November 2, 2013
In Praise of Millennials
Because millennials are the worst! Didn't you know? They are lazy and entitled and all they want to do is buy shit but not work for it! And I suppose that is true... sort of.
You see, by some accounts, I am a millennial because I was born in 1980. (My husband, born on New Year's Eve 1979 missed it by a day, the lucky son of a gun.) And as the wise, experienced sage millennial, I feel protective over these young whippersnappers and want to stick up for them, while at the same time I want to shake them really hard while screaming IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU WHY DON'T YOU SHUT UP AND STOP COMPLAINING THAT YOUR LIFE IS SO HARD!
Obviously, I have a love/hate relationship with them. I first heard the word "millennial" in 2007 when I was working at Jane magazine. I was 27 and had to sit through a Conde Nast presentation all about how the generation coming into the workforce was part of the "self esteem movement" and how they would have to be treated with kid gloves because they've been told all their lives how special they are. Although it was the first time I heard the term millennial, I knew exactly what they were talking about. Because I had lived it.
When I was seven or eight, I was heavy into gymnastics. At a competition where I got third place, I was bummed because I thought I should have gotten second or even first. I remember my mom saying in a matter-of-fact way that the other girls did better routines than me and that's why they placed higher. In my head I was like, "Oh. Ok. That makes sense. If I want to get first place I need to work harder and get better." And that was that. No crying, no complaining to the judges that it was unfair. Self esteem still in tact, and on with my life.
But change was afoot all around me. When I was in 6th grade, all of a sudden the 4th graders showed up at school wearing t-shirts that said "Class of 2000" because some *clever* person had figured out their graduation year. People thought it was a big deal—big enough to single them out with special t-shirts that they earned by doing nothing at all. I hated those shirts and I hated the kids who wore them proudly like a badge of honor. At the ripe old age of 12, I was encountering millennials. And they were horrible. (By the by, I think this is the accurate calculation of millennials—kids who graduated high school in the year 2000, aka the millennium.)
When I was in 8th grade, my school did away with tryouts because parents were complaining when their kids didn't make it. I think this is a huge turning point in the evolution of millennials. Instead of learning that if you don't make a team you either a) work really hard to try again next year, or b) find something else better suited for your skills and talents, it was a complete free for all. Anyone can be anything!
Since then I have seen the ugly side of this entitled upbringing more and more, and maybe this is where me straddling the bridge between two generations comes into play. Because I really don't give a shit what you do with your life, or if you're a selfish brat, as long as it doesn't affect me (Gen X detachment). But now that I've been in the career world for about 10 years, it does affect me. I've witnessed and heard horror stories of interns (interns!) and assistants who thought they were too good to do so-called menial work and thought they deserved promotions and raises simply based on showing up to work. (Everyone gets a medal!) And, at a senior level, I've had to pick up the slack when they didn't do the tasks they thought were below them.
But for all of their downfalls, this post is called "In Praise of Millennials." Because I think everyone is secretly in awe of them, and a tiny bit jealous. I think about when I was first starting out in my career and all the times I went along with the demands that were being placed on me without sticking up for myself or keeping my own needs in mind before my job. How I kept my head down and did what was asked of me without question, while at times feeling completely taken advantage of. When I thought working hard was all you had to do and everything would be fine, without understanding that you also have to look out for number one: yourself.
And for all of the lazy brats out there, there are some really driven, hard-working millennials. When you get to witness that brazen entitlement paired with a strong work ethic, it is a sight to behold. It's fascinating, and inspiring, and gives me hope for the future. Because if these crazy kids can handle a full work load while not losing sight of themselves, their health, their dreams and their goals, if even just a handful of them live up to their own wild ambitions, we're all going to be just fine.