Generation Y (pronounced “whine”)

Sandy Hingston is not pleased with the millennial generation:

As a boomer, I have a special interest in millennials. It’s the same sort of interest I have in car wrecks: I don’t want to see what’s going on, but I can’t look away. Take, for instance, the cover story that Time magazine had a few months back about how millennials are raising their children. I didn’t read the article. I couldn’t, because the very first paragraph stopped me cold. Here it is, reproduced in full:

On a playground in San Francisco, 4-year-old Astral Defiance Hayes takes a stick and writes his name in the sand. His twin brother Defy Aster Hayes whizzes around their father.

The fact is, I don’t need to know anything more about how millennials are parenting than that two of them thought it was a great idea to name their twin boys Astral Defiance and Defy Aster.

I mean: Who does that?

There are so very many boys’ names out there that aren’t Astral Defiance and Defy Aster. Old-fashioned names like Ezekiel and Joseph and Malachi. Newer names like Ryan and Marcus and Jack. Even names that are silly but super-popular right now and at least sound like names, like Jace and Jayden and Jaxon. Why would anyone hang a 50-ton albatross like Astral Defiance around his own child’s neck?

I can’t stop wondering how Astral Defiance and Defy Aster’s grandparents reacted when their offspring informed them of their new grandsons’ names. How would I react if my children told me they were doing something so rock-dumb? Would I be able to control my instinctive grimace of pain? I probably would, because every day at work, I get practice hiding my expressions of perplexity and disbelief at the odd things millennials do.

I was sitting just the other day at what we call, here in our office, “the newspaper table.” We call it that because it’s where, since time immemorial, our copies of the daily papers get placed each morning. I was paging through the New York Times when a passing intern paused. “What are you looking for?” she asked.

What was I looking for? “I’m reading the newspaper,” I told her.

“Oh,” she said.

I’ve never felt more old.

There’s an Ed Sheeran song lots of millennials are using for the first dance at their weddings. It’s a lovely song, except for this one line: “Darling, I will be loving you till we’re seventy.” Seventy! Seventy is the outside limit of the youthful imagination when it comes to age. Never mind that the average American now lives to be many years older than that — years, I suppose, that are loveless and forlorn. Fifty, 60, 70 — it’s all the same, it’s old, it’s decrepit, it’s stupid, it has nothing to say or do that’s relevant.

Still, I believe the children are our future, so I try to be kind to them in spite of their obliviousness. It helps that I’m not the only one struggling to come to terms with millennials in the workplace. Philly Mag’s November cover package highlighted the pretzels that local companies are twisting themselves into to attract and keep younger workers. Forget about a salary and some health insurance. Kids today want “hardwood floors, greenery and sunlight,” gourmet staff breakfasts, “nap rooms,” ping-pong tables, slides, rooftop lounges and beer on tap. Floor plans are open, with no doors to close or etch titles into. “The modern workplace has got to be a lot more egalitarian,” advised Al West, chairman and CEO of SEI, the investment giant out in Oaks. “If you’ve got offices for more senior people, it creates a hierarchy and gets in the way.” When did “hierarchy” become a dirty word? Hierarchy is the way the world works.

Just look at nature. Young elks tilt at grizzled older elks, and older elks smack them into place. Wolf pups nip at their elders’ necks, and the elders bite back. It’s the same with humans. Baseball rookies get hazed; sorority pledges have to buy their big sisters lattes; new Army recruits get latrine duty. People who know more get to say more. People who don’t know squat are supposed to watch and learn.

But millennials, West notes, “want to be heard and appreciated.” You know what’s awkward from an elder’s standpoint? Being expected to listen to and appreciate people who haven’t earned that right. Consider, for example, John Lim, a senior at Swarthmore College and, until this past fall, a member of its baseball team. A recent article in the independent student newspaper the Phoenix noted that before Lim left the team, baseball was his life. Yet he quit playing the sport for Swarthmore because he reached this sad conclusion: “I think athletics is really bad for this campus. I really do.” And what, pray tell, has convinced him of this? Why, it’s the unfairness of the athlete-coach dialectic: “[T]he relationship on the field between the player and the coach,” he told the Phoenix, “is very much whatever the coach says, you do.” Whatever the coach says, you do. Oh, the humanity!

Can you imagine coaching an entire team made up of John Lims?

It’s technology that’s skewing the picture, of course. My generation was raised on stories and myths about people who trudged their way through the ranks to positions of power: Ben Franklin, John Rockefeller, Oprah Winfrey. Millennial fairy tales are all about disrupters, the young Jacks who slay the old, slow giants: Evan Spiegel, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs. Raised with iPhones in hand, young people scorn the slow learning curves of their elders. Their prowess with gewgaws like Slack and Snapchat has made them our masters; we’re forced to turn to them for information and advice on our devices. (Though a major Slack theme in our office is, “Who has a charger for my device that has run out of juice because I apparently did not anticipate needing to use it at work today, again?”) What seems to escape their notice is that all the tech is just the delivery system. And cool, fancy new delivery equipment doesn’t make what’s being delivered worthwhile.

