We can do anything we set our minds to; the sky is the limit; all it takes to be extraordinary is that little bit of extra.
As a millennial, every college student on this campus has grown up on a steady diet of these encouraging phrases and clichés. When Dr. Spock wrote Commonsense Book of Baby and Child Care and stressed the importance of children's self-worth, our parents' and grandparents' generations dutifully paid attention, pumping us up with the belief that we can change the world.
And now, as we begin to pour into America's workforce, employers say we're indulgent, needy and lazy. According to a study by EY, we're not good team players. Our iPhones make communication immediate – we expect everything else to work likewise.
Not to be too radical, but maybe our indulgence developed when we started winning trophies for not winning anything at all. Those participation awards we all "won" every time we showed up for a game are outnumbered only by the Certificates of Achievement we "earned" in elementary school classrooms.
Maybe letting us stroll around a track in gym class, instead of submitting us to the potential embarrassment and sweat of jogging, instilled a distinct aversion to hard work. Who knows – maybe it has a part in the monstrous obesity rates of today's America.
Maybe all those character-building posters, with hearty messages about respect for everybody, taught us that respect is nothing to be earned. It is simply and freely given, no effort necessary.
Maybe we're needy because we were never left in want.
Somewhere after "sticks and stones may break my bones," words began to hurt us. Criticism became bullying. Discipline became hazing. Spanking children became corporal punishment.
The hard reality that college should teach us – the reality that life after college most certainly will reaffirm – is that only one player wins. Everyone else has to lose. And losers don't get trophies in the workplace – they get to watch their bosses congratulate the recently promoted winner.
The phrase "don't sweat it" – rewrite it. If we're not sweating, if we're not running, if our noses aren't pressed to the grindstone, then we will not pass. Gym class is over, and all the kids that were running have lapped us.
And though nobody should deny another his right to human dignity, nobody should grant respect unearned. After college, nobody will. High-powered CEOs will not walk up to us as interns and ask our opinions, because we will not have proven our opinion to be worth the walk and breath it takes to ask.
People will criticize us, embarrass us, ridicule us, demand productivity from us and make us feel uncomfortable. If we don't learn how to handle those situations, we need to find organizations to teach us. Good luck. There's not a whole lot of those left.
And even if we manage all that – even if we remedy all the things that make such supposedly soft and childish and poor workers – we have to come to grips with the one cliché that is true.
Life isn't fair.
Some of us won't achieve the things we set our minds to; some of us won't make our dreams come true; extraordinary is much more than a little extra. Look around – as Americans, we enjoy excellent infrastructure, in-house toilets and efficient garbage management systems. Do you think the people who pick up your trash dreamed of doing that someday? Do you think the people who worked factory jobs to create those Nike running shoes dreamed of making your outfits?
The world is built on broken dreams. And if we want to keep our dreams intact, we have to build them from sweat and endurance and sacrifice.
Unlike those plastic trophies, success won't be granted just for showing up.
R.J. Vogt is a junior in College Scholars. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.