Generation WTF

Wise, tenacious, and fearless self-help


  • How do I stop procrastinating?
  • Where do I find a meaningful relationship?
  • How do I ace a job interview?
  • What do I do with a roommate who hates me?
  • And what am I really working toward in my life — what’s my purpose?

If you are between the ages of 18 and 25, then chances are you’ve asked yourself these questions. The last few years have been pretty tough for young adults: The economic downtown means that jobs are harder to find after graduation and all these life-skills and personal questions have become a lot more important.

  • Should I work at a job I hate just because it pays more than the career I really love?
  • Is this all there is in life?

Sound familiar? If so, you’re a member of Generation WTF — a group of young adults who have big dreams, but aren’t quite sure how to make them a reality. You are optimistic about the future, but could use a little guidance on how to achieve your goals. Perhaps you are looking to take a bit more control of your life or could use some practical information about money issues. You want research-based solutions that work.

If this sounds like you, read on to learn about the experiment I’ve been running for the last three years — and how it can help you answer the “big questions” in your own life.

The Generation WTF Project

As a young college professor, my students often come into my office asking me for advice. (I’m clearly not one of those intimidating professors, since I really do get all kinds of questions!) Since I’ve researched self-help books for the last decade or so, I know a fair amount about the advice-giving business — and I know that it’s pretty tricky to do it right.

Many advice books promise quick-fix solutions that look good on paper but are impossible to achieve in real life. Others diagnose you with every problem on the planet, only to tell you that your inner child needs a good cry. But in my research, I’ve come across a handful of classic self-help books — including Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled — that are full of virtue-based, honest and practical advice that reminds us of core truths and encourages us to be better people, from the inside out.

So over the years, when my students came to me asking for advice about everything from overcoming procrastination to acing a job interview, I’d often turn to my shelves of guidebook "bests." And then the economy tanked — and that trickle of students turned into a wave of anxious young adults asking: “What happened to the jobs?” “What happened to the promises of a bright future?” "Why does life seem so hard?" “WTF is going on?!”

That’s when the Generation WTF Project was born.

For the last three years, I’ve worked with students at the University of Iowa and the University of Pittsburgh – my Generation WTF testers – to see if the best of classic self-help advice (much of it written during other tough times in the last century) could be remixed into useful nuggets of wisdom for today’s young adults. More than 200 students have road-tested the Depression-era social graces of Dale Carnegie in their job interviews, and the 1970s-oil-crisis advice of M. Scott Peck on delaying gratification in forgoing video game time for the future reward of higher grades. I got feedback comparing the merits of David Bach’s money-saving advice in The Finish Rich Workbook with Suze Orman’s in The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom. I threw in Richard Wiseman’s 2010 book 59 Seconds: Think A Little, Change A Lot, a compendium of social psychology research in action to test out academic theories of overcoming procrastination in everyday life. At the end of the experiment, I had a short list of advice that worked — advice that had made a significant impact in the lives of young adults struggling to find their way.

Busted Halo readers have helped out, too: I’ve written about some of the advice in previous columns — and gotten great feedback from you: What’s the intersection of money and values in romantic relationships? Is too much text messaging hurting your friendships? Is being polite honest? Does one-minute love advice really work? Can ambition be a Christian virtue?

The result of all this research is my new book: Generation WTF: From “What the #%$&” to a Wise, Tenacious, and Fearless You. It’s the best of classic self-help advice remixed for — and by — Generation WTF to speak directly to the issues that young adults face. The goal is to take you from the crass exclamation of frustration to a wise, tenacious and fearless you. As many Busted Halo readers know, a strong faith and an understanding of core values are crucial to achieving life goals — and Generation WTF has plenty of advice to help you focus your purpose and find your own vocation.

Topics include:

  • What are your values?
  • Finding your purpose
  • Get honest with yourself (through time journals, gratitude journals, etc.)
  • Set SMARTER goals
  • 7 steps to amp up your self-control
  • Win the procrastination-stress battle
  • WTF does my money go?
  • College budgeting and beyond
  • Avoid arguments
  • Interview like a pro
  • Create more meaningful friendships and relationships
  • Give back and get involved

I’ll be posting excerpts from the book here and telling you about all the cool contests we’re going to run along the way. (Want a free iPad? Stay tuned!) If you’re interested in learning more, become a fan of Generation WTF on Facebook. I’ll also be posting YouTube videos with quick bits of advice and answers to reader questions. But in the meantime, I want to hear from you:

  1. Are you a member of Generation WTF? If so, what are the biggest challenges you face in your everyday life?
  2. What advice would be most useful for you right now — professionally or personally?
  3. If you could give a bit of advice to your peers to get from that WTF of frustration to becoming wise, tenacious and fearless in their everyday lives, what would it be?


Post your thoughts below, email me at or post your questions and comments on Facebook. I’ll respond via YouTube videos or in blog entries on the Generation WTF website. Just to start off the contests, everyone posting their thoughts will be entered to win a free copy of the book from Busted Halo.

Stay tuned for more!