Everywhere I look, millennials are under attack. A recent front cover of TIME magazine declared millennials the ME ME ME generation. The writer, Joel Stein (a Gen Xer), notes that the millennial rate of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times higher than the generation 65 or older.
Then I stumbled across a column by career advice expert (and also a Gen Xer) Penelope Trunk entitled "5 Things You Don't Know About Gen Y." Trunk upbraids millennials and says they are "consumed with their image."
OK, that's about enough.
I will not refute Stein or Trunk. I am part of the ME ME ME generation and quite concerned with my (professional) image. Our 20s are the ideal time to take a ME ME ME approach, and I am not talking about snapping selfies on Instagram, as Stein claims we do every single day.
I am 29-years-old and rapidly approaching the big 3-0. As I look back on the past decade, I realize those years have ME ME ME written all over them. Like anyone else in their 20s who is new to the work world, I am on a journey to find who I am, what I am passionate about and the tools I need to compete.
I am constantly asking: "What are the best skills for ME to learn? Who can I seek out to teach ME something new? Does this job fit ME?"
ME. ME. ME.
It's not selfish; it's smart. If millennials are going to take the reins and one day lead this country, then we need to look inward and use our twenties to understand our core identity. These early years are essential for on-the-job training that will matter 10, 20 and 40 years from now.
Since college, I have held two different full-time jobs — as a TV reporter and then TV news consultant — and dabbled on the side with all kinds of communications projects. I learned digital advertising during the 2010 midterm elections, hauled equipment as a cameraman for a sports TV show and edited a millennial news Web site. If a challenge arose and I had the time, I went for it.
With each gig, I honed my interests and inched closer to the role I am meant to play. Even if I didn't love a particular job, I gained new skills and uncovered what is best for ME. At 29, I don't have it all figured out, but I feel like I am finally putting the disparate pieces together. I am about to start a new job with long-term potential as a public relations professional and am also one year into the creation of a news blog that I believe in deeply.
Without ME ME ME, I would never have arrived at either conclusion. It took dedication and persistence, and I expect to build on that progress in my thirties. Millennials: take Stein's rebuke and turn it on its head. It's OK — no, it's essential — to have a me-first view in your 20s.
If you want to Instagram your face and stare at it all day, then you're playing into the expectations society has for our generation.
Instead, use these free-form years to let your personality and career take shape. Take chances, work odd schedules and get your hands dirty. Be selfish in a productive, meaningful way. It's not "What's in it for ME?" It's "What can the world teach ME to define who I am and prepare ME for adulthood?"
ME. ME. ME.
Then, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers won't bemoan our "narcissistic" 20s.
They will thank us for them.
Were you turned off by the TIME magazine front cover?