Failure to Launch: What Happens Next?

failure to launch“A professional bull rider.”

Admittedly, the 20-something male sitting across the desk from me along with his father surprised me with his answer to my question of, “What do you want to do profession-wise?”  His name was Jonathan* but he’d introduced himself as “Rebel,” the moniker he used in online chat rooms talking to women and the name which his father used to refer to him, with something akin to pride, telling me, “Oh, he’s a hit with the ladies on the chat rooms.”

“Oh?  You have experience as a bull rider?”  Hey, I live in the South.  It could happen.

“No.  But, I beat the HELL outta the last level in PBR: Ragin’ Bulls.”  His tone was matter-of-fact, a little proud in fact.

I’m afraid my face reflected more than a clinically trained psychotherapist’s ought to.  This client, one of my caseload of roughly 80 at the mental health center where I worked, represented with what I’d come to think of as “Failure to Launch” (FTL) after the fairly recent movie.

These teenage and 20-something males were coming through my office on a regular basis with major delusions of grandeur brought on by mental images of themselves as the handsome, brave, muscular, impeccably trained, militarily accomplished hero, when they weren’t expert race car drivers, zombie killers or car thieves.

These males were in many cases barely high school graduates, though often not, with no appreciable skills or realistic goals for work, relationships or lifestyle, and just as often drug addicts.  Frequently, as their parents had no idea how to guide them, they showed up in my office thinking these maladaptive behaviors must be a mental illness.

I blame the internet.

The Generation Gap

I suppose it’s normal for one generation to criticize the next, to shake one’s head, wonder what changed in the space of roughly 20 years.  I suppose it’s also normal to tell one’s self that I’m not going to be the stereotypical curmudgeon who begins every other sentence with, “Back in MY day…”  However, I’m forced to wonder if there has ever, in the history of our society, been a larger generation gap than the one we’re seeing now.

When my generation was in school, we lived in the real world.  The internet was only just a gleam in Al Gore’s eye, and Windows was coming online, but computers were still only operable with the use of cumbersome DOS commands.

There were no virtual worlds to inhabit, no epic apocalyptic battles to win, no YouTube to inflate one’s ego with self-aggrandizing videos, no chat rooms in which to represent one’s self in suspect- if- not- downright- false light.

And nowhere near the number of FLT’s crashing in a wave onto our workforce, this client a case in point.

“Unfortunately, you probably know that professional bull riders usually start out young and live in parts of the country where they have access to competitions and sponsor opportunities.  What other jobs have you considered?”

By this time, two things were occurring:  First, I was starting to get a headache.  Second, I was beginning to wonder why this client’s father was sitting idly by and allowing this 25-year-old FLT to live in his home and spend his time in chat rooms (not to mention, how any of this was consistent with the nickname, “Rebel”).

Clearing his throat, he was about to enlighten me.  “Well, we were hoping you could help Rebel find a ranch-type place where he could go and they could teach him a living.  Straighten him out.”  (I was soon to discover that Rebel had been in and out of jail for small-time drug dealing).

Not being an employment counselor, I suggested a referral to a local state-sponsored workforce training program.

“Oh, he’s already been there.  They said they’d train him, but they put him in a room puttin’ together widgets for eight hours a day and didn’t pay him hardly nothin’.”  This said with an air of indignation.

I knew the program and it was true that he was trained in assembly, working eight hours a day to acclimate him to standing, making production, and concentrating for extended periods of time.  The pay was a perk.  It was paid training.  How often did THAT come along?

But he and his father were upset that he wasn’t being paid more, for better work.  I mentally corrected my internet FTL theory to include parenting deficits.  This father was older than I was.  How far up the age ladder did the delusions go?


While this young man was a rather extreme case in point, he isn’t the only FTL I’ve seen, the phenomenon being all too common.  One young man, living in his mother’s basement and addicted to cough syrup he surreptitiously bought using the money his mother gave him for gas for the car he’d been given, had a similar response to my question:  “I wanna to be one of these people who gets paid to put advertisements on my car and drive around.”


“I want to be paid to wear designer’s clothes.”  “I want to design video games.” “I want to be a rapper.”  “I want …” If it seems glamorous or glitzy, FTL’s want to do it, not to mention seemingly easy.

They aren’t interested in obtaining the education necessary to write code for games or “pay their dues” to get where they want although a few of them have suggested their willingness to make a sex video ala Kim Kardashian if necessary to achieve the necessary infamy and its accompanying wealth.

They walk into my office with facial piercings, tattoos, green hair and often gauged holes in their ears large enough to hold a dinner plate.  While it’s not that I’m necessarily anti-free expression, they are in effect making themselves unemployable in all but the narrowest niches, many of which require artistic or artisan skills not common among this population.

I’ve noticed that, if called to their attention, they are quick to become offended and loudly proclaim their entitlement to control their own physical appearances.  They can’t seem to comprehend that someone who resembles a walking hepatitis victim with eight facial piercings and a dozen visible tattoos (often obscene) isn’t employable in most customer service jobs, including fast food.

I blame the internet.

How is this going to end?  I don’t know.  I wish I had a crystal ball (or some version of Akinator) for forecasting the future and could see the conclusion of this trend, but unfortunately I don’t.  What I do see is a generation coming to “maturity” needing someone to tell them every move to make, no initiative, no realistic goals for their future or even skills to financially support themselves, no sense of necessary conformity as a method to work within the system for the change they want to see.

They are coming to me for answers, and I have none.

Maybe I’ll just go be a professional bull rider.

Father and son photo available from Shutterstock

Failure to Launch: What Happens Next?


APA Reference
Long,, S. (2019). Failure to Launch: What Happens Next?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 10, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Sep 2019
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Sep 2019
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