reality. Dr. Mel Levine, a pediatrics professor at the University of North Carolina Medical School and author of a book called Ready or Not, Here Life Comes, says “We’re seeing an epidemic of people who are having a hard time making the transition to work — kids who had too much success early in life and who’ve become accustomed to instant gratification” .
I’m all for going out on your own. For entrepreneurial endeavors. For thinking outside the box. Some say it’ll be the new generation of “Me thinkers” that get America on it’s feet again. They’re referred to as “productive narcissists”. Michael Maccoby, author of Narcissitic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails, argues “that businesses that rely on innovation, new technology, and globalization require far bolder leaders who can take risks, shrug off conventional wisdom, project confidence, formulate hyper-ambitious plans, and charm the pants off investors and underlings alike, so that they, too, will make a leap of faith and believe in the next cold-fusion-powered car or the iPod that pays your bills and runs your household.” It is just my opinion that self esteem can be healthy without being over blown, and that once you get past preschool the best project, runner, swimmer, etc. should be the one who goes home with the ribbon. Why would anyone ever practice, strive or work to uncover their talents if they’re taught that everything they already do is amazing and worthy of praise? Who are these people auditioning for American Idol who can’t sing? Or So You Think You Can Dance who can’t dance? Why are their families there with signs that say they’re the best. Why can’t we believe in our children without blowing smoke up their a*%es. Why can’t we love them and support them within the frame of reality? Egos become very fragile when they aren’t based in truth.
It’s hard to anticipate your future successes if you think by simply existing you will succeed. The only people that works for is trust fund babies and supermodels.
But, I digress. Other things we have ceased to anticipate….
In the 1980’s strawberries became available all year round. This might seem simplistic and not worth mentioning but I think it’s indicative of a culture that has placed value more on quantity over quality. Have
you seen strawberries lately? They used to be my favorite fruit. Juicy, sweet, red all the way through and the size of a quarter. Now, you bite into one and it’s almost always white, flavorless and more often than not, the size of a plum. Strawberries were not meant to get that big. We were supposed to eat apples in the fall and strawberries in the spring and summer. To this day I think there is nothing more delicious than a Ontario grown summer peach. But I don’t want one in the middle of February. Just like I don’t want Turkey in May. I’ll wait for Thanksgiving or Christmas. In our efforts to give everyone what they want when they want it, we’ve sacrificed the very thing we desire. It’s the waiting that makes it special.
In 1987 the sonogram was perfected to let us know the sex of our baby with almost 100% certainty and without a great aunt twirling a spoon over our belly. Now, I would be a hypocrite to critize this technology as I found out what we were having before Loch was born.Though I was happy to know I’ll readily admit it does take the surprise out of it. Personally, it was a surprise I didn’t want. Not so much so we could do the baby room in the right color or get appropriate non-gender neutral baby gifts, but more because I was favoring a girl and I didn’t want to have even one moment of confusion or disappointment in the delivery room. I wanted to be happy and adjusted and feel nothing but joy. And that was the right choice for me. As I’ve said before, it took me about a month to get over pig tails and party dresses and the fact that most children’s stores are 3/4 girl stuff, till I was psyched to have a boy. When Loch came out, I was thrilled to see him. However, I think it’d be fair to say that the sonogram and it’s subsequent technology has also lead to scheduled C-sections (of which many of my friends are big proponents of), early inductions pre-delivery date to avoid those last pounds, and official birth plans that rarely go as expected and more often than not cause mothers endless extra hours of grief as they try and keep on point. Sometimes you just have to let things unfold as they will.
The 1990’s were probably the biggest blow to the concept of delayed gratification. We saw the birth of the internet, the creation of caller ID, answering machines or services in almost every home and the creation of digital cameras. No more waiting all day for your song to come on the radio. Or for your pictures to be developed. No more trying to time a call just right to make sure someone was home. You can avoid people you don’t want to speak to with caller ID but our kids will never know the joy of hoping that that ring is for you. “Please let it be Jeff. Pleeease let it be Jeff. ” There is an entire generation of kids that don’t realize that you didn’t use to be able to look at a picture right after you took it and quite frankly, it’s just made us all more vain. “Ugh, I look terrible. Delete it. Take it again.”
