12.6 million under 30

Forbes recently published its annual “30 Under 30” list, described as:

“A tally of the brightest stars in 15 different fields under the age of 30. These founders and funders, brand builders and do-gooders aren’t waiting for a proper bump up the career ladder. Their goals are way bigger — and perfectly suited to the dynamic, entrepreneurial, and impatient digital world they grew up in.”

Ugh. My initial reaction to reading this is less than favorable.

My second reaction is to feel a little badly about myself ’cause I guess I’m just jealous of these kids and their success. I shouldn’t begrudge them that.

Then I look at all their happy, airbrushed faces and I get annoyed all over again.

Maybe that does make me a terrible person.

Maybe I should have done more with my life.

But I take that back. I have done what I can with my life.

And I don’t mean to pick on just Forbes. There are myrad of similar lists this post could just as easily be about.

One aspect that annoys me is the glorification of possibly (probably?) unsustainable approaches. I don’t know if the founders of MySpace or LiveJournal would have ever made the list, but I certainly am not impressed by those people now. And let’s not even talk about Friendster.

And part of that comes from the reality of the business world. “You stay still and you die,” as one of my graduate school professors used to say.

But I think you can have innovation, and healthy competition, without needing to constantly destroy the old and build the new.

I’d like to see a list of “30 under 30 who are living in their parent’s basement because they’ve poured all their money into start-ups that haven’t panned out, but they have a new idea and they really think it’s going to work this time.”

Or may be instead a list of “30 under 30 who have slogged through the life of maintaining a business or organization, dealt with the minutiae of keeping something up and running, and figured out how to keep something fresh and relevant even though it’s been around for awhile and just isn’t that sexy any more.”

Or better yet, a list of “Some number under 30 who have worked together to come up with and implement some really good ideas, but it’s a little hard to tell who to give the credit to because the sum is greater than the individuals and the magic was really in the collaboration between their disparate view points.”

And that’s another thing that annoys me about this. It’s said that the U.S. is an individualistic culture, but do we really need to idolize people so?

It’s as if those individuals gracing the pages of Forbes have some unnatural, superhuman, characteristics that the rest of us could never hope to emulate. Though, of course, we should try to emulate them.

I think this list is supposed to make me feel badly about myself. Unless, of course, I was on the list when I was younger.

But frankly, I would probably feel worse about myself if I was on this list. I mean, really. I don’t want to be that person with my face all over things, taking all the credit for things that are almost invariably not mine alone.

I don’t want to be the front man. And I don’t want to be a millionaire.

And that’s not a deficit.

Finally, opportunities are so unequally distributed. People of certain wealth and class invariably have more opportunity to be “successful” in these ways.

A few folks come from below the expected social strata, so they get a special pat on the head with the gleeful chirp of, “isn’t it just great that someone like that was able to do this?”

Yeah, it’s just great. Too bad about all the other folks who are still screwed over by structural inequity. No use worry about them.

I’m all down for celebrating successes. And I’m not some bright-eyed doe who thinks everyone should get a prize just for showing up.

I’m just saying…this vision of “success” isn’t all there is.

Forbes can celebrate who they want, but as a society, let’s be sure we celebrate more.

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