Ugh, Stop Wringing Your Hands About Millennials

I am a Millennial (also known as Generation Y).  I was born in the mid-1980s, which actually puts me at the older end of Generation Y/the Millennial Generation: old enough to remember before 9/11, and remember the changes it wrought in our society; old enough to not have been raised on the Internet, but young enough when it entered my life that it has had a profound impact on my thinking.  Millennials are generally believed to have been born between 1982 and 2000, which means that Millennials today are between the ages of 31 and 13.  Huge spread.

Sociologists, generally, first began using generational names and markers to study Baby Boomers (who were born between 1946 and 1964; Millennials are the children of young Baby Boomers and older Generation Xers), and then, retrospectively, the “Greatest Generation” (who came of age during the Great Depression and fought and lived as younger adults during World War II) and the “Silent Generation” (who were children during the Depression).  Somewhere along the way, journalists caught wind of this and have started using those generational markers and names not just to describe the generations, but to opine on their characteristics.

Now, the thing about Millennials is that, since we range from the age of 31 to 13, we haven’t really come into our own yet.  Many of us are just starting to get married, and for the older of us who have children, our children are very young (generally under 10 years old).  Half of us probably haven’t even passed into adulthood yet, much less moved into the formal workforce.  Jeez, some of us haven’t even graduated from high school.  The vast majority of Millennials also don’t have the capital to make any large purchases – many of us may own cars, but few of us own homes (the average age of first home purchase is around 36), much less stocks and mutual funds and things of that nature.

And yet, many journalists have taken the opportunity to begin writing about what Millennials are and aren’t, what we do and don’t do – especially in the workplace.  And apparently, like most generations, they believe that we’re lazy, stupid, unconnected, entitled, and “special snowflakes.”  I’m not sure whether most recognize the irony that their parents also said that about them, and so on back.  Even Socrates said “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

What prompted this post was this Forbes article “20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don’t Know.”  Although the headline indicates the article is targeted towards 20-year-olds, the writer (who is only 34 years old himself) indicates that he may be talking to the entire Millennial Generation.  (“How I came up seems so different from what this Millennial Generation expects.”  Dude, you’re 7 years older than me.  Get over yourself.)  Most of his advice either doesn’t ring true to me as a Millennial (including the advice that social media is not a career…I think that Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg would disagree with you, sir), or is advice that is just best generally targeted at younger workers who simply haven’t learned the ropes of the business world rather than deficiencies specific to being a Millennial.

And I think that’s where most of my ire is drawn.  So many journalists are blaming the failings of the Millennials on some innate deficiencies in our characters instead of the fact that most of us are still very young and still learning our way around the corporate world.  I’m sure Baby Boomers didn’t come storming into the world at 18 knowing that you need a business mentor or exactly what skills are in high demand by employers.  Give us some time to reach our 30s and 40s, and then – once our personalities are formed and we have children and houses and careers – you can start to really determine what are permanent traits that define us and separate us from our Baby Boomer and Generation X parents.