A little while ago, Neil Howe called attention on his blog to a New York Times feature story about a 24-year-old Millennial who, even amidst the Great Recession, is living at home and turning down $40K job offers until just the right opportunity comes along. As Howe notes:
The story lit up a firestorm of reader responses: no less than 1,487 comments thus far, and much larger echoes on the blogosphere. Many of the commenters lambasted the NYT for suggesting that this privileged young man’s experience (he lives in a nice suburban home and his dad is president of a small manufacturing company) is in any way representative of the employment hardships most youth are facing today.
But here's the part I find interesting:
Even more excoriated the young man for turning down the $40K offer—and the family for letting him live at home while turning down such offers. The most vicious remarks seemed to come from older (Generation X and Boomer) readers, who often cited their own tough, low-salary beginnings. Apparently, they disapprove of this generation’s tendency to hold fast to long-term plans and dreams. Be realistic, they insist. Eat humble pie. It will be good for you (to repeat what older Chinese now tell the rising “Little Emperor” generation) to “taste bitterness.”
Howe is perplexed by this reaction, citing (persuasively, I think) several mitigating factors, statistics and situational realities that make the Millennial's decisions more understandable. It's a good read, and it parallels the perspective of many Millennials in the job market today, wanting to succeed, but not willing to settle for second best.
Howe concludes his post by asking his readers:
Why do the sober-minded, future-oriented career choices of today’s Millennials make so many Boomers and Xers jump up and down in agitated condemnation?
And he gets his own slew of snarky comments from Xers, including this one:
I wonder if Mr. Howe would spewing out the same supportive verbage if it was, say, the late 1980s or early 90s when most early-20 Gen Xers were emerging into the job market, donned with glorious degrees. There was a recession going on then, too, and many of us had to go back home to live until we found a job. But, if I recall, Gen X was looked down upon for not being able to land stellar jobs with fabulous degrees and stuck living at home. As such, I wonder if this clearly Boomer parent would've been quite so supportive of a Gen Xer turning down a $40K a year job while living at home, hmmm? I think we know the answer to that one.
Okay. So why am I going into so much detail on this? Because as I said in my recent Only Xers Care About Work/Life Balance post, I sense an undercurrent of jealousy in a lot of Xer talk about Millennials. After all, we had to pay our dues when we were 20-something, taking any job we could find and clawing our way into leadership positions by compromising our values and learning to play by the rules set by the generation that preceded us. Why should Millennials be spared that difficulty and humiliation? Why should they be able to set their own rules and write their own tickets?
Here's a quick story.
I went to the University of Wisconsin in the late 1980s. Back then, in order to register for your classes at the start of each year, you had to hike all the way out to the Stock Pavilion on the western edge of the campus (the Stock Pavilion where livestock were once housed, shown and judged), stand in line like cattle to get your registation forms, and then march all over campus to the different buildings to get your forms signed by the appropriate departmental paper pushers. Need to take that Physics 201 class? Better get yourself over to the Physics building before all the sections with the good teaching assistants are taken. And what about that foriegn language requirement? Do you know where you need to go for that? Is that in the Humanities building?
In my senior year they introduced a new telephone registration system where students could do all of that by pushing buttons on their dorm room phones rather than hoofing it all over town--and many of the seniors I knew were angry (and jealous) that the new freshmen coming in wouldn't have to suffer the same difficulties and indignities we had all suffered for years. Why shouldn't they have to pay their dues? We did! These young kids--they've got it too easy and expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter.
It's the same thing today. When young people have access to better opportunities than we did, why do we berate them for having the simple sense to take advantage of them? Do we expect them to adopt the same herd mentality we did?