A Letter to Gen Z: It’s Time to Fail To all my fellow young people, I hope you take a moment today to fail miserably. Show up to class ten minutes late and then earn a D on a test you didn’t study enough for. Afterwards, go hit on your crush in the hallway, only to get immediately rejected. Work your first shift at your new job at the coffee counter and drop a whole container of wet coffee grinds on the stone floor. Do something incorrectly today – mess up.
We’ve all heard the speeches by guest speakers in our high school and college classrooms. They tell us not to be afraid of failure. They see us as perfectionists, wound tight after being raised up by a generation of helicopter parents with high expectations. We care too much about getting straight A’s and not enough about actually learning and retaining information. If we did, they argue, we wouldn’t need to have a 4.0 GPA or a perfect report card. If we weren’t afraid of failing, we would see a D on a test as an opportunity to improve our lacking skills in that specific area. Instead, we crumble. Thankfully, we are not in a packed auditorium or gymnasium listening to a fifty-year-old talk for an hour and a half right before lunch. It’s just us here, Gen Z to Gen Z, so let’s get real.
The other day, I had the first shift of my new job. I decided to break free from retail and the food industry to try something different. One day, while scrolling along my college’s student employment website, I found an ad to be a student caller for the Office of Alumni Engagement. Now, at first glance, this job seemed like a no brainer. No more preparing food or dealing with a busy store with long lines, no more stocking shelves or sweeping floors. Instead, I could sit at a desk for a few hours at a time and talk about my college experience on the phone, trying to convince people to donate in an attempt to benefit the university. I saw this as an opportunity to make minimum wage, while potentially making a difference in my community. I forgot one very important detail: I am Gen Z, and I don’t really like talking to people on the phone.
Some members of this generation grew up with iPhones in their hands, playing angry birds in church pews before they learned their ABC’s. When I was younger, a lot of the technology that has come to define today’s world was not as prevalent as it is now. While middle schoolers in 2019 probably just send each other iMessages when they want to go play football or watch a movie at someone’s house, my friends and I used to have to call each other’s house phones. At that age, I had to get used to saying: “Hello Mr. or Mrs. such and such, is (insert friend’s name here) home from school yet?” Through this process, I learned how to speak politely and maturely on the phone with an adult, and I also learned how to ask them questions. As a student caller, the process is pretty much the same. As the years went on, however, my friends and I all claimed cell phones of our own, and that ability to speak on the phone in a more sophisticated manner deteriorated a little bit. Maybe I still remember how to do it, but after my first shift calling complete strangers to ask for money, I realized that I am a little bit rusty. I made about 30 phone calls, and I stuttered my way through probably about 20 of them (the other 10 were voicemails.) Despite only actually working one shift, I already began to consider if this job was a good idea. Every excuse I came up with just wasn’t enough to override what I knew was the truth: if I gave up, it would simply be because I am afraid. Afraid to make myself uncomfortable, afraid to try something new and different, and most importantly, afraid to fail. Instead of quitting, I’ve decided to let myself struggle at it. Instead of giving in to my impulses that tell me I should only be trying things I know for a fact I will excel out, for the sake of my ego or my resume, I’ve decided to let myself practice the art of mastery – the process of building up, only to tear down and rebuild again the next day. I’m playing the long game, in which I teach myself to learn and grow through constant mishaps and small victories.
What I learned from this experience shines a light on the two most prevalent claims about our generation: that we struggle a little more with non-digital communication, and that we are afraid to fail. The way I see it, it is my shortcomings in these areas that push me out of my comfort zone. I’ve fallen out of touch with my ability to speak with other people, even loved ones, on the phone. My response to that? It’s time to relearn. Any fear I have of not being good at it only fuels my drive to regain a childlike sense of fearlessness. With all the information the world has ever been able to offer at our fingertips, let’s not forget one of the most basic lessons there are: failure builds character, and there is no success without it.