People talk shit about Millennials a lot. Yet, I don't recognize the people that they describe. Entitled, lazy, high maintenance, self-absorbed, wasteful, greedy, cynical, broke, job jumpers, coddled, delusional, politically disengaged, unwilling to help in their communities. I don't recognize myself in those labels, nor the majority of my friends.
My story: I consider myself solidly of Gen Y. Despite being at the upper end of the generational divide, a mixture of factors play into it. My dad was a computer technician so technology was in our home from day one. I can't actually remember not owning a computer. I was also a bit of a late bloomer and with much younger siblings, related more to them and their pop culture than to people my own age. Not having a TV growing up means that many of my favorite mass-consumed shows happened when I was an older teen in the late 90's. And I had a cell phone the minute I could afford one. As for jobs, I started working at the age of twelve as a babysitter. And I treated it like a full-on business too. I was First Aid & CPR certified, had paperwork the parents had to fill out, and strict rules about what I would and wouldn't do, as well as an open pay rate dependent on ages of children and how many. I got my first "real" job at sixteen, working part-time at convention center doing banquet waitstaff. I got to serve Charlton Heston dinner once. I worked part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer. While I was in community college working on a degree in theater, I worked part-time at a bookstore and continued babysitting. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA (grumble grumble...stupid math bringing down my GPA) and many hopes for the future. I immediately began getting work in different theaters, almost all of it paid. I kept working at the bookstore, now as a manager, until that wasn't possible with my theater schedules and transitioned into a full-time stage manager and production manager. I worked six days a week from 10am until 11pm. They were long days and I never saw my friends. Eventually, this schedule over a period of two years took a toll on me, and I knew that I needed to do something else. Something that had less hours so that I had a proper work/life balance. I decided to go back to school for a degree in Publishing. I moved to another state. Worked for another bookstore before getting a job working as a civilian for the Coast Guard. I worked Monday-Friday 8-4, went to the gym, and then had four evening classes Monday-Thursday 6pm-9:45. By the time I got home it was about 10:20 and then I got up and did it all over again the next day. It was a grueling schedule, but I managed to work full-time and go to school full-time and graduate with a 3.7 GPA. I did an internship with a publisher. With a degree in publishing in hand I was ready to take on the world in my chosen career. So applied. And applied. And applied. I kept my applications on a spreadsheet. 127 applications in 4 months. I got two interviews and although I thought the interviews went well, they didn't even call me back to tell me I didn't get the job. This was 2008. The bottom had dropped out of the economy and publishing was taking a direct hit. I decided to go to Grad School, hoping that by the time I graduated things would have recovered. Fast forward to 2013. I was still working at a bookstore (a different one this time) and rather resentful about that fact because I went back to school so that I wouldn't have to keep working retail. I finally got an interview with an acclaimed and prestigious publisher. I got the job. It's been three years and I keep telling people I got my dream job. Because I did. I work hard, I make valuable contributions, there is a place for me to grow and advance, my bosses are the best I have ever had in my life, no one looks down on me (or anyone) for their age.
I never felt entitled to any of that. I worked hard for it and I was reassured over and over by the generations before me that if I worked hard enough, got good enough grades, got a college degree or two, that I would be able to get a job in my field. I nearly gave up that dream too. It was infuriating to keep applying for jobs, to keep working in a dead end job, knowing what I wanted to do and knowing I was good at it, and instead I'm shelving books in an over-corporatized bookstore. I'm not high maintenance, not in life or the workplace. (one of the things my husband loves about me) Although I appreciate that my bosses have a mentor-like relationship with me, it was neither expected nor asked for. Any issues I have asserting myself in the workplace are purely personality quirks, not something endemic to my generation. I work with people (with a lot being of my generation) who are extremely earth conscious. They will shut off lights in your office if you are gone too long, many are vegetarians, we never do paper plates, and we recycle everything. I just turned down a job offer because it didn't pay enough money, which could be construed as greedy, but the truth is I know my value as an employee and if I am going to leave a job I love (making a lot less mind you), then you need to make me an offer I can't refuse. I would rather work somewhere I love for less, which to me, is the opposite of greed. I am a bit cynical, but since I don't see this in most of my friends, I think it too is a personality quirk. I don't job jump, don't consider myself coddled by anyone, am rarely delusional, and volunteer often in my community. The only area where the stereotypes may be remotely correct for me is that I am politically disengaged and I don't really consider it generational either if my Facebook feed is anything to go by. I hate fighting, name-calling, insults, debating, slander, and the self-indulgent all of which I see as rampant issues in politics. There is nothing in politics that I find remotely attractive or interesting. I see it as a necessary evil and have yet to find a candidate, for any kind of office, that I would actually want to vote for. But I vote. Every single fucking election, from general to primaries and everything in-between, I do my research and vote. My Gen X husband does not vote at all.
