You've likely seen the anonymous, viral blog post about millennials that's circulated through social media over the last few days. In it, the writer seeks to encapsulate all that is wrong with the "special snowflake" mentality of Generation Y (or the author's awkwardly anagramed "Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies" — GYPSYs).
The post, via the website Wait But Why, comes on the heels of a Wall Street Journal article about the strange phenomena of millennials who bring their parents into their professional lives, and countless stories decrying our "needy, entitled, and self-centered" approach to our careers.
Yet the post is both condescending AND wrong about so-called "GYPSYs." The entitlement mantra has been used to label our generation for years now, and frankly I'm tired of it.
I'll allow that there's some truth to the perspective that Boomers instilled in our generation a set of unrealistic expectations for our careers. Nor is the author wrong to critique millennials for our tendency to compare ourselves to our peers on Facebook. But once the author accuses us of wanting our "own personal dreams" instead of the much more "realistic" American Dream of the Boomers, I have to call foul.
Millennials do have high expectations of what we could be, but it's not because we think we're all special flowers who want shiny unicorns on our pristine career grass. We just don't want to play the game in the identical way as generations that have come before us, and for good reason.
We are, collectively, interested in jobs that offer more flexibility, embrace technology and social media, and offer fair and adequate compensation based on measurable performance evaluation. I'm sure such requests can come across as entitled if not presented appropriately. Yet this article isn't critiquing a "bad ask." Instead, it suggests that the desires themselves are unreasonable.
As the post points out, our parents' generation had decent job prospects. Many pursued "practical, secure careers" with encouragement from their Greatest Generation parents, while facing low barriers to an affordable education, compared to us "GYPSYs." Millennials pay more for college, and see so little reward for that cost that a full third of millennials believe college is a bad deal. Even so, we're told a degree can be an even better investment than it was in the past,even for jobs that don't require a degree. GYPSYs aren't just chasing some fulfilling degree to have a fancy, unicorn life — we're contending with a flawed structure of student debt and the difficult decisions that come with a serious wealth and earnings gap.
The author's contention that millennials' search for a "fulfilling" career is somehow "snowflake-y" blatantly disregards evidence that those desires are actually more practical for our current economic conditions. It's no coincidence that the Google Ngram viewer cited by the author shows a steep drop off in a "secure career" in 2002 and an even steeper one from 2007-2008. The reality is millennials face a difficult and unstable economy that causes us to pursue careers that inspire us personally and which demand different working conditions; such as flex time, and taking greater control over our own job security.
Professor Paul Harvey, who is quoted in the post for his research on millennials in the workplace, says that our generation is more likely to lash out at coworkers and take credit for the work that goes right, while shirking responsibility for that which goes wrong. The author seems to argue that, with bravado that doesn't match our abilities, millennials are disappointed with how slowly our careers progress and frustrated by our thwarted expectations. Yet newer research by Ernst and Young LLP revealed that millennials are moving into management at a spectacular pace: 87% of Gen Y managers took on a new management role in the past five years, far surpassing Gen X (38%) and Boomers (19%).
It's almost as if the Boomer generation is pushing back because they themselves feel entitled to deference and believe their "wisdom" is superior to any new and innovative challenges in the workplace.
Look, I am certain there are egotistical millennials running around thinking they could save the world if everyone would just get out of their way. That's called a character flaw, not a generational one — and plenty of Boomers share it.
Maybe vocalizing our expectations and seeking a fulfilling career makes sense in a world where job security is a joke and insurmountable debt is no joke.
Call me crazy, but the Boomers appear far more obsessed with fulfillment and material gains than a generation with abysmal job prospects, suffocating levels of debt, and a decent-sized chip on our shoulders after watching the economy crash due to the piss-poor management and oversight of generations older than us. We watch our parents stay in unfulfilling and, apparently, not-so-secure jobs, trying to rebuild what they lost. "Traditional," American Dream-careers feel out of our reach.
I did reach out to the author of the post to ask if it was meant as an insider's analysis or if they were a non-millennial sharing their perspective of our generation. The author mysteriously declined to identify themselves,which leaves us without insight as to what generational perspective motivated them.
What I know is that members of our generation aren't "GYPSYs" who want a career that gives us participation medals. That's someone else's story. Our generation is one with new priorities, new ideas, and new challenges. If you look at us and see just fancy unicorns, you're missing the point.