THE STRUGGLE | NextGen

In the United States there are an estimated 1,260,721 homeless children in our public school system. Approximately 17% of those children experiencing homelessness have disabilities. (10)

We all suffer. Whether we are students, researchers, parents, practitioners, or people who have to drive in rush hour traffic. Our pains may not be as great as people living outside of the Western domain, but that does not invalidate the occurrence of our struggles. Even Skinner realized, “poverty, illness, and violence are current problems, but not for everyone. Many of those who live in the Western democracies enjoy a reasonable degree of affluence, freedom, and security. But they have problems of their own.” (1)  

So what are our daily struggles? We only have to look at the industry which has boomed from our need to improve our lives. From Samuel Smiles’ first ‘Self Help’ publication in 1859, to as recently as 2017, the self help craze has grown to an estimated 11 billion dollar industry, with projection for 5.5% growth every year. This mania defies recessions, industries, and socioeconomic demographics. (2)  

Even with all this bedside reading, we still have seemingly unsolvable problems in our lives. An estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 6.7% of all U.S. adults as recently as 2016. (3) DAMN, if depression alone was a state, it would knock Illinois (at an estimate population of 12,801,539) (4) out of its ranking of being the 5th most populous state in the US. We don’t have to include other mentalistic diagnosis or mental illness statistics to get the point across. People are struggling with just existing.

As a grad student I’m within the emerging high risk demographic for depression and suicide. And it’s no wonder- considering the social pressure to climb the career ladder as quickly as possible, while reaching for the top of that White Ivory Tower of academy.  Before we can even get to business endeavors, often we go through years of training in formal education settings. The US government kindly let 44 million students rack up an average of $37,000 each in federal loan debt. (9) Often we pursue this higher education because we need resources to exist, like money- the oxygen of the capitalist environment we all live in.

In one month 1,780 businesses and 69,775 personal bankruptcy claims were made in the United States.(5) I have a sneaking suspicion it was not because of excessive double shot cappuccino purchases or live-streaming subscriptions. Now pinning a percentage on small business survival rates depends on various methodologies, industry, and employment size. (6) About 7.7% of new businesses can expect to make it past their first year, and of those that survive, only 20% can expect their company to stick around for another two decades. (7 & 8) (I guess there’s a reason my childhood lemonade stand isn’t a multi-billion dollar franchise.) That is not the exhaustive list of fiscal woes, just the highlights.

Layer on the neglected gym shoes judging you from the corner of your closet, volatile gas prices attacking us from behind, and favorite coffee drinks being discontinued- I can confidently conclude the struggle is real, BUT hang in there! There’s a reason behind all these pointed pessimisms. Each of us have areas in our personal or professional lives where we wish we were doing better. Hopefully by reading this so far you’re privately asking “HOW?!”  

As behavioral scientists, we can look critically at all this indirect information. Many variables play into why people suffer, and the function of their book buying, doctor appointment making, money losing, and coffee buying behavior. The question still looms....What is the good life and how can it be achieved? Before I go on, I must tip my figurative hat (No it’s not a backwards  ball cap) to all the scientific practitioners who have come before me. Their legacy lives on in JABA publications, experimental research, and innovative theories like ACT and RFT, which look to explain why we do what we do.

NextGen may not provide a platform for solving all the points of dissatisfaction in our personal lives, but it can do one better. Combining technology, entrepreneurship, and a healthy dose of behavioral science, we can start to view pain points as opportunities to apply creative solutions. This isn’t some self help seminar, prescription filling appointment, or delicious beverage. This is taking science and utilizing your passion for changing cultural status quo. Skinner once said, “In winning the struggle for freedom and the pursuit of happiness, the West has lost its inclination to act.” (1) Let’s prove him wrong, and demonstrate what happens when ambitious pioneers decide to save the world- or at least alleviate some of the suffering.

NextGen aims to cultivate a culture that rejects topical band aid solutions, and instead focuses on you and I building a platform for critical conversations. Stay tuned for future highlights on problem solving, design thinking, and posts about shared professional struggles.   

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1 Skinner 1986 what’s wrong with the daily life in the western world?

2 https://brandongaille.com/18-self-improvement-industry-statistics-and-trends/

3 https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territories_by_population

5 http://www.uscourts.gov/statistics/table/f-2-one-month/bankruptcy-filings/2018/06/30

6  https://www.justice.gov/ust/file/ar_2016.pdf/download

7 https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/SurvivalRatesAndFirmAge_ADA_0.pdf

8 https://www.bls.gov/bdm/entrepreneurship/entrepreneurship.htm

9https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2018/06/13/student-loan-debt-statistics-2018/#1fce331c7310

10 https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_204.75d.asp


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