If you’re a millennial like me, you’ve heard this a hundred times: our generation is lazy, entitled, we can’t survive without our technology—the list goes on.
It’s frustrating to hear this kind of thing because it almost always is coming from someone who is much older than you. If you were to respond in kind with something negative about that person’s generation, you would be called disrespectful and/or unable to handle criticism—and just like a millennial to do so!
Joel Stein, in an article for Time Magazine a few years ago, marked the beginning of a long rant about how millennials are narcissistic, fame-obsessed, convinced of their own greatness, developmentally stunted, and lazy, with one very telling quote:
Millennials consist, depending on whom you ask, of people born from 1980 to 2000. To put it more simply for them, since they grew up not having to do a lot of math in their heads, thanks to computers, the group is made up mostly of teens and 20-somethings.
With this quote, Stein clearly positions himself as a member of an older generation who resents millennials for things completely out of our control—like the fact that we had calculators growing up in school.
To blame millennials for our access to technology is like blaming someone from Gen Z (the generation born after 2000) for not having cognitive memories of 9/11. Sure, they’ll never understand its true significance, but is it their fault that their parents didn’t have them a few years sooner? Obviously the answer is no.
Yet Joel Stein seems determined to push responsibility onto us millennials for everything that he feels is wrong with our generation, despite the fact that his generation raised us. (And, side note, the first hand-held calculator was developed in 1966, a solid fifteen years before the first wave of millennials was even born).
It’s not fair, but there’s a good chance that as you graduate college and enter the workforce, you’re going to face disparagement about your generation, whether it comes from your coworkers or your boss—worst case scenario, it might even dissuade an employer from giving you a job. The truth is, if you were born anytime from around 1980 to 2000, you are indeed a millennial, and that isn’t going away anytime soon.
Of course not every millennial is the same, and using this blanket term in a negative way absolutely encourages unfair stereotypes. But at the end of the day, there are some truths about our generation that we just can’t get away from—that we love our technology is the perfect example.
This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, however, and as long as you know how to own your millennial status and use it to your advantage, you can prove that you aren’t all those things that older generations like to say. Here’s how.
Recognize the negative connotation of the word “millennial” (and use it to your advantage)
When someone refers to you as a millennial, know that this is not a compliment. Unlike the baby boomers and gen x, the word “millennial” comes with a whole host of unsavory adjectives that many people will automatically think describe you as an individual.
If you’re going to a job interview, try to keep in mind that the person interviewing you might already have a case built against you, simply because you’re a millennial. Do your best to prove how those negative stereotypes aren’t true, and how some of your “millennial” characteristics are actually an asset to the company.
Michael Levin, a daily news contributor for Daily News, said in a recent article:
As God is my witness, I will never hire a millennial again as long as I live. Much has been made of the so-called millennial work ethic. I’m convinced these people want to have jobs — they just don’t want to work. . . . when they actually get to the office, nothing happens. I’ve been through four different admins in the past year and a half, and each was worse than the previous one.
So maybe Levin or [Insert Your Employer’s Name Here] has had a bad experience with millennials—but that shouldn’t be a reflection on you personally. If you get a job working for someone who already assumes they will have to fire you, make it your mission to prove that you’re not going to be the same as the last “bad millennial” who worked there.
Prove that not wanting to be a workaholic does not equal “lazy”
According to the Generational Differences Chart, which describes the distinctive qualities of each generation, the baby boomers are workaholics who want to work 60-hour workweeks, whereas the millenials are “effective workers but gone @5PM on dot. View work as a ‘gig’ or something that fills the time between weekends.”
I’m sorry, but I don’t see anything wrong with this. Your career should not be your entire life. There’s nothing wrong with working until the time you are paid to be there and then leaving. Life is short; why shouldn’t you spend as much time as you can with your loved ones?
If you love your job and you really want to spend all your time there, more power to you. But for most people, a job is a means to an end, and that’s okay—you shouldn’t feel pressured to work twenty plus hours a week more than is required simply because your baby boomer coworker wants to spend his or her life in the cubicle beside you.
