When I was growing up, I was part of Generation X. I didn’t really know what that meant, but I was the youngest of 5 siblings all born from the early 70s to the early 80s, so there it was: Gen X. I never felt particularly tied into everything that seemed to define that generation (we were slackers, we were aimless, we liked Hawaiian pizza), but that’s who I was and so be it.
And then, a few years ago, I started noticing that I was, by chance of my birth, now being grouped in with a whole new generation: Millennials.
I’ve always felt a bit older than my immediate contemporaries. People who are my age or just a couple years younger seemed to have grown up in a very different world than me, and I attributed that to the fact that I had older siblings who, by the force of their personalities and interests, shaped my view of everything from pop culture to politics.
This isn’t just idle comparison: Even if you were both born on January 1st, 1980, the youngest child of a family mostly raised in the 70s would have a very different experience from the oldest child of a family mostly raised in the 80s.
So, despite being born in the early 80s, I felt more or less connected to the generation of the previous decade. Until recently.
You see, I’ve never really liked the music of the 80s. If you were a child born in the 70s, you came of age during the Reagan presidency, those post-Disco years where cocaine was all the rage along with AIDS. It was… a weird decade. And I have almost no memory of it except what has filtered down to me from my siblings and family photo albums.
My one personal connection to the 80s is Back to the Future which is still (along with the sequels) one of my favorite movies. Otherwise – I can admit it – I’m a child of the 90s. Nirvana was so massive in my world that, despite a prohibition on “secular” radio, they loomed large in my mind (more so their legend than their actual music until I was old enough to have my own car).*
In the early 90s, my sister had a car and would occasionally drive me around, which is how I began developing my infatuation for 90s pop music. I will still blast the shit out of some “What A Man” (like I said, it was my sister’s car).
By the time I was old enough to drive, the 90s were coming to the end. Nirvana was long gone, replaced by a lot of crappy post-Grunge bands that I still listened to because that was what I knew of ‘rock’ music. I was never a Creed fan, at least that I can say.
My favorite songs of the era took Cobain’s angst and self-loathing and processed them through gentler, friendlier acoustics. Think Gin Blossoms and Better Than Ezra. The anger was muted, but so was the sense of humor.
I mention my musical preference because, where I once felt like I was Gen X by default despite not actually feeling that close culturally to a lot of them, it seems like I have suddenly become a Millennial by no choice of my own. The most obvious proof that I’m more Millennial than Gen X is that I’d go to a 90s Music Night well before going to 80s Music Night.
And yet I still don’t feel like a Millennial.
Let’s back up and define the term: Millennials are the generation born from 1980 to 2000. Or from the early 80s to the late 90s, or early 00s. Gen X are people born from the early 60s to early 80s, and a new generation, so-called Generation Z, is from 2000 on. As you can see, there’s a lot of crossover and it’s not very precise. These distinctions have less to do with birth years than with nebulous ideas of cultural and social homogeneity.
Millennials all share some traits, according to some thoroughly scientific analysis, you can be sure: They want meaning from their work; they challenge hierarchy: they embrace technology and change; they “crave” feedback and recognition; they can’t stand Hawaiian pizza.
These traits (among others) are why Millennials are such odd fits in the modern business world. Businesses run by Baby Boomers and, increasingly, Gen Xers, are having trouble integrating this new generation into their system because Millennials expect so much and demand their efforts be recognized immediately. They just don’t seem to understand that business is a machine and humans are the cogs. It’s pathetic.
If you ask some of the current (soon-to-be-former) Leaders of the World about the future LotWs, they’ll explain why Millennials are the way they are: They were never told ‘No’; They watched non-stop television; They all won participation trophies; They grew up with the latest technology; They were never forced to watch that shitty episode of The Brady Bunch where the family went to Hawaii and Bobby finds a mystical Tiki Idol.
These are the reasons why Millennials are not fitting in to the modern business world, and the reasons why they must be crushed so that they will.
And there’s me: I was told ‘no,’ a lot. I watched a lot of television, but I’m starting to realize that in comparison with my peers, not really that much (we were a reading family). I probably only won 3 or 4 trophies in my life, and I played a lot of sports (I was terrible at all of them). Oh, and fuck The Brady Bunch.
Unlike a lot of my peers, I didn’t grow up with constant technology. We had a single family computer with no internet, but it wasn’t until high school that it became a regular part of my daily activity. I didn’t own a cellphone until after I graduated college and bought one for myself.
By all accounts, I’m not much like the prototypical Millennial. And yet: I’m open to change (obviously); I seek meaning in my work (less so my night job than my occupation as a writer); I’m good with technology, and I like (crave is too strong a word) feedback and recognition for my work.
If I entered the business world, I would probably look a lot like a Millennial to the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in charge. What gives?
Is it possible that all these theories about what defines, shapes and unifies a generation are mostly just bullshit that people make up to easily label, clarify and compartmentalize incredibly complex and diverse groups of people? You know, like racism.
Hard to say. But if so, let me offer my own theory as to why Millennials aren’t fitting into the nice little boxes of the business world.
The Baby Boomers and Generation X fucked the Millennials over.
Like, bent us over and didn’t even think about reaching for the lube.
The Great Recession that pulverized the economy and killed career paths for so many of my peers – and which led to me spending 2 weeks in a hospital doing a medical study because I couldn’t find work – was directly caused by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers doing “business as usual” which means with no ethics or consideration for consequences.
The generations that preceded the Millennials fall somewhere in the range from idiots to evil, and maybe it’s for that reason that Millennials don’t go into the workforce willing to just play their role and silently take orders from a group of people who nearly flushed the global economy down the toilet.
Just a theory.
If you’re among the Baby Boomers or Generation X and you bridle at being grouped in with the people who caused the Recession even though you had nothing to do with it, well, there: Now you know what it feels like to be arbitrarily grouped under one negative umbrella because of the random years you were born.
So shut the fuck up. You don’t like how the Millennials behave? Guess what, you created them. You birthed them, you raised them, you gave them all the things you couldn’t have, and then you’re mad at them for being the results of your shitty parenting.
Or, maybe, it was good parenting and this is what it looks like when smart, dedicated, socially-conscious people enter the business world. Maybe business-as-usual is the problem, not Millennials.
Whatever the case may be, the fact is, it won’t be long until the Millennials are the ones in charge, and then we’ll see the world they help shape. Maybe it’ll actually be a welcoming, diverse, forward-thinking business climate.
Ah, who am I kidding, you guys will beat the idealism out of them, just like every older generation has since the dawn of time.
Oh, and Millennials: Enough with all this idiotic nostalgia and childhood fetishizing. You’re too young to be this attached to your youth.
*The first non-Christian CD I owned was the Presidents of the United States’ debut. It was immediately taken away when my mom heard “Kitty” playing from my boombox.