Whether it’s the Wall Street Journal for work or random links I find on Twitter for fun, I do an absolute ton of reading during the day. Every single day, I scour the internet for information either intelligent or amusing, and every single day I instead stumble upon some new, nonsensical article explaining the “Millennial” generation. Forbes, in particular, is keen on continuously churning out column after column on how our generation thinks, feels, reacts, and wants, alongside how employers need to adapt to us and how we need to adapt to employers, a phenomenon I addressed here before.
Perhaps worse than the presumptions themselves, these columns are little more than an exercise in older individuals patting each other on the back by generalizing a generation more overtly diverse than any age group before. The columns are either entirely composed of baby boomer sages that know JUST how to identify with the youngsters at their company because they are “cool” and “hip” or a masturbatory group of old people that proclaim “kids these days don’t understand” while forgetting that the same was said about them. I can only assume that throngs of 40 year olds desperately trying to understand their children and new hires are inspiring the hits that this topic obviously generates because no actual “millennial” could come away from this drivel inspired.
I’m going to try and give some advice. It won’t apply to everyone, but that’s part of the point: generations cannot be generalized, ours included.
As a “Millennial,” perhaps one of the most annoyingly overused classifications in modern lexicon, we are Occupy Wall Streeters and aspiring investment bankers. We consume fast food with frightening regularity yet also create Pinterest-worthy organic meals. We dress in $300 jeans or shop at thrift shops, or both. Some of us are addicted to social media while others are deleting their Facebook accounts. We are procrastinators and overachievers, politically active and apathetic, and watch both the best and worst television in generations. We are inspired professionally by some combination of money, achievement, advancement, office culture, perks, level of involvement, autonomy, helping others, bettering the world, or perhaps we aren’t inspired at all.
Some of us worked hard and have great jobs; others did not and are paying the price. A lot of more of us are caught somewhere in between, underemployed and unhappy because the golden ticket promise of a college degree told to us by the very parents, professors, and professionals now using our generation as a punchline never came true. We are in a transition between adolescence and adulthood, some of us being dragged kicking and screaming, some of us wanting to grow but unable to because of situations beyond our control, some of us handling it smoothly, and most of us identify with a different category based on the day or the hour.
If you’re reading this and are over 40, does any of it sound familiar? It should. Minus technological advances and debt, both of the student loan and national variety, that drags us further down the rabbit hole of financial ruin, your generations were in the exact same situation. Your generations were made up of slackers and stars, conformists and counter culturists, introverts and extroverts, majorities and minorities, and every other personal classification that makes your specific age group impossible to properly oversimplify.
The reality is that every generation faces an inherent social and professional conflict with the two or three that precede it. Young adults, innocent to the tedious career experience, pour toward the workforce with bright-eyed ambition only to find those who came before shaking their head and pointing their finger. It is discouraging to say the least, but publicity thanks to expanded medias of delivery is the only new variable. It isn’t happening more and it isn’t any worse – you are simply bombarded with it exponentially now until everyone is convinced it is a problem.
Do I get annoyed when my boss has had a computer for twenty years and still can’t properly use Excel? Do I get frustrated because I instantly transitioned from leading organizations in college to being at the bottom of the totem pole the moment I got hired? Do I get discouraged when I utilize the very confidence I was hired for and argue insight only for my boss to claim I don’t have the experience to make such a claim? Of course I do, but this hardly makes me unique among generations of overachievers that hit the workforce and immediately take their place at the bottom of the ladder. It also doesn’t mean that every person my age has any sort of difficulty or adaptation period when first hired, if hired at all, nor does it imply that the current age of middle management needs to adapt for my specific needs.
People typically generalize in order to cast a wide net, but the more “Millennials” are stereotyped the more actual people of my generation are left scratching their heads as to how it applies to them. How one of us acts is not like the other. What one of us wants at work is not like the next. Trying to define a generation by a list of assumptions in order to better understand an individual you either employ or are related to is a horrible idea in general. Trust me, we can stereotype just as well.
If you’re reading this and want to understand how younger people think or feel, ask. Just do us a favor and ask more than one, and for the love of god, don’t write a column about your experiences on Forbes or anywhere else and act as if the individual or individuals you surveyed or spoke with reflect the interests and motivations of an entire generation.