Please Don't Feed the Millennials

A few words from good old Google auto-fill to begin the day:

Millennials are lazy

Millennials are the worst

Millennials are doomed

Plug in an S and it gets even better:

 

Stupid

Selfish

Spoiled

Screwed

Apart from the occasional humor - “millennials are changing the wine industry” and truth - “millennials are poor,” every letter of the alphabet feeds you another negative thing that millennials are. But of course, this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone under the age of – what is it, 26, 25? What's the age cut off for the generation who haven't stopped hearing about how lazy, entitled, and selfish we are since we graduated high school? Or there's my personal favorite, that millennials are going to ruin the nation.

These statements and words have become such cultural touchstones to be considered the gospel. The dangerous thing about a blanket statement becoming the gospel is that people begin restating it as fact without evidence. And since my graduation from college, when this issue became of particular interest to me, I haven't found any examples or evidence – aside from the occasional mention of an overly-privileged millennial (which is an issue I will come back to) – that support this claim that has pervaded our national rhetoric so far as to be considered the truth.

What I've seen in the most reliable type of evidence, real life observations, is a generation who are fighting to not even swim, but just stay afloat against a tidal wave of societal circumstances seemingly engineered to fight their success, all while being flat out told that they are the ones with the problems.

Let's take an oft-quoted opinion: “Millennials are lazy,” and a few facts: “There are fewer jobs available for recent college graduates than ever before. The economy is the worst. 50% of millennials are unemployed or underemployed.”

It is routine to hear of someone my age applying for 70 jobs before they even hear back for a first interview. That isn't one person I talked to once on the train, numbers in that range are what you're going to hear from most every young person who has been on the job market lately. And that isn't necessarily applying to 70 jobs that someone wants and then eventually getting one. Oftentimes, that is applying to 70 jobs that one may or may not want, eventually beginning to apply for customer service jobs because we have to pay the bills, applying to 50 more of those, and eventually getting a job as a cashier, secretary, or server.

What about applying for upwards of fifty jobs is lazy? The research? The hours obsessively checking job websites, writing and rewriting cover letters, researching companies, and talking all your skills into a tiny box to fit what a random employer might want? This work not only ends in no pay but frequently in no acknowledgment whatsoever from the job postings. When I applied for 'real jobs,' I was happy to get a rejection letter, because at least it meant that someone was reading what I had sent them, instead of the norm, which was hours and weeks of work going into a void that might as well have been an empty computer in a walled off office building.

For some people, those searches pay off. Some get lucky. Many have a connection through a parent or relative, et al. But some of us don't have the funds to support ourselves while spending eight hours a day applying for these so-called 'real' jobs, or a well-connected adult who can shepherd us in to the working world, so we eventually have to start applying for the category of jobs that the news media calls 'underemployed.' These jobs are generally minimum wage or close to it. Most of them are in the customer service industry.

I'd like to find one person in America who has actually worked a customer service job for their livelihood who would apply the word 'lazy' to it. Is lazy running around on your feet all day, catering to demanding and often rude people who have connotated the word 'server' with the word 'slave?' Is lazy cleaning people's houses? Is lazy driving rotating herds of drunk people around for eight hours of a night? Is lazy having to reapply for temp jobs every other month because no one is hiring for long term?

Anyone who has actually done these things can certainly tell you that no, it actually requires a large amount of energy, stamina, and willpower. To spend four years in an intellectually stimulating environment that preps you for a certain kind of life only to graduate and find that that life is not now, and may never be, available to you, and to put this mindset that you were trained to have to work in a placid, negative environment and try to retrain your brain every single day to accept your new circumstances is not lazy. It may be a fact of modern life that we will have to learn to accept, but it is absolutely not lazy.

Another category of millennials is those who work in unpaid internships while holding down a day job. I would have thought it was obvious that the concept of working for no pay inherently makes one not lazy, but I suppose to our elders this is not clear. I'll illustrate it as such: if you aren't getting paid to do something, why would you do it? A few reasons come to mind: dedication, passion, belief that hard work now will pay off later. None of these are even close to synonymous with 'laziness.' If you go to work at a low paying job for forty hours a week, only to use your precious few hours of time off to do more work for which you receive little to no recognition and certainly no pay, then you might be called crazy by some, too optimistic by others, but lazy only by people who have never tried to live a life like yours for even a day, even a second.