We don’t get telegrams. We don’t wait for letters. We have email and voice mail and text messaging. Everything is right away. Every new step is faster than the next.
You no longer have to wait for your show to come on TV as you can watch it at your leisure on whatever DVR device you happen to be using now. Personally I often miss the television season altogether and watch the episodes back to back on Netflix or On Demand later. You don’t have to hope that Blockbuster isn’t out of the movie you want, because they’re all available on streaming services in your mailbox, on line or on your TV.
I can remember as a child waiting all week for The Wonderful World of Disney to come on on Sunday nights. It was so exciting to hear those first few cords of When You Wish Upon A Star knowing I had one whole hour of television just for me. Loch has been watching kids shows on demand since he was a baby. He’ll never know the joy of that suspense. And, not that it matters like it used to with all of today’s viewing choices, but 1994 also saw the Olympics switched to an alternating schedule. Instead of waiting 4 years between Olympics we now wait 2 and really are only one trial away from the next one. The Olympics used to be an event. Capital E. It was the only time we ever brought a TV to the cottage. Now you watch the opening ceremonies and TiVo the rest. I’m still glued to it, but will the next generation be? The more available something is the less exciting. Or maybe, we have so much now, very little even registers as exciting at all…
Kids still await summer but with the talk of year round school really becoming a reality – LAUSD is starting mid August now – what summer will they really be awaiting? And, to be a real downer – if you look at the environmental shifts, the Greenhouse effect is making our earth warmer and warmer every year. Without a real change we could be looking at a future of summer all year round. Let’s try to avoid that shall we?
It’s the little things as well as the big ones. It’s being grown up enough to wear high heels. Nope, Suri Cruise, age 3 has them, I want them too. Earning money to buy your first car. No way dude, I’m 16, where’s my ride?! Waiting till you’re in a serious relationship to sleep with someone? Who does that? Trading sex for favors in grade school or jr. high sex parties are becoming the NORM. I’m literally afraid for my kid.
The biggest things we anticipate nowadays is new technology (if you’re my husband) or sequels to films and books (if you’re me). Ah, Deathly Hallows how I loved you. I eagerly awaited you in print and celluloid and you didn’t disappoint. But please, can more people do this? It’s so fun to look forward to something.
That’s the thing, kid’s need to look forward to things. Adults do too. It makes things special. Loch is blessed at Christmas time to have a Gigi that gives us a present for every day (!) of advent. It’s incredibly thoughtful and we love it, but when I watched Loch wake up every morning in December excited to open a present, I wondered how much it was distracting from the excitement of Christmas Day itself. When I was young I did an advent calendar with pictures for every day. Some years I even added a chocolate one. I loved it but I didn’t get any presents till the 25th. I’d certainly never tell my mother-in-law to stop. It’s a lovely tradition that comes from her heart – and I’m sure it’s different for Sean’s brother’s family who have 3 children, so that the majority of the gifts aren’t for just one child – I’m just not crazy about Loch seeing December as one big smorgasbord of gifts. Maybe I should stop letting him unwrap Sean and my gifts. It’s become more about the present itself than the meaning behind it.
I’m hoping to instill some sense of suspense into Loch’s life but it’s hard. Everything in his world is so readily available. So instantaneous. He asked to do something the other day and I said, “We’ll see.” and he said, “Yay!!!”. I realized in that moment that though I don’t give him everything he asks for, I do give him a lot, and a lot right away. If he wasn’t going to get it I would have just said, “No.” My saying “We’ll see.” to him meant “Yes”. It also leads to a “what’s next” mentality. When you get what you want right away, you’re often off to the next thing before you really enjoy the first. Without anticipation. Without waiting. Without having the time to truly want, it’s hard to appreciate and ever really, truly enjoy.
Anticipation in itself is a gift. One I’m going to have to work harder to give.
* Generation Me, Jean M. Twenge, PhD
** Generation Me, Jean M. Twenge, PhD
***Roy F. Baumeister, author of The Cultural Animal: Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life, and Eppes Eminent Professor of Psychology, Florida State University