There was a time when young people were expected to read the classics — books written by old, or even dead, people. Granted, most of those people were white and male, but that alone shouldn’t see their work summarily dismissed. Yet recently, in the ongoing war over whether college students should be permitted to swaddle themselves in fluffy, fluffy cotton balls, the faculty senate at American University in Washington, D.C., voted in favor of a “free-speech resolution” that would require students who demand trigger warnings in classes to provide medical documentation of their “psychological vulnerability.” In response, the students rose up to complain that being required to provide actual proof of the disabilities for which they were demanding accommodation was onerous. Part of the reason the faculty senate took that vote was that the 18- and 19- and 20-year-old students had been calling on the university library to provide warning stickers on the covers of books that contain controversial material. You know, like The Great Gatsby (“gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” according to one Rutgers student), and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (“marginalizes student identities,” say kids at Columbia). Students tiptoe out of these feather-lined ivory towers into the office, still cotton-swathed — and they want to be journalists! Do they think they’ll be writing about sunshine and rainbows and puppies, for chrissake? If you haven’t read great works of literature because you find them triggering, how will you write about famine or child rape or serial killers or global warming? What fathoms of the human experience will go unplumbed because gazing into those depths is really, really hard? …

It’s not their fault, entirely. They haven’t been exposed to older people very much. Their best friends may be their parents, but since the reverse is also true, their parents haven’t any adult friends. I saw my grandparents every day when I was growing up; they lived with us. My kids see their grandparents five or six times a year. Again, I’m not laying blame. Everybody’s trying to get together, texting and Skyping and emailing about availability. It’s just that families are different these days — smaller, more spread out, less centered on the hearth. Also, if Grandma wants to see me, she can just sign up for Facebook, right?

But when youngsters haven’t ever been exposed to the brutish behavior of elderly boomers — especially boomers not related to them by blood — that behavior can come as a great shock. Sometimes in the workplace, we have to tell you that you’re doing something wrong. Sometimes we raise our voices. Especially if it’s the fifth or sixth or seventh time we’ve had to rouse you from the nap room to tell you that you’re still spelling “separate” wrong, and that there’s this nifty thing called spell-check that would inform you of that if you would only employ it, and that if you don’t start using it now, today, we’re not going to employ you. It’s no swing down the office slide to be told you need to adapt to the structures that are in place instead of having those structures warp to accommodate you. Sometimes there isn’t any trigger warning at all on your annual review. …

On the very day that then-69-year-old Princeton professor Angus Deaton was named the latest winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, Vox’s Dylan Matthews posted a treatise titled, “Nobel Winner Angus Deaton Is Very Critical of Foreign Aid. The Reality Is More Complicated.” Which led Gen-Xer Michael C. Moynihan of the Daily Beast to tweet a tart link to Matthews’s piece:

I love when omniscient 25-year-old bloggers Voxsplain to newly minted Nobel laureates

I find it immensely heartening that as the Gen Xers mature and we boomers die off, they’re assuming our burden.

Generational stereotyping is dangerous because not everyone of the same age came from the same family background. I know millennials who aren’t lazy and self-centered. They are college student–athletes, however, and lazy and self-centered college student–athletes don’t remain athletes very long.

Complaints about the next generation are also as old as observations about culture. That doesn’t mean complaints aren’t valid.

Even one of them, Johnny Oleksinski, agrees:

Millennials are the worst. I should know — I am one.

At 26, I’m stuck in the middle of the world’s most maligned, mocked and discussed age group. And I hate it. Imagine being forever lumped into a smug pack of narcissists who don’t just ignore the past, but openly abhor anyone and everything that came before them.

“My boomer co-workers get paid more and they have no clue what Reddit is!” drones the millennial victim as the tiny violin plays. Meanwhile, baby boomers gave us, um, computers, and our major contributions to society are emojis and TV recaps.

2016 hasn’t exactly been a banner year for the Lousiest Generation.

First there was Talia Jane, the dopey, 25-year-old Yelp employee who was rightly fired for whining about her low salary on social media. Next came the 27-year-old Mic writer who told his boss he was taking time off for a funeral when he was actually building a tree house.

And then entered the Sandernistas, Bernie Sanders obsessives who preached reform and inclusion by berating their closest friends and family for daring to think differently. (One post on the “Bernie or Bust” Facebook group reads, “I don’t want to be friends with you if you support Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.”)

This is what happens when parents slap their toddler’s headshot on a birthday cake.

Recently, a comment from a colleague hit me like a stray selfie-stick. She said, “In some ways I love being a millennial, because it’s so much easier to be better than the rest of our generation. Because they suck.” It was jarring to hear the truth so plainly stated. But she’s right. We suck. We really suck.

Like a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, I must admit that I’m powerless to my biological age. Nonetheless I fight back every day against the traits that have come to define Gen Y: entitlement, dependency, nonstop complaining, laziness, Kardashians.

