Teaching Today’s Students About Delayed Gratification

Sometimes, I get frustrated with my students. Just the other day I was talking to one of them about his career. He told me that he wants to make a difference. He wants to help underprivileged youth. Yet in the same breath, he told me that he had to make a lot of money and pretty quickly. He told me he wanted to have a big house, a new car, and to live the ‘champagne life’ soon. Upon graduation, he secured a job working with college students in a somewhat haphazard but wholly innovative environment. His job came with a wonderful role model, a good salary, and the opportunity to shape an institution in rich and meaningful ways. Before he took the position, I advised him to make the most of the experience and to learn everything he could from the leader of the institution. Unfortunately, my student did not take my advice. Instead, he has become bitter because he has to work hard. He is angry because he doesn’t think he makes enough money and isn’t in the exact position that he wants to be at this time.

My student’s attitude is not unique. I have had several students come to me with this story and this attitude. Over and over, I explain that success–especially financial and career success–takes time and a lot of hard work and investment of self. I tell them to be patient. I tell them to seek out mentors and to do things that are not part of their job descriptions in order to move up and gain respect in their positions. I explain how many times I’ve done jobs for free, proving my worth to an organization and eventually being paid for my work. I explain to them how much time is involved in obtaining your goals.

Some students have a very hard time understanding delayed gratification. Much of this difficulty is the result of the society that we live in today. The combination of buying everything on credit, reality TV-instant stardom, and hyper-materialism seems to make waiting very difficult. Although we might all dream about gaining a certain position in life or wealth instantly, this is not the case for most of us. Instead, we have to spend time establishing relationships, working with and learning from our mentors, and putting in a lot of sweat equity. We have to swallow our pride and listen. We need to ask questions and take in all of the experiences around us. It is this preliminary work that prepares us for our desired position in life. It is this work that shapes us and gives us character.

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