Ashton Kutcher’s 2013 Teen Choice Awards acceptance speech is making the rounds on Facebook, and for good reason: Kutcher takes the opportunity to talk about the value of hard work, creating your own opportunities, and acknowledging your power to shape your life.
It made me think about my experiences working with teens and young adults. I love it. I love them. They make me proud and give me hope that the future will be better than the present.
But there’s one thing that makes me cringe: their tendency to ask other people to help pay for what they want to do.
This is especially prevalent among theatre and arts students, as summer programs, arts schools, and classes can be extremely expensive. I remember feeling that combination of excitement (I got into this amazing program!) and dread (how the heck am I going to pay for this?). Had Kickstarter or IndieGoGo existed when I was a teenager, I would have jumped on the bandwagon and asked friends and family to help pay for my education, my travel, even my move to LA after graduation.
I am so glad these options didn’t exist.
Now, a lot more has changed since the early 2000s than the availability of online fundraising platforms. The economy has tanked while the cost of education continues to rise. In the arts and arts management fields, having a Masters degree has become more and more of a necessity for many jobs. I would argue it’s more difficult to be a young adult in 2013 than it was in 2002.
That said, here’s what always comes to mind when I see these Kickstarter requests. First, I picture myself at 17 or 18, big with the sense of my own talent and intelligence. And I think:
There is only one person in the world in charge of your success.
Your parents do not owe you anything, nor do your relatives (even if they have money).
Your friends love you, but they do not need to help pay for your cat’s surgery, for your trip to Europe, or for the summer arts program that will change your life. And it will change your life. Your life.
See, the difference between a charity asking for money to bring joy or reduce pain, or an artist asking for money to create an art product that will be enjoyed by others, is that your ask is fundamentally about you: your growth and development as a person, an artist, a citizen.
Asking for people to fund your life makes you a product. It crowd-funds you away from the driver’s seat.
If you are waiting for other people to make your dreams come true, doesn’t that feel just a little scary? It takes away the certainty– I will succeed, no matter what– and adds a conditional– I will succeed, if other people come through and help me do so.
It also– and here I’m really speaking to 17-year-old-me– presumes that you are worthy of being funded, just for being you.
Millennials already have to fight against our “Trophy Generation” perception and older generations’ complaints about our overdeveloped sense of entitlement. Just Google “millennial entitlement” or “Trophy Generation” and you’ll see litany after get-off-my-lawn litany about people born in the past 30 years.
You are entitled to a damn good life and a successful career. You get those things by believing in yourself and fighting for them. Even if you do get people to pay for your education, your travel, your unexpected expenses, eventually those opportunities will fall away and you will be standing alone on the merits of your accomplishments. If your college resume shows no work experience or volunteer service, every accolade in the world won’t get you a job.
Before you set up that Kickstarter, ask:
1. Am I doing everything in my power to make this opportunity happen? I see many students fundraising for opportunities while also posting about how boring their summer is. Are you working? First jobs suck. Second jobs suck. But they can make a little money, and show you’re serious about getting what you want. This summer, I saw nearly a dozen young people post Kickstarters. I saw one person post about needing a job to raise money for college. Guess which person I helped? Also: guess which one was most successful? That student is on his way to an excellent school, with two flexible jobs, and will not need to take out loans for his first year.
2. Does this experience benefit others, or only me? If you’re creating art, doing volunteer work or community service, or generally helping others, please ask your network to support you. If the experience solely benefits you, see #1. If you are doing everything you can and are trying to close the gap, make that clear.
PS: You, as a person, are not art. Even if you’re planning to write about your trip or become a better actor through the experience, solely being you is not a reason for people to pay for you to do so. I don’t care how talented you are. Here’s the beautiful and terrible part about being an artist: someone is always better at it than you are. If they’re working harder, you’re fucked.
So work harder, be kinder, embrace humility, and know that the power to be successful is in your– and only your– hands.
And paradoxically, that’s when people will go out of their way to help you succeed.