My parents straddled that fine line so many good parents seem to battle with - the line between "you can do anything you set your mind to" and "nobody owes you anything"
I never truly appreciated just what a potent combination of truisms these are. Powerful apart but unbeatable together. As the stream of negative articles become a deluge they are two concepts we need to get out more. Because if there is anything my generation really needs it's a dose of optimism, aspiration and yes a reality check.
Nothing can be more dangerous to an already anxious generation than to sink into a hole of depression. I am tired of reading disheartening articles about how younger generations are already failed and without a future. How we are doomed to despair, how older generations have given up on us as a hopeless case. All this negativity, it's no wonder we are starting to believe it.
David Brooks, in his article in the NY Times last month quoted one of his students when he coined the expression "Cynic Kids". Millenials he said are "suspicious of causality, don't like idealism ... and require mountains of empirical evidence before making any decision"
That may be true but it doesn't have to be. It's certainly not what I saw tonight at the IF!Britain awards. IF!Britain is a nationwide competition that gives 16-25 year olds an opportunity to propose solutions to solve Britain's problems. The hall was packed - so much potential and energy in the room. Cynicism was absent.
The noisy and active mingling in the room was proof we can raise our own bar, our own expectations of ourselves, as individuals and as a collective. Time to prove the doubters wrong.
We need to get in the game. We might not like organised politics but it is still where stuff gets done. And if we don't mobilise and start dictating the agenda we will be driven by it.
If there is one thing we learnt from Occupy Wall Street is a lot of noise and an idea mean nothing if that idea cannot be credibly articulated - if the message of that idea doesn't inspire real action.
About a year ago I went to the Occupy booth set up in Martin Place in the heart of the business district in Sydney to have a chat. I remember asking them "what does Occupy stand for?" and what followed was a bizarre couple of minutes which left me befuddled and highly disappointed.
The young guy, a graduate of my own University of New South Wales knew the "system is broken" but had no idea what a "fix" might be, had no idea of what a "fixed" system might look life. This young, educated man, wearing branded clothing and Nikes, playing on his iPhone drinking a Starbucks, living in one of the greatest and wealthiest countries in the world couldn't muster a single idea or alternative.
I don't judge him, the problems facing us are complex and the solutions are too. I was disappointed by the intellectual laziness, his inability or unwillingness to break down the issues and debate alternative thinking.
We are one of the most blessed generations to walk the earth, with access to knowledge unprecedented in human history yet our majority seem to be waiting for the "grown ups" to get the world organised for us.
If we don't get in the game we can hardly complain when the game goes against us and against our interests.
We need to start influencing the agenda. For better or worse it means we need to get engaged in the political system and get involved in policy and decision making. A like on a Facebook page does not equal a ballot in the box. Decisions are made by those who show up for those who show up and at the moment we aren't showing up
In the 2010 elections in England only 44% of 18-24 year olds voted compared with 76% of those aged over 65. The result? Grey favouring policies that disproportionately impact the young. Think of the Granny Tax - scrapped, think about the rise in tuition fees - passed. If the vast majority of young people voted then politicians, of both sides, would do more to curry favour with the demographic. I bet we'd be looking at a very different higher education fee structure.
In the US Young people represented 19% of voters in the last election. Significant engagement given they represent 21% of the population. Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, a nonpartisan organisation whose mission is to build the political power of young people said "(these) results hopefully put an end to the accusation of a so called 'enthusiasm gap."
Young people are overwhelmingly engaged with issues of social justice and in the US they are beginning to drive the agenda in these issues. Barney Frank, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives recently said that millennial voters are the single biggest reason why motions to legalise gay marriage will pass.
Why stop there. We really can change the terms of the debate. But we need to get into the debate. We need to be confident in our abilities and in our futures and follow the lead of the young exceptions so that inspiring aspiration becomes the rule.