Everyone is allowed to have pet peeves, and here is one of mine: When people talk about generations.
There is nothing more annoying and dilettantish than when a faux-intellectual tries to explain the mindset or behaviors of a particular generation. “The thing about Millennials is…” That kind of stupid crap.
Recently, I was treated to a horrific article located here in which some old lady wantrepreneur named Penelope Trunk rambles about how much she dislikes “Generation Y.”
Like so many articles about generational stereotyping, hers is not worthy of response. Rather, I would like to discuss my generation. Some might call me a “Millennial” or “Generation Y” — either way, this article is about people in their 20s.
The truth is that my generation is perfectly awesome. We are simply the subject of nonsensically bad press. And because our parents’ generation managed to destroy the entire publishing industry, not many young people get a chance to defend themselves in print.
But that’s what I plan to do right now. Here are some of the ridiculous criticisms that old people level at young people…
“Millennials still live off their parents until late in life…”
This is one of the most unreasonable charges against Millennials, because it’s part of a natural, multi-generational trend.
The United States life expectancy has grown by 15 years since many of our parents were born. Did they expect that all 15 of those years would simply be tacked on to the end of our mortal timelines? No. What’s more logical is that every phase of one’s life is elongated by about 20 – 25 percent.
Thus, the phase where we receive education — which two generations ago usually ended at age 16 or 18 — is now ending in our mid-twenties. And the period of life after graduation and before marriage is also longer. There are many reasons for this (women have careers; birth control exists; too many divorced parents, etc.). But the net result is that we don’t get married at age 24 anymore. We get married closer to 30.
The hope would be that our retirements last longer too. Statistically speaking, we don’t retire at age 65 and die at age 70, which was the most common outcome for people born two generations ago. Some of us hope to work into our late-60s and enjoy many years of retirement.
And so we Millenials don’t leave the nest anymore at age 18. Many of us are not self-sufficient at age 21. But, guess what? Our great-grandparents were expected to make a living as teenagers. And their fathers worked in factories at age 12. Should we look to that as some sort of model?
People live longer, and they expand the phases of their life. This has happened for centuries. To set some sort of arbitrary ‘line in the sand’ at which point a young person is supposed to be self-sufficient… that is the ultimate fallacy.
“Millennials don’t know what to do with their careers…”
This is another common and ridiculous claim.
Are there a lot of Millennials who get graduate degrees in god-knows-what with no eye towards their future career prospects? Sure. It happens all the time. More than it probably should.
But trying to forge a career in the year 2013 is not easy, and “Generation X” parents should get a clue about what it’s like to seek employment today. For those young people who have taken the time to speak with their elders about various career options, here is the summary takeaway:
Every career path sucks.
Want to pursue a career in medicine? A gaggle of doctors from the “Baby Boomer Generation” and “Generation X” will tell you why that’s a bad idea. In their day, a doctor made millions. Today’s doctors get sued all the time and get screwed by insurance companies.
What about law? That is the least-advised career path of all, according to adults who currently practice the profession. Getting a legal job is next to impossible right now, and they have even opened “lawyer sweat shops” to get cheap labor out of the glut of JD graduates.
Oh — wait — did I say that law was the worst career path? Well, that’s only amongst the career paths that still exist. There is a veritable graveyard of non-existent jobs that disappeared some time in the last decade… like journalism.
In truth, the best jobs to get right now are in manual labor. We could use a lot more plumbers, steam-fitters, and HVAC technicians. But I’m sure that grand-parents in the “Baby Boomer Generation” and parents from “Generation X” would be thrilled with that, right? I’m sure that if a young woman in her early 20s told Lawyer Daddy and Doctor Mommy that she wanted to be an HVAC technician that her parents would even know what the hell that is. Right?
And anybody over the age of 50 who works in medicine, law, journalism, advertising, education, or banking has absolutely no right to bitch at their children for being indecisive about their careers. If such career paths were similarly perilous 30 years ago, they would have been equally indecisive about what the hell to do with their lives.
“Everybody In the Millennial generation wants a trophy…”
Has our generation been coddled? Do we suffer from a little too much “self esteem”? In the words of Penelope Trunk, too many of us “were in soccer leagues where everyone gets a trophy.”
Perhaps there’s some truth to it.
But our over-abundance of self-esteem is a small dose of “bad” that comes with a great deal of “good.”
Rather than bitch about our generation, maybe Penelope Trunk should take a look at this graph, which shows the violent crime rate in the United States. Beginning in the mid-90s, when the first Millennials were entering their teenage years, the crime rate started to drop. And it kept on dropping. And it is still dropping.
Today, there are one-third as many violent crimes as there were when “Baby Boomers” and “Generation X” were our age. Ever wonder why people live in major cities again? My parents and aunts and uncles were forced to flee cities like New York, because most cities were so violent and disgusting in the 1980s.
Millennials commit far fewer crimes than any generation before them. And theorists have pinned this decrease on everything from abortions to leaded gasoline. But plenty of it can also be explained by a simple concept — decency. From parents who love their gay kids. From teachers who celebrate Black History Month in a classroom that is mostly white. From coaches who look for signs of abuse in their players’ behavior. From schools that are equipped to accommodate autistic children. The world is a much kinder and mushier place than it was 30 years ago. We are all softer because of it.
…but, as a result, we get to live in safe cities and walk around freely at night. Those of us lucky enough to live in Manhattan have an incredible quality of life, and those on a tighter budget can live in Brooklyn or even parts of Harlem. This was unimaginable two decades ago.
It’s a completely worthwhile trade-off.
“Millennials start companies because they don’t want real jobs…”
If there is anybody who should sympathize with this criticism, it’s me. Every month, I take 10 or 12 meetings with young people who are starting companies. Most of those companies suck. And most of those companies have no chance to succeed.
(Note: most people thought that Bleacher Report was a terrible business idea when we first came up with it.)
But you will never see me criticize a person for taking a chance at entrepreneurship, regardless of how bad their idea may be. Very rarely will I snipe other founders.
Because the experience of starting a company — if taken seriously — is a valuable one that teaches any person a great deal about life and their careers. It also teaches people some real skills. And Darwinism dictates that bad startups fail pretty quickly, and those who can’t cut it move on to the next thing a year or two later. Think of it as a cheaper Master’s degree.
Do some young people start companies even when they don’t have a fully-formed idea? Yes. Do some young people pursue entrepreneurship just for the heck of it? Absolutely.
That’s human nature — human see, human do. If one 23-year-old boy sees his older brother launch a successful iPhone app, he will want to do the same. Is this a new story? Are old people supposed to be surprised by this behavior? If so, they are completely full of crap.
Half the reason my friends and I started Bleacher Report was because we saw my cousin and his friends sell CollegeHumor for millions of dollars. We wanted to do the same damn thing. And we did.
So a bunch of people in their 20s are quitting their “real jobs” as corporate cogs in order to follow their dreams of starting a company…
At least they aren’t like the “Baby Boomers” who avoided jobs altogether, grew their hair long, moved to San Francisco, disavowed showering, smoked all day, bitched about a world they were too high to change, started working when they were 30, voted for Ronald Reagan, pillaged Social Security and Medicare, spent massively, passed a bunch of tax laws to screw over future generations, inflated economic bubbles, and then bequeathed all of their problems to the Millennial generation…
…just because their friends were doing it.
Oh, wait, was that an obnoxious generational stereotype?
[Image Credit: Theo Gosselin]