The Trophy Generation Gets Married

By November 7, 20112 Comments

One of my favorite shows on television right now is 30 Rock. Lately I’ve been catching up on old episodes on Netflix, and I recently watched a clip that I thought was both hilarious and thought-provoking.

In case you’ve never seen the show, it follows an SNL-like t.v. show created by head writer Liz Lemon, played by Tina Fey. Alec Baldwin plays Jack Donaghy, Liz’ boss and the head of NBC. Jack also serves as a mentor figure for Liz. In this particular episode, Jack looks for another employee to mentor because his fiancée is uncomfortable with his and Liz’s unusually close relationship.

As it turns out, Jack has a hard time replacing Liz. No one fits all the requirements he has for a pupil, and in one scene we learn why the junior execs in his company are especially unqualified. Jack finds none of them to be worthy of his mentorship, sighing, “There’s something wrong with this generation.”

No sooner does he finish his sentence than a young executive walks through the door with a fabio-esque haircut and his eyes fixed on his Blackberry. After shooting off an e-mail he looks up at Jack and casually declares,

“Sorry I’m late. BTdubs, I gotta leave for my ironic kickball league in about ten. Also, I’m not interested in this position unless I’m going to be constantly praised. And, I won’t cut my hair.”

I don’t know why that scene makes me laugh so hard! Probably because his self-absorption and self-entitlement rings a little true. While it’s clearly a caricature of the self-esteem movement’s fruits, it’s not that far off the mark. Social commentators don’t call my generation the “trophy kids” for nothing.

Much has been written about the cold reality facing entitled Millennials (born between 1980 and 2001) who enter the work force. Having been coddled and praised all the way through college, the real world is a real shock to them. Entitled people don’t make for good employees either. They don’t receive criticism well, they expect higher pay, flexible schedules, excess vacation time, and affirmation for fulfilling their most basic job requirements.

What I’ve begun to wonder, however, is what marriage will be like for this generation. Granted, not all Millennials are that sheltered, but for those who fit the bill I wonder what will happen when they say “I do?” Marriage, after all, isn’t necessarily great for self-esteem. God has used it to humble me mightily. And how will marriage square with a mentality that an academic dean at Stanford described as follows: “They really do seem to want everything, and I can’t decide if it’s an inability or an unwillingness to make trade-offs.” An unwillingness to make trade-offs? Trade-offs is the bread and butter of my marriage! This does not bode well.

As Americans get married later and later, we are only beginning to witness the interesting mix of matrimony with instant gratification and self-entitlement. For now, what we do know about the “Get a Trophy for Participating” Generation is enough to sober the next generation of parents. As we think about raising children who will be good spouses, and more importantly good Christians, we have to weigh the importance of self-esteem. It is not that self-love or success are bad things, but they are not ultimate things to which all other things must bow.

In a world as crazy and broken as ours, it’s easy to want to shelter our innocent children and keep them from being broken. That is part of a parent’s job. But as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Amid the self-esteem movement, how will we raise up disciples who are ready for this kind of call? I’m not sure the self-esteem movement is prepared to answer that question.


  • Sarah says:

    These are good, hard questions.

    I too see an abundance of instant gratification, an unhealthy obsession with self (which is never coming from a place of worthiness) and either an unwillingness to engage or lack of knowledge from parents in teaching children about life.

    I believe Christianity can provide a balance between self-obsession and self-flagellation because Christians should be coming at life from a place of belovedness and victory, knowing who they are in Christ. It is this knowledge that sustains us through the hard times. Too often, though, I see Christians that automatically equate following Christ = pain, and they live in self-denial. I do not believe this is what God created us for – he delights in us, we are the apple of His eye, the treasure He gave His life for, if God is for us, than who can be against us? In my mind, when Christ calls us to come and die to the old life and instead, be born again into the life of the Spirit, he is calling us to experience and be so much more than we could be on our own, and that is BEAUTIFUL and EXCITING and GLORIOUS! Dying to old self is not necessarily a sacrifice, especially when old self is weighed down by labels and negative messages and zero self esteem. Christ raises us up to a glorious new existence in Him that includes knowing who we are (amazing new creations!) and who we belong to (children of God).

    When you come at the world from that place, it changes EVERYTHING. Gratitude goes up. Patience goes up. Savoring goes up. Love goes up. Peace flies through the roof. Power flows. It. is. awesome.

    Wow…thanks for letting me ramble on so, so long in your comments section.

    Be blessed!

  • Tim says:

    It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the same Savior who tels us we must take up our cross is the same who says we will find rest and peace in him. He really got down to brass tacks in Luke 12:11-12 – “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Wow, hauled before the officials and accompanied by the Holy Spirit. I can’t imagine how this can be sugar coated into sunshine, lollipops and rainbows (Leslie Gore, 1963).

    Once we started handing out trophies to every single member of every single team at the end of every single season, or holding graduation ceremonies for kindergartners, or whatever self-esteem event is put on, we stopped being able to value that which is truly worthy of recognition. Of course, in one sense everyone is worthy of esteem beceause everyone is made in the image of God. If that’s what those events recognized then super. But they don’t.

    So when it comes to truly esteeming people, it’s hard to say what that really looks like any longer. Our society has reduced everything to the lowest common denominator. God calls us to higher heights than that.


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