Gen Z is noticing that our definition of ‘hard work’ isn’t working

Children are telling teachers that they want to be influencers and video gamers. Exhausted teachers scoff at the idea that there’s an alternative to slogging away to a timetable set by someone else.

Aimee Pearcy
3 min readJun 7, 2021

A few weeks ago I saw a TikTok video of a young woman sitting in her car crying because she’s just finished her first shift at her new 9–5 job and she’s devastated because she realises that’s what she’s supposed to do for the rest of her life.

(I can’t find the video — I’m not even sure it’s still up, she got a lot of backlash from people telling her how ungrateful she was because she actually, you know, has a job — but if you know which one I’m talking about and you can find it, let me know!)

We’re making kids spend the formative years of their lives memorising facts to prepare them for jobs that don’t exist. Despite the evidence suggesting otherwise (Gen Zers know how to build a side hustle like no one else), we’re still telling them that their dream of being a social media creator or owning their own online business isn’t practical, and that they need to learn to be ‘realistic’.

This really sucks, because our definition of ‘realistic’ involves pushing kids into insurmountable amounts of debt, just to chew them up and spit them out and make them fight tooth and nail for a job that barely covers rent. And then we’re pissed when they’re not grateful for it.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that hard work often just…doesn’t pay. And an increasing number of tech-savvy young people are realising this (maybe you’re one of them?).

Traditional advertising is dying. People don’t want to buy things from brands, they want to buy things from people they like. I enjoyed watching this series of videos by loudang on TikTok about why she thinks paid promotion is killing social media (and how we need to deconstruct capitalism from our digital lives, which is an entirely different blog post).

This explains why Etsy just paid $1.6 billion for Depop — a secondhand clothing resale platform, where less than 90 percent of active users are under 26.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Depop is that it looks more like a social network than a shopping website. It actively encourages its users to build their own brand and advertise their store on Instagram. Some sellers have used the platform to build five-figure businesses.

Gen Zers have shown that they will work incredibly hard at something they are interested in, but they’re equally as quick to drop something that no longer serves them. Employees are rejecting the system by quitting their jobs instead of returning to the office. Naomi Osaka’s recent withdrawal from the French Open represents a new movement by Gen Z who are prioritising their mental health over work.

What’s more, today’s young people are extremely critical of capitalism and the society we live in, and they’d understand that there is no such thing as company loyalty. They don’t care about free pizza, a PlayStation in the office, or a free spa session. They want meaningful work, flexibility, and more time off. Most of all, to be paid adequately for the value they provide.

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