On this topic, Glenside-based Sarah Obuchowski, a 22-year-old soon-to-be college grad who is continuing her education to become a physical therapist, said:
A lot of people say we’re lazy, but I don’t really see how. We put so many hours in at school, so that when we’re finally done X many years later, we won’t have to work as hard because we’ve already built a good foundation for ourselves. We put all our work in beforehand so that by the time we’re done we’re earned our keep and we’re not gonna have to stay until all hours of the night because we’re already professionals and we can get all the work done we need to do by the time the clock hits 5. A lot of the older generations didn’t go to college because you didn’t have to have a degree then, so they had to get their work experience through working a ton of hours, whereas we get our experience through school.
Defend your technology
It’s baffling to me how pretty much every person from an older generation likes to make disparaging comments about millennials being on our phones all the time and not knowing how to socialize, and yet we are expected to know everything about technology and social media upon entering a new job.
We’re supposed to know all the ins and outs of twitter and how to make our company have a social presence that really stands out, which is fine, but then why is problematic that we spend a lot of time on our phone? If we didn’t spend so much time with technology, we wouldn’t know how to use it to improve our future companies. It’s kind of hypocritical for anyone to say that technology is the future but complain about millennial phone usage.
So don’t let yourself feel ashamed the next time someone says something about “kids your age always being on their phones”—instead, explain that it’s not really your fault that you were born in the technology age, and that if it’s really “the future,” this shouldn’t be a problem.
As a side note for any non-millennials reading this article, I understand that in some circumstances it’s rude to be on my phone—at dinner, for example, or when someone is clearly talking to me—but if I’m texting my mom to have a good day and you see me on my phone across the street, don’t make a comment to your friend about how I’m ruining America. Thanks.
Respect authority figures
Evidently, one trait of millennials that older generations hate is that we “don’t respect authority.” I can actually understand this, on some level. I think there is less respect between the generations than there used to be, even in the workplace.
Maybe it’s just the way I was raised, but I was definitely taught to always show my elders respect.
The general consensus is that millennials have a tendency to question people in authority because they think practically rather than just assuming that the person with more seniority or authority knows best. Cam Marston, in her recent article, “Tips For Keeping Millennial Employees,” stated:
The key to your organization’s future success is understanding how the Millennials view the world and using that knowledge to motivate them in a way that works. Here’s a hint: meet them where they are and they will achieve your underlying goals; try to force them to fit your definitions and they will run for the door every time.
I think that it’s a good thing to recognize that the person in authority doesn’t necessarily have the best idea; however, it will probably go a long way if you can maintain a balance between thinking for yourself but also realizing that older people do have a lot more experience than you do.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t bring a fresh perspective to whatever you’re working on, just that you shouldn’t automatically challenge something because it’s always been done that way—maybe it’s always been done that way because it’s been proven that it’s the best way.
Push the good
For all the negative things people have to say about millennials, many observe—perhaps grudgingly—that the millennial generation is by far the nicest. More empathetic, more open-minded and accepting of other people’s differences, and more polite. In a book called Generation X Professors Speak: Voices from Academia, Jennie-Rebecca Falcetta said:
Millennials have proven themselves to be “good kids”—polite, positive, dutiful, conscientious, and bright. At the Catholic University where I taught for five years, students exhibited a high level of interest in service, social justice, and charity. There was a striking lack of rebelliousness, “bad attitude,” negativity, and existential angst. (189)
That’s right, folks, you read it right—a generation X’er actually admitted that millennials are the most polite generation. Maybe I’m biased, but what’s wrong with being polite and positive? In a world where terrorism and hate crimes have hit an all-time low, a little politeness and empathy go a long way.
Of course, there is a bit of truth to every stereotype—but the trick is to show that those stereotypes aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Being overly coddled when we were children, for example—if that’s the reason for what Falcetta calls “a lack of existential angst” in millennials across the board, I’d have to say that isn’t a bad thing.
Maybe it’s a good thing that our parents gave us trophies for trying—we were raised to feel validated even when we didn’t win first place, which in turn helped our self-esteem. Who knows—what older generations call “millennial narcissism” might just be our overall healthy and positive self-image. Since half of us won’t get jobs for months after we graduate, anyway, we’re gonna need it.