I read an article the other day called “Why Gen Y Yuppies Are Unhappy.” Since then, I’ve seen quite a few reaction articles. The gist of the argument seems to be that previous generations think that Gen Yers have falsely inflated self-esteem and can’t cope with the reality of having a job that isn’t 100% fulfilling all of the time, while Gen Yers claim that previous generations have created an economy so fouled up that there’s no hope of finding any job, let alone a fulfilling one.
The way I see it, both sides are lined up along a white picket fence, arguing over whose fault it is that the grass is brown. And I can’t help but think that all that this arguing is doing is spreading more weed killer. Maybe it’s time we stopped caring who the blame falls on and started learning how to care for the grass under our own feet.
I am a member of Gen Y. I was born in 1986. I went through school participating in programs like Student of the Week, character education, D.A.R.E, self-affirmations, etc. I learned that I was special, that I had a value, and that I deserved to have a life that met my expectations. And you know what? So did every other member of Gen Y.
Not that that was a bad thing. Our parents wanted us to know that we deserved a life as good as or better than theirs. After all, isn’t that the wish of every parent? And isn’t that how Gen Y members are raising their own kids?
The point where this grand scheme of promoting a better life full of opportunity fell apart was when the world changed in a way that no one was expecting. Parents raise their kids based on what they know. Our parents knew that we were living in a time of economic growth and financial stability, so they raised us to succeed in such a world.
When that world fell apart, the paradigms for success did too. Going to a good school no longer counted for as much. Businesses circled the wagons, leaving the newly-graduated Gen Y out in the cold with only our ambition to keep us warm. When we raised our voices to complain, we were slapped with titles like, “spoiled” or “entitled.” People say things when they’re angry or scared that they later regret, but words have a way of sticking around forever.
Back in middle school, I once used the word “entitled” instead of “deserved” in a paper. My teacher circled the word in red and wrote a note that has stuck with me for 13 years. She said, “Something entitled is given for free. Something deserved has to be worked for. We are entitled to live, we deserve to choose how.”
“We are entitled to live, we deserve to choose how.”
Boy, was that more than a simple vocabulary lesson. Gen Y has been placed in a world of choice by our parents- a world in which we can be whatever we want. We can dress up like superheroes every day, or discover the cure for cancer, or create works of art that will be in our children’s and grandchildren’s textbooks.
It’s all right there in front of us like a smorgasbord of life achievement. We can see the plates, we can smell the success, but there are so many people at the party that all most of us got left with are the scraps. We may have been entitled to a seat at the table, but did we deserve to have our plates filled yet? Maybe or maybe not, but we did deserve the chance to prove that we can succeed on just scraps.
After all, it’s possible to assemble a four-course meal from scraps, if you’re willing to spend enough time scavenging.
So, to my fellow Gen Yers, I say this: We know we have the potential for great things, and we know we’re sick of being told that we’re lazy or delusional. It’s time we did more than write on our blogs or Twitters about how unfair the world is, and acted on our own potential.
We deserve to prove that we are exceptional, because our parents and grandparents sacrificed so that we would be. They put us in head start preschools, they taught us about seizing the moment, they even bought us handheld devices that have more computing power than a rocket sent to the moon in 1969. The methods to success may have changed on us, but that doesn’t mean our tools won’t still work. We just have to learn to use them a different way.
And before the comments start coming in about how bad the economy is and how it’s impossible to find a job, let me say this. My dad used to tell me something that his father told him, “you’re never too good to flip burgers.”
Chances are, you’re not going to find a fulfilling job, or even one that uses your college degree right off the bat. I worked at GameStop for two years. That certainly didn’t use my Master’s Degree (although the discounted video games certainly helped my wallet). I fought for minimum-wage jobs (and sometimes neglected to mention my Master’s degree) so that I could pay my bills, and I used my free time (what little of it I had) to pursue the things that did make me happy.
It took me ten years after high school graduation of working minimum-wage part-time jobs (ask me about the 4 months I worked at a skating rink, or any of the times I got ignored for being a girl in a video game store), but I earned my full-time job, and I got to see my dream of being a published author come true.
The world is unfair. It totally is. We’re going to be judged unfairly and called things like Yuppies and GYPSYs. We may very well end up flipping burgers with a Master’s degree. but that doesn’t mean that all we’ll ever be is a burger flipper.
Fulfillment in life doesn’t have to come from a job title, and it certainly doesn’t ever come for free. The best way to get people to stop saying that we’re lazy or delusional is to prove them wrong.
And once we discover how to use our tools in this new unplowed garden of a world, you can bet that our grass will be greener than anything anyone has ever seen.