I’m getting tired of the Millennials getting a bad rap. This is possibly because I am a fair-minded person who believes, as Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson puts it, that you can’t be a leader if you look at the next generation disparagingly, rather than seeing their light, their potential. Or it could simply be because I personally am blessed with some profoundly cool Millennials.
According to Wikipedia, “demographers and researchers typically use the early 1980s as starting birth years and the mid-1990s to early 2000s as ending birth years” to define the category of young people called Millennials, also known as Generation Y or “echo boomers.”
Interestingly, some of the harshest criticism of the generation comes from Millennials themselves.
I have heard people of all age groups saying that the Millennials are lazy, that they can’t hold a job, that they want things handed to them without effort on their part, that they demand without patience what their parents took decades to build. Of course, there is no stereotype without its truths; but it is also true that nothing exists in a vacuum. One must examine the generation that influenced a group of people to become who they are, as well as the dynamic of the time in which they live.
Here are a few of my arguments.
They are lazy.
While it may appear that there is more sitting than jogging these days, in fairness, their lives are spent chained to a lot of technology. This is their play, but it is also their work. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, “More than 50% of today’s jobs require some degree of technology skills, and experts say that percentage will increase to 77% in the next decade.” Computer jobs are increasingly allowing for people to work from their homes, so there is less of the hustle and bustle of commuting that makes people look busy and active. And while there were body builders in the 1970s and marathon runners and cyclists in the 1980s and ’90s, there are a lot of young people today striving to stay fit and lean by attending high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes, or by using personal trainers. (Two of my daughters-in-law are in the field and are much in demand.)
They can’t hold a job.
When I grew up, it was understood that you worked hard in school, got your degree, went to work in a career in which you expected to be immersed for thirty or more years, got your gold watch, and retired. Perhaps you were a blue-collar worker rather than a white-collar worker (so went the designations); but the basic rules applied. Working at one place for a number of years showed loyalty, stability, a desire to succeed. But my kids are growing up in the Start-Up Generation. People not much older than themselves are their bosses, starting a new business in high-tech one day, selling or losing the business in a comparatively short time, and starting something new. “Job loyalty” is not a thing of the past; rather, it has morphed (as all things do). Now, to be loyal to your employees means that you will give them enough warning before the ground beneath them shifts to find new jobs. As an employee, you are consistently maneuvering to stay upright on that shifting ground, and that can mean always looking for the next job, even as you put in hours of hard work in your current position. To measure this generation’s stability in the work force against their parents’ generation is unrealistic and unfair.
They want things handed to them.
As one of my sons astutely pointed out, when he was growing up, people were given “participation awards” for just showing up and were showered with praise “just for breathing.” No one, no matter how ill-suited to the task, should have his self-esteem damaged by that fact. And if you excelled, all the hard work seemed lost in that desire to treat everyone equally. The clear-cut sense of earning what you received became confused. Still, the kids didn’t buy into it — even those who received the faux awards were often insulted by them. But they certainly were brought up with the idea that everyone should walk home with a prize handed to them.
They have no patience to wait for success.
This one is tough. I have watched (for the few minutes I can bear it) the music videos and movies that hold my Millennials’ attention (whatever that means in a world of flipping through songs before they reach the tonic, and changing videos within minutes or watching three or four videos at once). Everything happens at five times the speed it did when I was a kid. (If you don’t believe me, go back and watch old TV episodes that were aired during the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s… Not only are they outdated, of course, but they seem to crawl, even to the parents of Millennials.) The pace of their lives is nothing short of hyper-kinetic compared to ours. To this can be added the fear that the bottom is going to drop out at any moment. For example, due to rising home prices and a shortage of housing, Millennials worry that they will never be able to afford homes like the ones in which they grew up. There are those whose analyses suggest that Millennials will never be able to buy a home at all.
To be quite honest, I don’t know how these kids do what they do. I don’t know if I have the skills to do what they do! I am in awe of their incredible energy, their flexibility, their drive to try to build the lives they want for their families, as the odds of them having any stability offered to them declines with each passing day.
My son points out that every generation raises its children within the confines of what is known at the time. He recognizes that he will make mistakes, and that he cannot possibly prepare his kids fully for what will unfold in twenty or thirty years. Let’s cut this amazing generation a little slack, and give them our support.