Bitching about an up-and-coming generation is nothing new. And now it’s Gen Y’s turn to bear the brunt of the complaining. We have been dubbed entitled, lazy, over-sharing and egotistical. While I don’t dispute that social media rules our lives or that we can be wishy-washy when it comes to choosing a career, I do think that my generation has been put under more intense scrutiny than prior generations thanks to the information age that we live in.
If you do a Google search on “bad things about Gen Y,” some 586 million results will pop up compared to the sparse 32 million or so for “good things about Gen Y.” The latest articles to “explain” millennials (such as this by my colleague Sandy Hingston) perpetuate the negative stereotypes. We’re seen as a group of whiners who don’t have a work ethic and think we’re all special snowflakes or Peter Pan. Many of these pieces fail to address the economic shit-show that happened while most of us were preparing ourselves for post-collegiate life. But I digress.
Even though Gen Y has been associated with a wide range of faults, our peaks far outweigh our valleys. We are the last generation that existed before the Internet. Today’s 20- and 30-somethings bridge the gap between what once was and what is coming. We still know how to use library reference cards, but we can also marvel at a street view of a village in Italy from our bedrooms or cultivate a following of millions by posting home videos on makeup tutorials and cats riding Roombas.
Yes, we have given ourselves options. Many Baby Boomers were weighed down with infants and a mortgage by the time they were 30, but millennials are putting kids on the back-burner in order to chase their dreams. On the flip side, Gen Y has been said to be immobilized by our need to do what we love.
But where did we get this idea?
Oh yeah, we were force-fed the fairy tale that passion should guide our employment pursuits. Boomers never believed they had this luxury (except when they were living in a van at Woodstock) and this advice has led to an entire generation of flaky dreamers — or so it’s said. Quite the opposite is true. We dreamers have turned our hopes into reality, and have made money while doing so.
Tons of us are launching start-ups. We’re becoming our own employers in lieu of working for “the man.” While the dream is free, the hustle is sold separately, and we sure know how to hustle.
This hustle mentality has led Gen Y to become the “slasher generation.” We’re no longer simply a journalist or server or an engineer. We’re a barista/screenwriter/dog groomer. An accountant might do web design in his spare time or a bartender may be the author of a budding foodie blog. When I first graduated from college, I worked three jobs in order to get by. I was a secretary/bartender/freelance writer.
Many Boomers, I posit, were and still are afraid to take risks. They don’t know how to hustle because they never had to. Baby boomers enjoyed peak-level incomes, and therefore reaped the benefits of copious amounts of food, clothing, retirement programs and even “midlife crisis” goods. They associated stuff with success because they were raised in a time when scarcity was the zeitgeist.
The average net worth of Americans who were 65 or older rose by 42 percent during the last 25 years, while younger citizens experienced a 68-percent drop in their respective net worth. What else has grown during this time? The national debt — which my generation will have to somehow figure out how to pay back.
Even though — or maybe because — we’re broke, money is not a driving force in our hopes and aspirations. A recent study conducted by Stanford University concluded that 90 percent of millennial MBA students would take a pay cut in order to work for a company that embodied their socially conscious values. Gen Y has also been known to buy products that fund charities they care about. We are blurring the lines between capitalism and activism.
A 2012 survey by Insights on Wealth and Worth reported that 38 percent of Gen X and Gen Y personally fund the long-term care of an elderly family member and that 33 percent of them purchased long-term care insurance to help aid their loved ones. This is eight percent higher than Boomers who are economically supporting the long-term care of a relative. Seventy-six percent of people aged 18 to 46 said that they felt responsible for leaving some of their accumulated wealth to their kids while only 55 percent of boomers said the same.
So don’t you dare tell me that we’re lazy, greedy and incapable of hard work. We graduated into an awful global economy which was not our fault. We were overworked and underpaid — or not even paid at all, going on coffee runs as interns at the ripe old age of 25. And yet we still plan on taking care of our Boomer parents and working at businesses that prioritize helping the world over fattening our bank accounts.
We were force-fed a false reality where as long as we worked hard, went to college, triple-majored, got a 4.0 and landed the right internships, we’d be fine; that the world was ours. But that just didn't jibe with the experience of cobbling together whatever work we could find just to make ends meet.
The generation that criticizes us so much is the same one that raised us. You, baby boomers, had a shaping in our realities. You were the ones that greatly contributed to the financial crash and lost all of your retirement savings, forcing you to work until you’re 85 — and leaving precious little space for younger employees to get their feet in the door. You were the ones who elected George W. twice over to run our country into the ground.
And yet, despite all this criticism about my generation, we are thriving. We are working for ourselves or for causes we’re passionate about. We may watch stupid cat videos on YouTube and drag our feet when choosing a career path, but at least that path might help future generations instead of crushing them.
And maybe in 30 years when I’m 60, I’ll be moaning about Generation Z. Or maybe I’ll just follow that age-old advice: If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Or is that just the self-appeasing Gen Yer in me coming out?
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