Talking ‘Bout My Generation
“Open letters” criticizing the Millennial Generation seem to be the trend du jour—claims that we’re accustomed to winning awards for mere participation rather than merit, wholly reliant on technology, spoiled, self-obsessed employees with short attention spans.
I’ll be the first admit that I’ve rarely felt altogether comfortable with my peer group; they intimidate me. Maybe I don’t fit the mold of the “typical” Millennial. Or maybe I’m in denial. Either way, I’m not a likely candidate to argue against the generational stigmas. I wouldn’t even bother with it except that I feel like most of the allegations are wildly inaccurate…at least if other Millennials are like me.
Therein lies the rub. A quick scan of the interwebs suggests members of the Millennial Generation/Generation Y were born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, which puts me on the older end of the spectrum. I find there’s a pretty big difference between the older and younger Millennials; us ‘old folks’ have been in the workforce for several years already while the younger are still green. I shudder to think that people just a few years younger than me don’t remember the days before blue M&Ms, let alone the original ending of Return of the Jedi (Yub Nub!).
The nuances differentiating today’s world started blossoming during my formative teenage years, but my childhood wasn’t so unlike that of most Gen Xers. I went to schools that didn’t have air-conditioning, schools that dared to hold back kids who couldn’t demonstrate that they had mastered proficiency.
My earliest memories of home include Home Interiors decor and Amway products, a rotary telephone and console television without cable (gasp!). Vinyl records and cassette tapes occupied most of my first decade, as did Intellivision and, eventually, Nintendo NES. Even with the gaming systems, I mostly played with action figures and Barbie dolls and puzzles and activity books. The majority of nice days were spent outside where I rode my bike or occupied my swing set in the backyard.
I did have a little bit of a technological advantage. My dad was on the cutting edge with his Commodore 64 computer and dot-matrix printer, both of which he taught me to use by the time I was in kindergarten. I remember our first glimpse at the fledgling days of internet access—clunky dial-up modems, pages in black and white loading ever so slowly on Netscape. I was in my early teens when we welcomed the ‘net in our home, roughly the same time ‘Zack Morris’ cell phones were filtering down from the elite to the bourgeoisie.
Well, my peers are accused of thinking that we’re “special.” Let me tell you, I think it’s quite the opposite. Remember how I said my peers intimidate me? It’s called low self-esteem, and an awful lot of us have it. The posturing that’s perceive as arrogance is more often the foggy facade created by desperate attempts to claw out our foothold and build our launch pads. Unlike our Gen X predecessors who generally claim not to care what people think, many Millennials do. We want to live up to the high expectations set forth by well-intended parents. That praise and encouragement propel many of us to fight tooth and nail to try to be as special as our parents think we are.
The problem is that when everyone is special, nobody is. Going to college and getting a degree is a lot less lucrative when the majority of your peers have done the same.
I’m blessed with a job in my degree field, working for a tremendous company that has survived over 100 years. I interact daily with employees who have been here since before I was born. The company as a whole is interested in hearing Millennial feedback, implementing new ways of working. The older employees, however, oftentimes aren’t. Many started working here right out of high school and will retire with a nicely padded financial nest, a testament to the success of what’s transpired over the last century. Millennials do not have the luxury of that stability, always staying the course. What’s worked in the past is not necessarily the best way to move forward in the digital age.
Consequently, we’re fostering rampant agility and multitasking that are frequently mistaken for “short attention spans” and a propensity for distraction. Perhaps more than any generation before, we’ve grown up in a world that pulls at us from every direction—school, work, family, activities, friends, media. Our culture demands availability anytime, anywhere, and we are required to shift our focus at a moment’s notice. Simply put, Millennials must be (and are) nimble enough to ebb with the social and economic tides.
In spite of the criticisms, we Millennials are not victims. The truth of the matter is that every generation has its unique challenges and distinct strengths. Those who now voice the loudest complaints are the very same people who were themselves denounced not so long ago.
Think about it, Generation X and Boomers, we’re not all that different. Elders feared for the future at your hands, too; it’s just that you’re the ruling class of grown-ups now, those people you swore you’d never be. And twenty years from now, we Millennials will be saying the exact same things about the next generation.