“Hey I’m in the room!”
I find myself in all kinds of situations where comments are made by other generations, particularly Boomers, about Gen Y.
I listen as they reel off our so-called defining characteristics as if we are some sort of sociology experiment: tech savvy, restless and flighty, seeking both work/life integration and variety, rapid online communicators, skilled multi-taskers, job hoppers, coddled, lazy, needy, desperate for love and affection, addicted to immediate attention, needing a trophy for every even minor achievement, indulged childhoods and so on.
Let’s think about this for a minute
At 33, I am highly qualified, with a dual Masters in International Relations and Public Affairs. I agree I had a privileged upbringing and attended a top school and a good university. I wanted for nothing. My parents divorced after my father went off to “find” himself in Thailand at the age of 50, with a woman young enough to be my sister. He married yet another woman and I believe I have step brothers. My story, uncomfortable though it might sound, is not uncommon amongst my peers and less psychologically damaging than others. My mother retains her dignity and has re-invented herself as something of a Mompreneur, but not the millionaire variety.
My husband’s parents are retired and have been married for 40 years. They have a 10 x property portfolio and are extremely affluent. There is no place on this planet that they wish to leave unvisited and have embraced the Boomer travel boom with a passion. Their contribution to high property prices and inflated out of season air fares must be significant, as they silver surf across the globe at an unprecedented rate. Their greatest input is probably to carbon emissions.
I have had 5 jobs since I graduated. I am married, I have just had my first child and my husband earns less money than I do. We both want to be there for our darling new-born. We have a mortgage. I have been sexually harassed and filed a complaint to HR, but nothing was done about it.
I have little faith in the system. If it doesn’t work for me, which it quite often doesn’t, I leave. So do my friends.
I am ambitious – but do I want to end up like my Boomer boss? No I don’t.
I see a man with who rarely sees his family. He talks about pensions and house prices (property ownership seems to be a Boomer thing), but the prospect of retirement fills him with unease. He has two children from his second marriage but he lost a lot of money in the banking crisis, so will work as long as he can. One child is only 10 years old. He says he will be paying university tuition into his 70s. Yet, his thirty year old son has just moved back home and has asked for help to pay for university fees and living expenses. He is a micro-manager and seems scared to let go. Technology terrifies him. He doesn’t understand that the IT department has visibility on his internet activities. All of them.
We want to be inspired but find ourselves surrounded by people who are biding their time and while they are doing that they criticize and analyse us. We have a purpose and want to be with others who do too. That is why so many become entrepreneurs.
I try to understand the imperative of a generation growing up post war, with rationing, the cold war and the fear of a nuclear holocaust announcement on the next news bulletin. Raised themselves by parents who were risk averse and deferred gratification almost permanently, it would seem, if my grandma is anything to go by, they became the polar opposite. Believing they shouldn’t have to go without, they morphed into the generation renown for the concept “I” before “we” and “finding” themselves.
Gen Y have grown up in an era where economic systems send out conflicting messages, so we Millennials bounce back and for between the ideas of the life styles we were raised with and could/will lose, and the ones we think are just.
We have social consciences and anyone caught up in job seeking post 2007 can testify to unpaid internships, chronic exploitation and tenuous job security. Even now some of my peers with soft qualifications struggle to find “proper” jobs. Our salaries are the same as those paid in the 80s, yet all other prices are higher. We can’t afford to own our own homes, unless we have help (thank you rich in-laws). Many have accrued significant debt. As Boomers currently control the recruitment process we have to toe the line. But that will change soon.
We are not a judgemental generation, yet we find ourselves constantly judged, examined and analysed as if we are a living experiment. Soon we will dominate the work force and that can’t come a day too soon.
Research says Boomers and Millennials have much in common. That could be the case. But, when anyone talks about us, we are individuals. We have hopes, dreams, skills, strengths, flaws and secrets. You raised us to believe we could be special. We want to be the best we can be, just as you Boomers did. It will be different to your way. We will be different to you.
So let us be – different. And when you talk about us. Remember we are usually in the room.
Pippa works for an emerging markets consultancy and Think Tank. She spends time in London, Paris and New York.