This is all me though. We are talking about more than one person. Here's the thing though. Most of my friends are also Millennials. Now, I know that we are often friends with people like us so I'm certainly not good friends with high school dropouts, but I think I know enough varied people to say that they are not fitting into the stereotypes either. Most of my friends have degrees. Some of the professions my friends are in: Teacher, School Administrator, Chemist, Aviation mechanic, Nurse, Horticulturalist, Psychologist, Research Assistant, Nutritionist, Administrative Assistant, Filmmaker, Technology R&D, Entrepreneur, AIDS Researcher, Social Worker, Counselor, IT Professional, Gaming Programmer, Artist, Pharmacist, and quite a few stay-at-home Moms. As far as I know, all of them are very hard workers and have been working in their respective fields for years now, often for the same company. I love how varied my friends are and love to hear about what they do for a living. I know most of them to be hard-working, caring, upbeat people with a propensity towards hipster beers and vegetarianism. I have worked with almost all of them in some kind of community outreach at one time or another.
Do I have lazy friends? Sure. My best-friend is a prime example. But he would have been lazy in 1950 and in 1720. It's his personality, not a generational curse. The man does as little as possible to get by and for the most part he is content with that. His wife is the same way. They are both content to work minimum wage jobs, the less hours the better, just as long as they can pay their basic bills. It took him eight years to get a degree in car mechanics, which he doesn't even work in now. He is a job bouncer, when he was younger because they interfered with his social life and now because they don't "respect" him. He has many redeeming qualities, but his laziness is a curse that will probably leave him struggling his entire life. It makes me sad to think that this person I care so deeply for is probably going to live in abstract poverty when he is old. His only saving grace is the child they just had who may, hopefully, rise further than either of his parents. Did the generation that my friend was born into make him that way though? No.
I have known this guy since I was sixteen. I got three degrees in the time that he got one. While I was working at theaters, his was quitting jobs right and left to go to concerts. While I trying to further my career, he just quit his job because his boss wasn't being nice. My husband and I are adopting a teenager having to pass multiple background checks, and he and his wife popped out a kid without having to pay for it thanks to medicare. At this point I know you are wondering what in the world we have in common. So to be clear, despite the laziness and bad career decisions, he is also an incredible friend. He has been extremely supportive of me, particularly with this whole deconversion thing. We have similar upbringings so we can talk about that. We are both geeks, as is my husband, so they get along really really well. We can talk for hours about superheroes, geek culture, video games, movies. It is easy to make him laugh and the only drama in his life centers around his drama-fueled wife.
And I do know other deadbeats of Gen Y too. I have a cousin who used to be a drug addict and now works at a gas station when the mood fits. There are a few people who are working dead-end retail jobs, but have no direction in life and so this will probably be their entire existence, but who knows, they may rise to the occasion. Or maybe they are like me, forced to work retail because no one is calling you for an interview for the jobs you really want.
Goodness, if you have read this far, I am surprised. After all this is a rather personal rant about people you don't know at all. The reason I get upset about this though is that I keep reading these stories that label an entire generation, not taking into account anything beyond the years of their birth. Personality, upbringing, socio-economic brackets, religion, sex, ethnicity, immigrant status, economy, shifting societal expectations, information technologies, fast-paced businesses, and life are shoved to the side. This is not new. Earlier generations have always said bullshit about the generations after, often seeing them as lazy and incompetent. I think it should be clear by now though, as Millennials have begun to firmly establish themselves in careers that these things aren't all true. Everyone has been young and dumb once, and there are some people out there who are dumber than most, but I am very hopeful for my generation. I see them making some really amazing contributions to our society and demanding changes and I can't help but think there is a bright future ahead.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.