By Eric Chester
Attitude is nothing more and nothing less than a person’s outward expression of his internal views. It is where your perceptions become your realities. So to define your attitude, you need only answer three questions:
- How do you see yourself?
- How do you see the world?
- How do you see yourself in the world?
The first two questions set up the third, and the answer to the third question — how do you see yourself in the world? — is the determining factor of your attitude.
Answers are within your control
Conveniently, the answers to all three questions are totally within your control. You get to choose how you see yourself, how you see the world, and how you see yourself in the world — no matter how others see you, how the world sees you, or how others see you in the world.
You get to pick the glasses you’ll wear each day as you view yourself and the world around you. You get to decide whether you like the person you are, whether you like your surroundings, whether you like your parents, whether you like your kids, whether you like your boss, whether you like your employees, whether you like the weather . . . It’s all your choice, and it all reflects your attitude.
There’s nothing groundbreaking in this message. You’ve probably heard it before, or at least something similar. Henry David Thoreau called thought the “sculptor who can create the person you want to be.”
And before William James said, “As you think, so shall you be,” he read a copy of As a Man Thinketh (1902) by James Allen, who wrote, “As you dream, so shall you become.” Allen, a pioneer when it comes to pro-moting the power of positive thinking, put it pretty simply in a different section of his book: “Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.” And Allen founded his ideas about positive thinking on the centuries-old writings of Proverbs 23:7: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (King James Version).
A positive attitude brings positive results
You no doubt know the importance a positive attitude plays in your ability to bring positive results (success) into your job, career, and life. And in spite of the negative attitudes you see every day, it’s not a concept that’s somehow been hidden from the emerging workforce.
I’d challenge you, in fact, to find a kid over the age of 8 who hasn’t been lectured to death about the importance of a positive attitude. They get it from their parents, from their teachers, from their coaches, from the clergy, from their scout leaders, and yes, from their employers. The reminders are everywhere they turn.
Why then, are so many teens and young adults on so many prescription drugs to deal with anxiety and depression? How come brand names like Prozac and Zoloft are as well known to them as brands like McDonald’s and Nike?
Why did a 2010 study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) find that nearly 50 percent of U.S. teens ages 13 to 18 have met the “diagnostic criteria for at least one [mental] disorder over a lifetime” and that 20 percent have suffered from a “mental disorder with symp-toms severe enough to impair their daily lives”?
Let’s look at four explanations.
1. Negative Is Hip
From where your young employees sit, it’s just not cool to be positive. From James Dean to Fonzie, and from Pink to Puck, the hippest youth icons generally sport a giant chip on their shoulders and are always looking for a fight. But where you once had to go to the drive-in or wait for your favorite show to come on to see the popular bad boys and girls, today they’re hitting you from all sides. Hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of bad attitudes invade the consciousness of today’s youth, and the worst offenders usually get the most attention and the biggest contracts.
Smiling, happy teens are viewed by their peers as goofy, spoiled, naïve kiss-ups. But if you’re dismissive, have an edge, or create havoc everywhere you go, you’re respected and in good company.
Trendy teen fashion stores such as Hollister, Aéropostale, Guess, and Abercrombie & Fitch employ — almost exclusively — the young, elite, cool kids in their communities who resemble their pretty-people alter egos in the companies’ catalogues. If you study them in malls, you’ll see these pouty-faced young employees stare off into space as if they have something much more important and interesting to do than sell the clothing that’s funding their paychecks.
2. Work Sucks
From the perspective of the young person, work is a bad thing. You’re supposed to hate work; everybody does.
Why should young people be happy at work when work is the very thing the authority figures around them (parents, teachers, bosses) constantly complain about? How many times can they hear things, like “I hate my job,” “Thank God it’s Friday!” “I’m calling in sick,” and “As soon as I can find something better, I’m outta here!” without it completely eroding their view of work?
Young people have been raised on the promise that they can have it all and that they don’t have to wait until they are old to get it. So if that’s true, they reason, why is someone asking them to do the same meaningless task today that they performed yesterday?
How can they expect to show up with a happy face when they’d much rather be in the garage jamming with their band or hanging out with friends at the mall? After all, work is a necessary evil, right? It’s not supposed to be fun. You hurry up and get it over with — you just want the coin for the pleasures you seek. So why be happy about work?
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3. “I was born too late.”
Members of the emerging workforce see a world that’s filled with the negative. They can’t escape the ranting political activists, the news of terrorism and natural disasters, the broken families all around them, and the corporate scandals that leave pension funds empty and executives with golden parachutes.
Today’s youth are much more aware of the world around them than any previous generation. The greatest challenge facing the youth of today, in fact, is that they’re aware of all the other challenges.
A couple of centuries ago, most people were only aware of their own misery, and that was plenty. It took weeks or months to learn about the miseries of people elsewhere around the country, and only the elite knew much about the world’s discomforts. Now it comes tweeted instantly with links to live video feeds and constant analysis from a dizzying array of pundits.
Consider all the negativity they are exposed to, and realize they compare it to the repetitive tales they’ve heard from adults about how great everything was “back in the day” when life was so much simpler, safer, and happier. Ever arrive to a terrific party just as it’s breaking up — people leaving, all the food and drinks gone?
Make no mistake: it’s hard to stay positive in a negative world.
4. “This isn’t what I was promised.”
The biggest reason for the growing negativity among young employees, however, is the huge gap between their expectations (what they believe life, work, and school should be like for them) and their reality. They’ve been told from the time they were knee-high that they were special, gifted, talented, and one-of-a-kind, and their jobs are sold to them by the interviewer as “a fun place to work.”
Once they get past the training period, they discover that work is not always easy or glamorous, and seldom is it fun — at least in the way they’ve come to define the term. They feel jilted. If it’s not the job they feel they were promised or are entitled to, they think they must be in the wrong job or working for a boss who doesn’t appreciate them.
I did some consulting with a national banking institution, and one of its leaders told me a story about a new young worker’s discontent after the first few days on the job. “Is this all there is?” the girl asked. “Is this what I do every day? I come here and do this job, the same thing over and over? This is now my life?”
Coming from a school environment in which there were new classes every nine weeks, lots of extracurricular activities to choose from, and plenty of vacation breaks and assorted days off, she wasn’t prepared for the regularity of work. Her new reality was a job that involved repetition, longer hours, and far fewer breaks, and it would be months (or years) before she’d be promoted or given a different assignment. She already had become disenchanted and was experiencing the onset of a massive negative attitude that would be evident to everyone around her.
When expectations aren’t met, anger sets in. If I expect the driver next to me to stay in his lane and he doesn’t, I tend to get annoyed. If I honk at him expecting him to take the clue and move over and he doesn’t, I get more agitated. If I mouth the words, “Get in your own lane!” and instead of mouthing back “I’m sorry” he flips me off, I might feel rage coming on.
Anger, in most cases, results from unfulfilled expectations. The same goes for unfulfilled expectations at work, except that some workers channel their anger into more passive, disengaged behaviors.
Excerpted with permission from Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce, by Eric Chester. Copyright 2012 by Eric Chester. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com. Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press, Austin, TX. All rights reserved.