- Generation WTF: From "What the #?$&?" to a Wise, Tenacious and Fearless You
The title of Whelan's latest book, invoking a popular text-language acronym for a particularly course expression, almost defies self-help skeptics to take it seriously. The title, "Generation WTF: From 'What the #%$&?' to a Wise, Tenacious, and Fearless You" is using the language of the generation it seeks to address.
The self-described goal of the book is to help a generation who have had neither the opportunity nor the need to learn a variety of values and skills that are increasingly important in times of economic recession and high unemployment. It is especially refreshing that the author finds no use in blaming "the kids today," but rather chooses to help readers understand the situation they face and develop the skills they need. From a student development perspective, the Sanfordian challenge is created by individuals' having expectations, values, and skills that are maladaptive to a suddenly changed economic environment. The support is not only the book, but the plethora of online resources connected to it that give her readers the opportunity to practice new skills and develop community with others facing the same challenges.
A critique is likely to be leveled by those in academe: that it is part of a genre given to fluffy aphorisms with little basis in evidence. The introduction responds in part to such concerns. The author is a Ph.D. sociologist, who studied self-help literature in her doctoral dissertation. After that, she selected a short list of books she found most useful, and used them in undergraduate classes she taught at the University of Pittsburgh in 2009 and 2010. Students read the books and "wrote weekly journal entries on how the advice was working (and not working) on a personal level - and suggested . . . how to adapt the advice for Generation WTF" (p. 5.). The book is a combination of what Whelan found to be the best of the genre, anecdotes from her students who found the advice useful, and findings from studies that support the advice given. A scholar looking for detailed information about behavioral adaptation will find this book wanting, however it has far more substance than much of the rest of the self-help genre.
The author uses the letters in her repurposed "WTF" acronym as a serviceable organizational structure for the three-part book, challenging the reader to "Get Wise;" "Get Tenacious" and "Get Fearless." It is acknowledged early in the book that it purports to have the best advice from the best self-help books from the past decades. Therefore, the content of each of these three sections will be familiar for most student affairs professionals or anyone who has read Stephen Covey, Dale Carnegie, or Suze Orman, for example. The exercises and format are not wholly different from other self-help books. I was reminded several times of the "For Dummies" series.
None of this detracts from the book's deft approach to talking directly to the needs of early twenty-somethings, what Whelan calls "Generation WTF" or, all too frequently, "WTFers." Her examples of the dilemma's facing Generation WTF ring true. The advice and skill development meet real needs that student affairs professionals see students struggle with on a daily basis, such as values clarification, time management and money management. Each section is concluded with a summary, thematically titled "WTF Did I Just Learn?" [End Page 621]
In "Get Wise," the reader is encouraged to engage in introspection through various exercises to define personal values and create a mission statement. Although focused on the individual level, the processes described mirror those of many strategic planning and mission development processes often used by many organizations, including colleges and universities.
"Get Tenacious" promotes setting goals, developing self-control, and managing procrastination and stress. The section wisely builds on the values and mission statement developed in the previous section by using several exercises intended to help the reader to create goals in alignment with his or...