Sami Jankins believes the Millennial generation holds the potential for innovation and promise of creating social change if just given the chance.
I read an article this week on how marketers have given up on my generation, the Millennial. My first thought was – really? Isn’t it too soon to give up on an entire arbitrarily grouped together by date of birth collection of young people? These new Generation Z-ers are apparently ready to jump on the bandwagon of unpaid internships (I did plenty of these). They want to work towards furthering the overall benefit of society, but maybe they could also be incredibly idealistic middle schoolers. It seems far too soon to give up on my generation. I know we’re known for an on-line presence that many older adults can’t seem to quite understand. Don’t worry, Snapchat confuses even me. I know my friends aren’t an entirely solid social sampling, but I can say that from what I know being in and of my generation – we’re scared stuck.
My grandparents are considered to be a part of the Greatest Generation. My grandparents were mostly blue collar workers – factory workers, construction workers, and farmers. None of them had a degree beyond high school, and one of my grandfathers was illiterate. They knew what it was like to get their hands dirty and put in a hard days worth of work. All of this hard work allowed for my grandparents’ generation to retire at what would now be considered a relatively young age. My grandma is about to turn 80 and has been comfortably retired for 25 years. This has allowed her throughout the years to take part in leisure activities that include being a part of a snowmobile club. My grandparents have had the opportunity to travel and investigate passions beyond their work careers and spend ample time with their grandchildren.
My parents’ generation is a whole different story. My mom grew up in extreme poverty and was put to work at age twelve to help support her family that depended on government food and church donations to get by. While I know many of my friends’ parents are college and beyond educated, my parents are not. Both of my parents focused on jobs they were passionate about to build their life careers, something that was maybe a luxury to their parents’ generation. The rug was pulled out beneath my family when my dad suddenly lost his upper-middle class job after 34 years due to corporate cut-backs. He was aging in a time when young is in. I can say I worked my ass off in helping my parents pick up the pieces following this extraordinary shock. For a time my life revolved around getting my dad’s resume in shape and helping him apply for jobs. Family solidarity is important to me. He was able to land on his feet in a different company after a number of months of high stress and nail-biting. My parents are both under-qualified due to lack of degree and over-qualified due to level of experience for careers in their chosen field. Also, they are older at a time where no one wants to hire old. Retirement is not a word in either of their vocabularies. How can it be? After all of these years of hard work there is no stability. Life expectancy is longer, and apparently with that people are expected to work forever. I worry my parents are missing out on a time to enjoy the world around them knowing that the rug could be pulled out at any time.
When I was in high school, I was told that I must apply to college. College was the only way to get a job. Once I got to college I was told I had to go to graduate school because a college degree was now akin to a high school degree, and having more debt than I could ever fathom was the only way I could become employed. Sallie Mae is not a good friend to have. My undergraduate degree is theatre which is probably not sensible, a hobby some would even say. I can say it gave me the basics of critical analysis, the writing skills I now possess, know-how of power tools and basic building skills (comes in handy for putting together furniture) as well as some solid knowledge of circuitry and lighting. To supplement this I took classes in everything else imaginable. I knew I had to have broad-based knowledge. I was a senatorial intern as well as a local museum intern. The more variety in my resume seemed to be in my favor. My parents still pushed finding a career that I was passionate about over just a job I showed up to. That’s why I’m in graduate school for writing. I still live with my parents, but yes, I pay rent (as do many of my friends who live at home). I’m trying to be financially responsible, and it’s also been an enormous help to my parents during their recent career crisis. I had intended initially to go to law school, but even that field is proving to be unstable.
Maybe it’s because my friends know my parents instilled a belief that passion is important that makes them feel they come to me for advice with life, and what I hear from them is that they’re flat out scared. They’re afraid to fail. Afraid that if they make one career mistake now, it will ruin their entire life so they never try for the highest level of potential just in case it’s too risky. I’ve always felt connected to Sam Beckett’s quote – “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” It can be embarrassing to have to live at home, but jobs just aren’t there. We are making do with what is available. It seems we have to have more qualifications than ever before which delves us even further into debt. Most entry jobs now require this “work experience” that can’t just magically appear on our resumes.
One friend came to me fairly stressed out over a decision of whether to stay pre-med or go with his true passion of computers. They both are solid career choices, and it seemed like a no-brainer to me to go with a choice of passion. I think it is tough to argue that when provided the option of a work force that is truly passionate versus those that just show up, more innovation will come from the passionate work force. I realize in saying that, it’s a luxury, but my friends at this point don’t have families to consider – they can and should be allowed to focus on the evolution of their careers. Another friend was already far into her graduate school program at the age of twenty when she didn’t know what focus she wanted to pick for her degree, a decision that was rapidly approaching. At the same time she was offered the opportunity to go to South Africa for a few months to stay with a friend. I urged her to take the time off to go and explore. When would she be presented with an opportunity like that again? She returned with renewed vigor and solid focus as to where her career path needed to go. Yet another friend realized he was stuck in a job at the age of twenty-two that left him entirely uninspired. He wanted to be a part of a work environment that created positive social change, but the pressure to establish a high salary was already there. He could see his future ten years from now being stuck in the same job going nowhere. I encouraged him to see what other options were available to him. Twenty-two is too young to me to just throw in the towel on possibility.
I realize that there are people out there who work two or even three jobs just to get by, and that some of our Millennial choices are not available to many. My niece is eight, part of that Generation Z group. I already see extreme pressure on her age group to work harder, work smarter, and a promise that there will be pay-off. Kids now need to get into the best pre-schools to guarantee a successful corporate future. How much earlier can this pressure begin? My parents saw their parents’ generation and expected retirement with time for leisure. My generation can look to the Boomers to see that maybe no matter how much time you put into a career, it can easily be pulled away from you at a moment’s notice. It’s too early to give up on Millennials. There are still innovators out there among us, but we’re too scared to be labeled as irresponsible for trying to innovate. We don’t know what the future holds for our generation. Maybe we don’t completely make sense (as young generations are often misunderstood), but instead of holding us to the path of our elders or assuming the generation younger than us will hold more promise, give us the opportunity to spread our wings and find where we belong. I truly believe we’ll surprise you.