Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

It's the age-old question presented on a pretty regular basis to anyone under the age of 13. What do you want to be when you grow up? It's quite possibly the first real thought-provoking moment of a kid's life when he or she gives the question an honest answer. What do you want to be when you grow up? Ironically, in many ways the answer to the question does more to define the person you are at that instant than it does to define the person you will ultimately become. What do you want to be when you grow up? The answers to that question often define a generation. What do you want to be when you grow up? In post-WWII America the popular answer has gone from firefighter or policeman, to astronaut or President, to actor or ballplayer, to rock star or comedian. What do you want to be when you grow up? You find the answers to this question often without even asking it; all you need to do is look at the posters that line a kid's bedroom walls. What do you want to be when you grow up? In the '50s and '60s it was Mickey Mantle, JFK, and Jim Morrison. In the '70s and '80s it was Mick Jagger, Joe Montana, and Farrah Fawcett. In the '90s and '00s we had Michael Jordan, Britney Spears, and Mike Myers. But I wonder, who's tacked up on the bedroom walls of young people today? What do they want to be when they grow up?

Before I get too deep and/or nostalgic here, allow me to tell you what my point is. Look at the handful of names I threw out off the top of my head in the previous paragraph. All of those people were, at one point or another, at the top of the line in their professions. Not all of them were saints; in fact, many of them either had some questionable habits or found themselves immersed in some sort of controversy. But at the very least, they earned their keep. They did their jobs and did them extremely well. Compare that to today - how many people do we see being richly compensated for what frankly amounts to a job poorly done? And (this is slightly tongue-in-cheek), is it close to reaching the point where making a fortune for either doing nothing, or merely doing nothing well, becomes the new American dream?

It wouldn't shock me to hear kids today say "I want to be the CEO of a failing corporation when I grow up!" I'm writing this partially in light of the news that BP CEO Tony Hayward is headed out the door, and is still in line to collect the the equivalent of nearly $18 million in salary and pension. Funny thing is, the loot that Hayward will receive is a pittance compared to champs like ex-Merrill Lynch CEO Stan O'Neal ($161.5 million including securities and benefits as a thanks for driving Merrill straight into the teeth of the 2008 credit crunch) and ex-AIG boss Martin Sullivan (a package valued anywhere from $35 million to $60 million). The list of similar golden parachutes goes on and on. These guys make JaMarcus Russell (sorry Kevin) look like a lunch pail-toting, hard hat-wearing union laborer.

Although I could go on about the severances given to Wall Street bigwigs who did nothing but make bad decisions and lose money, we've all heard enough about it by now. It's not limited to inept CEO's and NFL draft busts. Remember Anucha Browne Sanders? If the name sounds familiar, it's because in 2007 she got over $11 million from the New York Knicks in a sexual harassment suit. Let me make it clear that I'm not condoning harassment of any kind, but still, being talked to inappropriately by Isaiah Thomas for a few years is not worth $11 million. Take also, for instance, the recent case in Sea Isle City, NJ, where a family was awarded over $500,000 from the police department alone in a racial-bias lawsuit involving the school's treatment of one of their children. I'm sorry, but unless the details of this case come to light and are shockingly beyond what they sound like, whatever happened can not be worth over half a million dollars. $100k I can see, but once you get into the $500k range you're likely going to cost several township employees their jobs so the lawsuit can be paid.

The maxim in this country used to be an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. More and more, the maxim is shifting to getting something for nothing, or at least getting way more than you deserve for doing relatively little. We're heading toward people's goal in life being to get paid handsomely to suck at their job, or to be somehow wronged by a well-heeled party that warrants a big lawsuit. So, I ask, what do you want to be when you grow up?


  1. Ugh... I hate that your right. CEOs that are paid handsomely because they have great responsibility. Except lately is seems they never have to face the music. When things were going well people were complaining about their high salaries and I defended them. However, they should not be raking in this kind of dough when they oversaw a massive loss in the companies value.

  2. Our society lauds those able to beat the system, for example those thy collect unemployment benefits while making no effort to work or earning money under the table. It's all about what's in it for me. Problem is most college grads now want a sweet job giftwrapped and presented to them at graduation. Sorry, not happening. We also hail people who are professional doers of nothing, the likes of Paris Hilton and the kardashians come to mind
    - john