If I had a dollar for every article I’ve read about how the business world is readying itself for the millennial workforce, I might not be insanely rich, but I could at least take pretty swank trip to Spain with my loot. I know this because I’ve written a bunch of those articles, and read dozens of others for research. And each time I do, I think, “Wow. Would have been pretty cool if the world cared so much about this 10 years ago, when this millennial was entering the workforce.”
Ah. The woes of a millennial elder. Though the dates bookending my generation vary, the most common – and accurate, in my experience – call 1982 the dawn of the millennials. This means I am seven days away from being as old as millennial gets. Now, of course the lines are blurry. I know people up to a year older than myself who definitely fit into my generation, and those a year or so younger who are startlingly gen x-ish. But, by and large, if there a way to define a millennial elder, someone born in January, 1982 is about a close as it gets.
“Who cares?” is a perfectly fair question, but I believe being a distinct kind of millennial matters. While the world is obsessed with analyzing my generation, complaining about it and scrambling to brace itself for us, I think millennial elders have something to offer the conversation.
First, we are millennials, but we are also distinct. Like the first child born to inexperienced parents, while we might have much in common with our younger siblings, we’ve come of age in a world less prepared for us.
When I left college, society still expected me to find the job I’d want to keep for 30 years, secure my pension and stay there. Wanting to be a freelancer writer who worked from home made me laughable. Now, we’ve accepted the millennials will have dozens of jobs and multiple careers in their lifetimes, and they’ll likely find a way to work remotely in many of them. And that’s totally cool – no pressure or skepticism or dreams dashed because that’s just not what adults do.
When my peers were discovering the incredible benefits of mobile connectivity to our careers and personal lives, we were received the same flack for being glued to our phones as teenagers texting in class. No one even suspected that we might be doing something really important or beneficial. My husband recently stumbled into a surprising amount of criticism at a songwriters conference for using his laptop to collaborate with other writers. A decade from now, a young creative will be criticized for not using all of the tools at his disposal to connect with others and feed his creativity.
Because millennial elders had this trial by fire experience when entering the adult world, we have the ability, and perhaps the responsibility to be generational ambassadors. We had to adapt ourselves somewhat to fit into the world of gen x-ers and baby boomers, because we were all alone in dealing with them at first. We learned how to live in their world.
We know, for example, that baby boomers connect hours spent in the office with productivity and, to a certain extent, self-worth. We can help communicate with them that millennials aren’t actually working less hard just because they’re not doing it in an office during set hours, that half the time millennials are buried in their phones, they’re answering a work email or tweeting for career reasons, or that having to work remotely for a portion of a vacation is better than not going on a vacation at all. It’s also important for millennials understand how baby boomers tend to measure success, so they can better explain (er…justify?) what it is they do for a living, and how hard they work. Couldn’t hurt their chances of staying in their parents’ wills.
There’s also an attitude disparity between millennials and gen x-ers, which those of us who have worked with, grown up with and befriended many of them tend to understand better. On the whole, gen x-ers can be cynical and skeptical, whereas millennials are known for being aspirational and optimistic. This can make one group seem like jerks and the other like idiots, which doesn’t exactly endear them to each other. In reality though, these two generations have far more in common than they may believe. Those of us who have been immersed in both worlds can and should help them find common ground.
Finally, as much as the world can’t stop talking about us, there are few things baby boomers and gen x-ers love more than trashing millennials. Thanks guys. I’ll leave out the obvious fact that those attacking us ran the world and created the families that made us who we are, and get right to the fact that we’re just going to have to start proving just how not lazy/entitled/ungrateful/naive we are on our own, studies and commentators be damned.
That’s a pretty tall order for anyone in their teens or twenties, but the millennial elder crew has now hit 30. Or, ahem, hit it two years ago. We are business owners, parents, homeowners, community leaders and all around responsible adult people. And many of us are doing these things while being just as millennialistic as we began.
We are the proof that millennials aren’t going to destroy everything. And we should live up to it.