“Narcissistic, broke, and 6 other ways to describe the Millennial generation,” reads the headline of a round-up on Millennials from The Week Magazine’s website, citing sources like The Fiscal Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Gospel Coalition.
According to the article, other ways to describe us include “spendthrift”, entrepreneurial, stressed-out, and less religious than our forebears.
As Rachel Krause writes at The Frisky,
“We’re broke, we’re unemployed, we owe student loans, we’re living off our parents, we have degrees in things like English and Philosophy, we’re unprecedentedly narcissistic, and as if we couldn’t get any more charming, all the money we do have we spend on luxury goods: welcome to Generation Y, bitches!”
Millennials were born in the 1980’s and 90’s, though some people add in babies from the late 70’s and even the early 2000’s. I was born in 1983.
More stressed? Sure, I can buy that. If I stopped feeling anxious, I would probably get someone to check my pulse, to make sure I was still alive. Less religious? Yeah. In my experience, peers don’t say, for example, “I’m Catholic.” It’s always, “I was raised Catholic.”
Sometimes Millennials are branded as parasites who can’t launch their own lives, but squat eternally in their parents’ houses. If this is true of my generation (and I suspect that a long-term multi-generational household was not always the oddity that it is today in America), I say so what? Due to advances in medical care, our parents are all going to live until they’re 110. Guess who’ll be taking care of them? Let us stay in our childhood rooms awhile. It’s not like there’s going to be any Social Security left for us, by the time we’re caring for our parents. We should save while we can.
Other writers come down hard on Millennials as greedy for luxury goods and technology that nobody needs. iPads and the like have become standard equipment instead of fancy privileges. Here’s where I begin to get irked a little more. As ol’ Ford was rolling the first mass-market cars off the assembly line and Americans began to snatch them up, don’t you think there was an older generation somewhere tsk-tsking about the folly of such contraptions becoming commonplace when a horse and cart would serve just fine?
How about the members of the Greatest Generation who came back from the war and made suburban home-ownership the new American norm, and then, after getting educated in unprecedented numbers on the GI bill, began sending all their kids, boys and girls, to college?
I know it’s not necessarily the same as the hottest smart-phone or the high-end clothes Millennials are supposedly obsessed with, but the point I want to make is that every generation of the 20th century has probably begun purchasing something en masse that their parents wouldn’t have dreamed of buying. Why heap ire on the Millennials for doing the same?
Plus, if you piled up the dollars required to pay for a single undergraduate degree, the stack of bills would reach from here to Jupiter (according to the New York Times, US college grads now owe well over $1 trillion in federal and private tuition loans). Perhaps my peers and I have become inured to the impact of paying too much for things.
Sometimes Millennials get grudging praise for their entrepreneurial ways – apparently we’re more likely than older generations to take the risk of founding our own ventures. Some writers cast this as the logical result of growing up in the world of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, and the heady days of the 90’s dot com boom.
I say we should also consider that more Millennials are founding their own businesses because the moment they graduate with $100,000 degrees, they rightly perceive that the job market is a shit-hole and unless they conjure their own jobs out of thin air, the best they can hope for is a year-long unpaid internship.
And this brings us nicely to the thing that irks me most about Millennial stereotypes: apparently our narcissism is the only psychological characteristic that can be seen from space.
Generation Me! All we care about is our own money, comfort and fame. With the hand of a master conductor, each of us presides over an orchestra of social media, and each new day is a stunning crescendo of self-promotion.
Many people opine that it’s probably our parents’ fault: the “work hard and prosper” message delivered to previous generations somehow transformed to “you’re special no matter what!” by the time my peers and I were born. Our rampant self-centeredness is only a logical outgrowth of our fawning parents.
But that doesn’t make us any more palatable to people over thirty-five.
I’m crying foul on these accusations of Millennial narcissism – and not necessarily because we aren’t narcissistic. Rather, I want our accusers to realize that our narcissism may be the natural effect of today’s professional world.
I’ve heard that long ago in the misty past, people applied for jobs by making up a single resume and then distributing it to appropriate companies. An untailored resume?? I know, I know – I’m more likely to believe that the Chupacabra, and not a local raccoon, left that chewed hunk of watermelon rind on my doorstep.
Now, every career guru who ever purchased a web domain exhorts us to agonize over customizing every last detail of every resume we submit. It’s not enough to prove that we’re capable of doing the job and are a reasonably well-adjusted person. We must Market Ourselves with a top-to-bottom personal brand.
“We use social media to create a product — to create a brand — and the product is us,” writes William Deresiewicz in last fall’s New York Times article, “Generation Sell“. “We treat ourselves like little businesses, something to be managed and promoted. The self today is an entrepreneurial self, a self that’s packaged to be sold.”
Perhaps I feel this more keenly than others, given the quicksand of the modern writer’s professional world, but I think it applies to many of my peers, regardless of their field. The online world, where every status and photo and tweet can be mined by “friends”, authorities, employers, educators and marketers, is probably at least partially to blame. Getting anywhere in the insanely competitive modern job market requires a ceaseless, sophisticated branding strategy that pervades everything you do.
But as soon as we take this advice to heart and become a 24/7 personal marketing firm in hopes of landing a job that will move us out of our parents’ house, we’re roundly criticized for being self-centered – unlike those solid citizens of yore who graduated college, landed a job with a nice company, and worked there until retirement.
It must have been nice to have the sense that a lifelong career would be there for you if you got yourself educated and proved your work ethic. I wonder: would a person be less inclined to anxiously self-promote if he or she didn’t have to scramble for every last dollar at three different jobs while paying off an average educational debt of $30,000?
I am 28 years old. My husband and I rent an apartment. I have spoon-fed and changed the diapers of relatives in their 80’s and 90’s, and I’ll do it all over again as my parents’ generation ages. I’m $25,000 in debt and I’ve never bought a house or a car or even a designer shoe. The traditional career path of my chosen industry was collapsing just as I finished college, so I’m making up my own job day to day. I don’t have employer health-care, a 401(k) or vacation time, but I often work past midnight. I know too many other Millennials who are in exactly the same boat.
This has been a special presentation of one Millennial’s bitching. I may be less religious than my parents and yes, I’m stressed out. It’s true, young Millennials will txt u until ur thumbs fall off. But please, quit calling me a broke, narcissistic over-spender because I was born in the 80’s.