People like me are called “old souls,” or “26-going-on-76.” We’re chided by our peers for silly things such as enjoying adulthood, commuting to a physical office and not being enamored with Brooklyn. Contentment has turned us into lepers. Or worse: functioning human beings.

My millennial friends want me to be hopelessly nostalgic for the ’90s, obsessing over which “Saved by the Bell” character I’m most like, while ironically purchasing Dunkaroos and Snapchatting my vacant expressions for 43 pals to ignore. Or flying home for the weekend to recover from office burnout by getting some shut-eye in my pristine childhood bedroom. Thanks, but I’ll pass.

This is my number one rule: Do whatever millennials don’t. Definite no-nos include quitting a job or relationship the moment my mood drops from ecstatic to merely content; expecting the world to kowtow to my every childish whim; and assuming that I am always the most fascinating person in the room, hell, the zip code.

Millennials are obsessed with their brand. They co-opted the term from Apple and Xerox to be — like so many other things — all about them. “What’s your brand?,” millennial employers ask. The trouble is that a young person’s brand rarely extends beyond a screen: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube. When you meet them, they’re never quite as witty, attractive or entrepreneurial as they seem on Facebook. They’re fiction authors, spinning elaborate yarns about their fabulous lives: “The Great Cathy” or “Asher in the Rye.”

But the truth is more like “A Tale of Two Cindys.” She’s the life of the party online, dull as dishwater in person.

Last year, sitting at a bar in Hell’s Kitchen, a 29-year-old friend asked, “How do you just start talking to somebody you don’t know?” The best answer I could muster was, “I’m interested in other people. I like to ask them questions about themselves.” Simple, right?

Not when your mind has been warped to believe you’re automatically deserving of others’ attention like the pope in Vatican City.

Perhaps their messiah complex is a result of being coddled, petted and worshiped like toy poodles from infancy all the way to college. Pundits love to cite soccer participation trophies as the downfall of Western civilization — but it gets even worse.

Last week, Hastings High School in Westchester, NY, handed out 87 commendations at its Senior Awards Ceremony. The graduation class size? 141 teens. A Reason Foundation survey found 58 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds think their own generation is entitled. Huh. Why could that be?

The social awkwardness of 20-somethings is a problem caused by two enemies: Kanye-sized egos and smartphones. But in order to be a good networker — still the best way to secure a job — you need to stop filtering mediocre selfies with “valencia” on Instagram, look up from your device and string together a few words with strangers. Preferably, words about them.

Too often, during a conversation, a young person’s eyes glaze over as they decide what scintillating tidbit about their brilliant selves to reveal next, be it the three days they didn’t leave their apartment, or how a study abroad experience in Portugal nine years ago shaped who they are today. News flash: Nobody cares.

(Sorry, I just got a text from someone I’d rather be spending time with. Feel free to keep reading while I carry on a separate conversation with them.)

The self-obsession doesn’t go down well at the office, either. Millennials make up the largest portion of the workforce. But employers are terrified of them — with good reason. They’re serial job hoppers. According to Gallup, in 2016, 21 percent of the commitment-phobes left their job after less than a year. Sixty percent are open to it. The “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question has never been more redundant, because the answer is almost definitely “Not here.”

One friend of mine has tackled six different jobs in two years, which seems more stressful than just sticking with one less-than-perfect spot for a while. How long should any person stay in a gig? At least 18 months, according to most career experts. Think of it as binge-working.

And once they do land their dream job as a hoverboard tester paid in wads of cash and sushi burritos? They want to work from their apartment. A US Chamber Foundation study said work-life balance drives the career choices of 75 percent of millennials. In my experience, however, the balance generally tilts toward wherever you can type pantsless.

The situation looks bleak — but we can turn it around, millennials. Here’s how. Action item one: Stop blaming everybody. Don’t blame the big banks, don’t blame your mom, don’t blame the baby boomers, don’t blame your employer, your landlord, the economy, the Apple store, the media, the airlines, the weatherman, George R.R. Martin. By absolving ourselves of responsibility, we’ve become forever 8-year-olds, tattling on the world in hopes it will better our situation. It won’t. It will only make it crummier.

Action item two: Stop being so insular. Many young people were shocked when Brexit won out in the UK, or when Donald Trump became the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. That’s because you’ve curated your social media accounts — where most of your interaction takes place — to be in total agreement with your opinions. But most of the world doesn’t think the way you do, which doesn’t make them bad, just different. Try empathy on for size. Befriend some dissenters. Grab a beer with them, listen to what they have to say. For once, don’t yell at them.

Action item three: Stop waiting around for something big to happen. Getting a job is hard. Filling out a million online forms isn’t enough. Primping your LinkedIn and hoping your God-given greatness will finally be recognized by everybody else like your grandma always said it would will get you zip, zilch, zero. You need to leave your apartment, meet people, be assertive, interested, open. I’ve gotten full-time jobs by sitting at bars and dancing at wedding receptions.

 

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