Yesterday’s show went well, and I nearly finished the sleeve of the Bijoux Blouse in between the waves of participants. I spent a bit less time sitting at the table while they were in sessions, because I led one of the sessions.
I enjoyed it. I always do. I think workshops have all the fun of teaching, without the responsibility of grading, meeting with students’ parents, or faculty meetings.
At the end of the workshop, I asked if there were questions. “I have a comment,” one of the participants said.
I was prepared for a discussion of developmentally appropriate learning, or maybe a complaint about the crowded conditions (I get that a lot, even though it is of course the participants who form the crowd), and nodded invitingly.
“You are so cool!” she said.
It was funny, because adults don’t say that to each other, and we all laughed, and it was also sweet of her, and I really appreciated it and thanked her. I always get good evaluations, and I often have people say how much they enjoyed it on their way out. I have even had people come to the store and ask for the number of that excellent presenter we had at the last workshop.
I know I said I don’t like to be the best in the class, but if I’m teaching it, I certainly want to be the best I possibly can be. I don’t think I would enjoy doing workshops as much as I do if I weren’t pretty sure I was good at it.
But this woman’s comment felt like a personal compliment.
It made me think of an article I read in the Wall Street Journal last week. The first generation of kids who grew up in the praise-filled self-esteem-obssessed classroom has entered the workforce, they said. They have grown up being told how great and special they are all the time. All the kids are winners, everyone gets a certificate for something, every player gets a trophy. Teachers are routinely told to find something to praise each child for every day.
So these kids go to work and don’t get praised all the time any more. They often are not shown much recognition at all, because it is not customary among grownups to express admiration every time someone merely does her job.
Some companies have, according the the WSJ, taken up where the schools left off, hiring a special person to “celebrate” people, because the rest of the workers have jobs to do for heaven’s sake. But most companies continue in the usual way, giving bonuses or promotions and the occasional expression of thanks or admiration, and the new crop of workers feels insecure.
How can they tell that they’re doing a good job if no one gives them a certificate or applauds them or anything?
Those of us who grew up before the self-esteem boom would be inclined to say that your sales figures, the percentage of patients who improve under your care, how often you get published — that kind of stuff is what does it. Not being fired is a pretty good indicator that you are doing a good job, in the real world.
But if you have spent all those years being praised for your mere existence, let alone any real accomplishments, then it has to be disheartening to go into the work world, where doing well just means you get to keep your job.
The WSJ was looking at this from the employer’s point of view, naturally. They reported that scores on the standard measure of narcissism have risen an average of 30% among college students since the 1980s. They are thinking about the management issues caused by this new crop of narcissists. But I think we should have some sympathy for these young workers. We did this to them, after all. There has been very little controversy over the self-esteem movement. Both parents and teachers have supported it. It is our fault as a society that these kids have grown up requiring continual, largely artificial boosting of their self-images. We are the ones who kept them from gaining satisfaction from working hard and accomplishing things.
Perhaps, when we see 20-something workers, we should give them a little praise. “My dear,” we could say, “you did an awesome job of delivering that pizza!” Or “I love the way you took my blood pressure! So expert!” Maybe this would make them feel better.
Unless it made them feel that creepy old people were hitting on them. Perhaps just handing out stickers would do it. We could all carry a sheet of gold stars with us at all times, and put them on the hands of all youthful workers.
Just until they get used to the real world.