Recently, yet another blog post about millennials has been shared over and over again on Facebook. This one, “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy,” notably anonymous, included (stick-person) pictures, graphs and thought bubbles written in Comic Sans (Subtle-but-not-so-subtle, there, author. My thoughts are not in elementary-school-typeface.). It begins with establishing an acronym for millennials, GYPSY (Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies). Are you ticked yet? I was, by the end of the second short paragraph.
First, I think one thing millennials do love to do is search for things to get worked up about, especially over the Internet. I feel that this tendency often produces unproductive angst and argument instead of forward motion or change. I just generally don’t get worked up with every news story I read online. So when something I read online actually does frustrate me, I pay attention to it. And that’s what this blog post did. This issue of who millennials are becoming and how they are impacting the world is important. So here’s what I think about it, in light of that blog post.
First, and most obviously, the tone of the post did nothing for its argument. Instead of offering a thoughtful response to what the author observed in millennial behavior, it seems as if the author wrote from a place of personal offense. The piece carried a tone that led me to use the term “millennial-shaming” when discussing it with a friend. The way to get millennials to consider why they act and feel the way they do is certainly not to make them feel as if they’re ridiculous for believing things that were perhaps ingrained in them from a young age. That, of course, doesn’t mean those things are correct or productive, but it does mean that those things need to be taken seriously and given weight in the working-out of what it means to be a millennial entering the world now.
I do think the article makes some points that are true—yes, millennials are wildly ambitious, and yes, we are always comparing ourselves to our peers because Facebook has taken over our lives. But the one thing about millennials that everyone seems most ticked about is their selfishness—as if we are the first generation to be so selfish. To me, selfishness is absolutely not generational; it’s an issue of human nature. Of course, the ways in which we are selfish may be more public and apparent now, but there has not been a single selfless generation, ever. Humans are concerned about themselves and have trouble helping other people without exception. Again, that doesn’t mean we just accept that nature and move on, but it does mean that one generation shouldn’t be shamed as being particularly selfish when selfishness is an across-the-board human issue.
I think the other thing that is implied by articles like this is that all millennials are, to use this author’s words, “yuppies.” (And I know this probably sounds like I’m doing exactly what that article claimed millennials do—claiming I’m special.) I know plenty of millennials who are super confused and feeling weird about life and trying to follow their dreams and still have money to live somewhere and eat (hello, I am one!), but that does not mean they think they’re the exception to the rule. If you were to ask me if I thought I would have to work hard over a long period of time in order to achieve my goals, my answer would be a resounding DUH.
And I plan to balance knowing I will have to work hard to achieve my dreams with relentlessly following those dreams, no matter how “non-utilitarian” they are (I mean, I’m in a graduate program in poetry) until doors are closed to me. I was raised by parents who taught both sides of the coin (a possibility that blog post seemed not to allow)—that I could do anything I put my mind to, but only if I worked hard for it. Clearly, though, there are enough millennials who feel entitled to success from the get-go to cause blog posts like that one to surface, but wouldn’t the discussion be more productive if we didn’t lump all millennials together and instead talked to specific people?
I’m grateful, at least, that the author ends the blog post with some fairly decent advice for millennials, even thought it doesn’t seem completely to follow from the aggravation of the rest of the post. If I had to give advice to millennials, and to myself, I’d say something like this (and really—is this advice any different than what I’m sure other generations wanted to hear?):
- The world needs people who are in love with what they do. Find something you love and do it as much as you can. You may have to do something you don’t love in order to do that thing you love during your free time. That’s okay. I think it would actually be worse for the world if we all decided we probably wouldn’t reach our goals, so we’d just better put them aside now before we get hurt. (Is that what you want us to do, blog-post-author?) That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
- But wait: you only get to do that thing you love if you work as hard as you can. No one is going to hand it to you. Get into your life and fight for what you love. Stop making fun of that thing you love. Take it seriously. If you don’t feel like you’re about to lose everything, or you’re about to make a fool of yourself, or if this thing you’re chasing might actually be crazy, then perhaps you’re selling yourself, and your passions, short.
- Realize your life is, as Cheryl Strayed says, “a great and continuous unfolding.” Everything you do will add up to something else. You don’t know what it is yet. In the meantime, she also says, “You don’t have a career. You have a life.” Nothing you do in service of chasing down a goal will be a waste of your time, because you’re not even really chasing down a goal. You’re running after your life. Give it your whole heart.