Millennials: Rainbow-Puking Unicorn Egomaniacs Or Painfully Misunderstood Optimists?

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We’re entitled and annoying, living on our parents’ couches, social media narcissists, and have wildly ambitious dreams that are completely out of sync with reality. That has been the understanding of millennials for the past few years, and I’m sick of it.

Wait But Why tries to outline why Generation-Y yuppies are unhappy. The anonymous author argues that because Gen-Y is “wildly ambitious,” “delusional,” believes that they’re “special,” and are “taunted” by the success of their peers, millennials are never going to be satisfied.

The article really doesn’t offer anything new to the millenial stigma other than Paint-quality graphs and a few interesting statistics on failing job security. Lucky for me, the post went viral and offers the opportunity to correct some of the misconceptions about millennials.

The American Dream Is Different For Us

It’s fairly well established that Boomers created a narrative that duped many millennials into believing that with a little hard work and a college education, we can do anything. It makes sense that they believe this: their careers, blossoming from the 70s through the 90s, came during a time of economic boom. They attributed their successes to their job devotion. As Wait But Why aptly points out, this was at the heels of their parents’ expectations: work hard and save earnestly in case there’s another Great Depression.

So it should be no surprise that Boomers are disappointed when their mantra of “work, work, work” isn’t having the same outcome for millennials. They short-sightedly blame us for not trying hard enough; if “go to college, get a job, and work your butt off regardless of the situation” worked well for them, it must work well for everyone, right?

The reality is that millennials have come to terms with the fact that college is a raw deal. According to a Wells Fargo study, one-third of millennials regret going to college due to its high cost and low pay-off, even while data suggests that a college education is more important than ever to enter the job market.

Given the data and the narrative, I would not call millennials “entitled” for expecting a job upon graduation. In my world, that’s called a “return on investment.” On top of that, millennials expect their jobs to be reflective of the world that they grew up in—and that Boomers didn’t. Millennials want work that mattersThey want a flexible environment, to work hard, and to contribute meaningfully to the company, and they’re persistently optimistic about their ability to do so. Forbes notes,

In their insistence on social principle, many millennials are not driven by money or success in quite the way their parents were. This generation wants to know what your organization stands for in improving society, what it stands for in action, as opposed to blowing smoke. Millennials want to know how they will make a positive difference in the world if they join your business, not by wearing a colorful T-shirt on a special project once a year but in their actual work.

Does that sound like entitlement to you?

Boomers, on the other hand, desire feedback in the form of money and, for the many who choose to eschew retirement, want a secure job. Millennials simply don’t care as much about these qualities in a career. For Boomers, a career is like a security blanket. For millennials, a career is a gateway to contribute to the world. These two generations view their career paths and goals differently, and neither is more entitled than the other.

A Secure Career Isn’t In The Works For Millennials

The Wait But Why article shows that the trend has been for millennials to disregard job security. To this I say: of course! Millennials witnessed their parents lose their jobs in the recession and understand better than most that “job security” is a fiction. They are wary to get themselves into a situation where they lose everything. Makes perfect sense to me.

On top of that, in a hyper-saturated job market, a millennial worker is a dime-a-dozen. For many of us, we are not treated with respect from hiring until firing. Respect, in this case, simply means valuing our time. Expecting endless work done for free during the hiring process, being asked about future marriage status during an interview (fun fact: it’s illegal), and “forgetting” about an interview, only to call at 11PM on a Friday (three days after the fact) expecting to talk—these are all examples of blatant disrespect. And all of these examples have happened to me.

My parents are Gen-Xers and have warned me against doing work for free—many of my friends who have Boomer parents have heard the same advice. But what about if it’s impossible to get hired without doing so? That is the reality for many entry-level millennials. For one job I applied to, I created 20 pages of original content for a company I was a finalist for (they contended that they were checking my ability to write), content they used, but still didn’t get the job, and they never paid me. That is over 30 hours of uncompensated work. It’s irksome to know that I was tricked into providing free labor after so many years of knowingly providing unpaid internship support.

When companies have been using and abusing “The Indentured Generation,” it’s no wonder that millennials are more willing to switch companies when the opportunity for advancement presents itself. Employers are willing to rid themselves of us should they see fit. We have the right to return the favor.

What’s All This Entitlement Everyone Is Going On About?

Wait But Why cites Paul Harvey in saying that millennials are entitled. While it’s true millennials are more self-interested than other generations, I’m not sure if that translates into entitlement.

More recent surveys show that millennials are advancing in their careers faster than any other generational cohort did, demonstrating a hard-working capacity impressive enough to be rewarded. Gary Swart of ODesk argues that millennials are simply displaying “smart thinking about the reality of today’s workplace” when they push for promotions and fair compensation.

Even in spending habits, millennials are less likely to overspend than other generations. LifeCourse, a generational studies company, reports,

The millennials’ relationship with money seems quite simple. They do not have a lot of it, and what they do have, they seem reluctant to spend. Millennials are buying fewer cars and houses, and despite their immersion in consumer culture, particularly electronics, they are not really spending beyond their limited means. Their credit-card debt has declined… “They have this risk aversion that we’ve seen with millennials since they were teenagers,” Howe said.

In sum, millennials have realistic job expectations, work hard, and don’t overspend the money they make. All of these things point away from entitlement to me.

Millennial Bashing Is So 2000

Like so many of my peers, I’m sick of the mischaracterizations thrust upon my generation. The hypocrisy that Boomers—the generation that benefits the most from government entitlements (where by 2030,  the last Boomers will have started on Social Security, consuming 61 cents of every federal dollar), the generation that stuck millennials with the nation’s crushing debt, the generation that screwed us with Iraq, Afghanistan, and the environment—have the nerve to tell my generation how we’re entitled and making poor decisions is mind-boggling.

We started off being told we were spoiled after we were born, now we’re being told we’re entitled. Our generation has never satisfied others, but the reality is that as we enter the workforce, we have different but realistic desires, and we are the generation that is going to “save us all.” It’s time for older generations to start showing a little bit more respect and understanding to the people who will be cleaning up their mess.

  • AuntMerryweather

    My conjecture: We’re not more entitled, it’s just that our parents had the poor sense to join Facebook and became immersed in a virtual world that WAS NEVER MEANT FOR THEM. If they had joined Tumblr instead, they’d probably say millennials are a bunch of weirdos who are obsessed with cats, social justice, and/or James Deen.

  • Mary Parrilli

    Thank you! Someone finally putting this issue into perspective. I love it.

  • Luke Wachob

    Very well thought out piece with lots of good research! Definitely worth linking the grandparents to this post.