I can't speak for millennials who got jobs through their parents, or who work in unpaid internships while being supported by their families. What I can say is this: it seems silly to blame the young people who were given something great when everyone around them has shit. It's hard to blame someone for being entitled when they were brought up to be that way, perhaps by their parents funding their every move. Sure, a few of those millennials may be selfish, but they are in the minority, and shouldn't we question the adults who trained them to act that way?

Speaking of which, aren't those adults of our parents age the ones calling us lazy and selfish and entitled in the first place? (I will note here since this is on my blog and thus I am allowed personal sidenotes that my parents are excellent, have never called me lazy, selfish, or entitled, have expressed great sympathy for my unfortunate employment situation, and raised me to work hard and take responsibility for my situation) It seems that this generation is the primary group of people who are so keen on blaming the end of everything on this new generation that has barely had enough time to gather the materials to begin to make their mark on the world, let alone had enough time to full out wreck it.

I'm not going to suggest that the baby boomers purposefully engineered a societal movement to blame the problems of the United States on the millennials, but I am going to say that it seems pretty convenient for them when some of the problems we are facing now can actually be traced back to choices that they themselves made.

Let's take the problem of not enough jobs. Not enough jobs? Maybe there aren't enough jobs because there are too many people. Thanks to the knowledge of my man Jonathan Franzen as communicated in his novel Freedom and the subsequent research and readings it led me to, overpopulation is indeed one of the if not the greatest problem facing the world today. Of course overpopulation has much more catastrophic consequences than a lack of jobs for young people, but this is certainly one of the tangential effects.

Why is the United States overpopulated? All these millennials who have come of age and thus need jobs didn't just pop out of thin air. Oh yes, we were birthed by a generation who decided that they could have as many kids as they wanted without regard to the future environmental or socioeconomic affects of their actions. What's a word that one can apply to people who do things in their own self interest without regard for the future consequences? Selfish and entitled, two that are ironically often applied to millennials, are the ones that come to mind.

Is it possible that part of the reason that this generation spends so much time bemoaning ours and claiming that we will be the death of society is that they are trying to cover up the fact that the damage we're supposedly inflicting was already done by their own hand?

It's worth thinking about. Why the rush to blame so many things on a group of people who have barely had time to understand the modern world, much less make it 'doomed'? Shouldn't the attitude towards a group of people who despite their high levels of education are more likely to be serving you food than learning from you at work be sympathy, not derision? It seems it would be smarter to support our generation in the hope that we will gain the strength to fight our nations problems, rather than waste time in what is effectively talking shit. Extremely well publicized and funded shit talking, but shit talking none the less.

Honestly though, I'm not that worried about being a millennial, and I'm not going to spend any of my precious non working hours considering how we are doomed or how we are going to be the death of the nation.

Instead, I'm going to use my customer service job to learn how to deal with frustrating humans, befriend people from different backgrounds, and work so hard that no one can ever call me lazy to my face. And in my free time, instead of waiting for someone from the last generation to teach me how to do things their way, I'm going to write essays and stories and create things and ideas and communities that help me find my own branch of what I define as success, instead of going by the arbitrary and clearly ineffective parameters set by those before us. The reason I'm not afraid for my generation is that I know I'm not alone in this.

All around me I see people willing to work for no pay for causes they believe in.  People going to law school to challenge societal inequality, teaching in low income neighborhoods to try and provide better opportunities for the next generation instead of claiming they're screwed from the get go. People drive for Lyft or Sidecar during the night and build websites that help them realize their dreams during the day. I'm a lucky member of a herd of buffalo who got four years training in making something incredible out of bare bones material and challenging the problems with the patriarchy and society. I don't have any fears about my peers in my generation, because we've all already figured out the solution to this 'millennial problem' – our identity is no longer tied to the jobs that we can't get. We work hard at the jobs we can get, and then we go home and apply ourselves doubly to the real work, the work that is going to prove to those who have been wasting time predicting our demise that we're not selfish or lazy, and certainly not doomed.