According to the people who decide these things, I am a millennial. I actually fought the label at first. I’m 31, dammit, how can I possibly have anything in common with 18-year olds? However, I was raised by typical baby-boomer parents of the ’80s. They told me I was a special unicorn-rainbow, different than everyone else and capable of being the next Astronaut-President of The Moon, so it makes sense that I don’t take kindly to being lumped into the largest generation ever. Besides, Gen X has always seemed so much cooler. My older brother wore ripped jeans and flannel to school and listened to Nirvana, and now I find out I’m stuck in the generation that communicates via Snapchat and refuses to use voicemail. Seriously, stop leaving me voicemails. I don’t check them.
First – let me just get this out of the way — I’d like to acknowledge that I’m participating in defining millions of people under a single label with very broad-stroke generalizations, and while it’s fun, there are so many cultural and social nuances that define a person, it’s actually ridiculous. But, fun.
A TBR 2015 Millennial Essay Contest winner
A quick Google search reveals that negative labels are more often applied to millennials than positive. Those that stuck out the most are “whiney” and “entitled.” Let’s delve into these a bit.
We were children in the most affluent period in American history, birthed of the golden age of capitalism. Profit was skyrocketing and corporate growth seemed the most incredible savior the middle class had ever known. In fact, The Federal Reserve Board reported that the middle class shrunk during the ’80s because so many families were moving into the upper class. It was in 1978 that Toys ‘R Us became a publicly traded company, right in time for the largest generation of kids ever to receive their toy catalogue each holiday season. 1983, the year I arrived on this planet, also saw a record-breaking, but quickly surpassed, $100 million spent on marketing to children.
Our parents believed, and taught us, that we were the greatest thing that ever came into their lives, if not the world. Our culture defines that feeling with dollars. (Think about engagement ring marketing.) Certainly there are many negative side effects to instilling that belief in a person. (Have you ever heard an undergrad complain that they shouldn’t have to attend class because they are “paying for it?”) But there’s a better way to look at this – I’d love to blame capitalism and our parents all day, instead let’s look at the deeper meanings behind what my generation is whining about.
Work. We don’t want to show up at 8 a.m. and sit in a cubicle all day. Many older generations think that means we are lazy and don’t want to work hard. Dig a little deeper. Our age group is one of the most entrepreneurial groups of people that has ever existed in the United States. Forbes recently published an article that cites a study that shows 67 percent of millennials want to start their own business, in contrast to only 13 percent who want to become CEO or president of a corporation. Owning and operating your own business isn’t easy. More than any other generation, ours is willing to work for low wages in the social services or nonprofit industries, or dedicate ourselves to following our passions, be they creating art or teaching or political movements. This is a key attribute that hiring professionals need to understand if they want to retain young, talented, intelligent millennials in their firms.
We saw millions of people lose their jobs just a few short years ago, many of whom had dedicated their entire careers to their corporate cubicles that so quickly kicked them out to cut losses. We don’t want to be a part of that. Also, 8 a.m. is really early. There is no reason to work at that hour, especially when we spend our evenings networking and brainstorming with other millennials. Which leads me to the next thing we whine about.
Being bored. Also known as needing to be entertained, or, unwilling to spend our lives working at something we don’t enjoy. Again, many people think the tendency to be “bored” or refusal to work a “boring” job is entitled and lazy. Remember, our parents told us that we are special. We deserve better than a boring job. But here’s the thing — we’re more than willing to dedicate our lives to achieving the goal of having a not-boring job. We will bust our asses to get through school, complete internships and network so we can work at a job we actually care about. Taking a boring job is the easy route and most often merely a lifestyle funding mechanism on the way to our actual desires. A workplace that doesn’t understand that is in danger of never being able to retain anyone under the age of 35 for more than a year or two.
And most likely, they’ll be working on other projects instead of doing the job you hired them for. If only 13 percent of the largest generation in history is interested in climbing the corporate ladder, where does that leave the giant profit-driven corporations that once were the gleaming “Gods of Capitalism?” Obsolete and ineffective, to start. The go-getters and motivated leaders of our generation are busy founding social good enterprises and developing start-up micro tech firms that benefit their communities. Which unfortunately means that they depend on…
Entitlements. Subsidized health insurance, lower cost of a college education and so on. Many people (mostly older, white, male people) feel like my generation wants handouts, which they attribute to our liberal-ness. Here’s where this all comes full circle. Our generation is revising capitalism. The way things were when we grew up doesn’t work anymore. If you want us to work to pay for college, tuition should cost what a college student can earn while they are in college. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? If you don’t want to subsidize health insurance, then fix the system that allows emergency rooms to charge $1,000 if you go in for an asthma attack. Think big picture: the biggest generation of all time is willing to make very little money to make important things happen. We just need to be able to survive meanwhile. If you force us to work in your system to survive, I can guarantee you that we’re going to whine about it, and never bother to reach our potential as contributors to society and human beings.
My short meta-analysis barely touches the surface of the background and desires of a very diverse and massive generation of people. If we seem whiney and entitled it’s because we’re not willing to put up with the socially constructed systems which are holding us back. But I think it’s fair to say we want to create a better world for ourselves and our communities – and we are willing to work hard to do that. And yeah, we’ll be checking Facebook while we do it. Just let it go.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.