It’s a term we hear everywhere from the evening news to our HR director. Just mentioning it makes me feel as though I’ve spoken a dirty word. The lazy, tech-obsessed, entitled generation only good for living in their parents’ basements and playing with their latest gadget while changing jobs every six months.
Or so they keep telling me. Over and over and over again, in fact. As a millennial myself, I cannot stay silent any more.
The generations before us seem to forget the market is not what it was 20 years ago. Every day, there is a chance that our jobs may no longer be there. It is not realistic for us to have the opportunity to stay at the same company for 35 years and then retire.
While companies change their business models, the economy and markets must change, as well. This leaves millennials in a constant state of flux. Figuring out which job may last more than five years is almost like playing roulette. While the job is necessary now, with the level and speed of innovation, who knows if it will be down the road?
In some cases, things are easier, such as starting our own businesses. For example, some people are making money simply off their social media followings, but these opportunities do not always offer the guarantee of long-term stability we so desperately need to combat a fluctuating economy, large financial debt and the pressure to keep up with the Joneses.
Moving from job to job is sometimes about figuring out where best to invest our years to set us up for the future, rather than landing in one place and staying there until the orchestra starts playing on the sinking ship. Most of us would love to find a solid rock to plant our feet on, but those opportunities are few and far between.
I am exhausted by the effort of trying to modify my behavior so I don’t offend the generation before me. I can’t be on my phone too much or they think I’m obsessed, yet I need to be available at all times to prove I’m not lazy. I have to stay at a job that makes me miserable and does not value me to show that I put in my time, even though the company offers no room for advancement so that my resume reads “two years at… .” I need to be grateful for any opportunity that is “given” to me, because of course I couldn’t have worked hard enough to earn it on my own.
Even though I have consciously positioned myself from a young age for the career path I am on through summer jobs, internships (some even unpaid!), a college degree in my field and more networking events than I can count, I still have to be sure not to seem too entitled or else I’m shrugged off as just another millennial brat.
Technology has given this generation wonderful gifts and large challenges.
While I do think there are some who do become obsessed with their phones, I also wonder if we haven’t just replaced the “smoke breaks” of the generations before us and turned them into “communication breaks.” With a focus on healthy living and the rates of smoking at the workplace dropping more and more every year, doesn’t it make sense we would learn to take a five-minute recharge in another way?
And before the stones really start flying, let’s be honest: We are not the only ones constantly on our devices. I have been in countless meetings where the cell phones of my older colleagues go off. Tech obsession is a major problem, but calling it a generational one is a massive oversimplification that misses the point.
I’ll tell you a secret about millennials: We want to do a good job! We’re carrying some of the biggest financial burdens any generation has ever had this early in life. Trust me, very few of us want to be living in our parents’ basements for the rest of our lives. With the near certainty that there will be no Social Security in the United States by the time we retire, we have no safety net for the future. Our future is now. We are terrified of failure, not only because of our debt, but because we are constantly staring down the barrel of the next big financial crisis.
This makes us want to work smarter, not harder. Efficiency has become our lifeblood. Staying on top of the latest trends is not just some obsession with technology, it is our way of finding more creative solutions rather than just deferring to “the way it’s always been done.” We have been told we need to stand out and show how we are different from the other 67 applicants who all have college degrees, so let us try and show you. Before dismissing us as a generation who just wants to get by, ask us what we think a different approach might achieve. Given the chance, most of us want to show our value and what we can bring to the table. We literally cannot afford not to.
The next time you interact with a millennial, ask them about what they see for their future. Ask them what they want to achieve in life and how they have reached the point they are at now. You might just be surprised at their answers — if you are willing to look up from your phone in the first place.