Everyone seems to have an opinion as to why millennials’ growth is seemingly so stunted in comparison with previous generations in America. Slate published a piece, “Why Millennials Can’t Grow Up,” blaming helicopter parenting for millennial “narcissism.”
Other writers believe that technology has made us lazier and less ambitious. Why can’t millennials just face the facts and quietly assimilate into mundane adult life like previous generations? I’ll give you a few reasons.
Things aren’t the way they used to be.
As Robert Nelson, writing for Salon, explains:
The average salary for young college graduates has dropped 15 percent, or about $10,000, since 2000. In 1990 youth unemployment was 11 percent; now it is 16 percent. In 1992 students borrowed a combined total of $26.4 billion to go to college; in 2012 college students collectively needed $110.3 billion. We borrowed so little back in the early ’90s because average tuition was around $16,000; now it is over $30,000. Many millennials have had to delay key life moments, like having a baby or buying a house, because of financial uncertainty.
These are just a few of the challenges we’re facing: what was adequate skill and experience 50 years ago for an entry level job is now barely enough to get you considered for an unpaid internship. If you’re lucky enough to qualify for a job, it’s no longer safe to assume that that job will pay a decent wage and offer the same benefits, such as healthcare, that you could count on in the past.
Millennials have no choice but to collect opportunities such as internships and graduate degrees in order to stand out from the competition. These challenges have made us cynical. We spent our childhood being told by our parents that we could be anything we wanted to be when we grow up.
Now we’re all grown up, but those opportunities we’ve been preparing for aren’t there. We are being rejected from job after job with a perfectly respectable degree in hand, and the student loan clock ticking.
We aren’t satisfied with the status quo.
It’s not just that there don’t exist employment opportunities for us. It’s also that we’ve seen what’s out there… and it doesn’t appeal to us very much. If you visit one of the top millennial websites, Elite Daily (for whom I occasionally write), you’ll notice a whole slur of articles about pursuing entrepreneurship, a favorite career alternative of millennials.
Entrepreneurship often goes hand in hand with technology and the ability to generate income by selling a product or service online, often with very little startup cost. It also has the potential to grant a more flexible schedule than the traditional full time job. It makes sense that we would pursue this option in high numbers because we are big dreamers with a lot of skills.
But instead of being invited into the conversation of society, we are told to sit down and learn to settle. With no other choice, we have got to make things happen for ourselves. In contrast to the stereotype of the lazy millennial, starting a business from scratch and risking falling on your face in failure is a lot harder work than clocking in at 9 and leaving at 5.
Millennials are ready to put our hearts and souls into what we do. That’s how we were raised. If others aren’t interested in helping us do that, we’ll just do it ourselves. There are other alternatives that millennials are trying besides starting their own businesses.
They are also taking more time to decide what kind of career they want to pursue. This may mean living on a budget while working at a coffeeshop for awhile, and delaying the comfort afforded by a salaried position, but it’s a price we believe is worth paying. Of course, job prospects are meager anyway, but there’s more to it than that.
Millennials are listening to the generations ahead of us second guess their life decisions: Did I pursue a career that was fulfilling and challenging? Did I waste my talents and abilities? Did I accomplish all I wanted to in life?
For too many who came before us, the answers to these questions is no. Instead of waiting to have these considerations (and regrets) during middle age, we’re going to get them out of way now, hopefully sidestepping at least some of the regret later on.
Critics may call this an unwillingness to grow up. I call it growing up 2.0. Maybe I sound defensive. But it’s hard not to become defensive after reading article after article about how lazy or maladjusted our generation is. American society is progressing.
In a previous blog, I explained that progress is not objectively good or bad. Those who are successful will accept and adapt to progress rather than fighting it. Millennials understand this better than anyone.
We have time to spare.
It’s not that we believe we are too good to follow the path chosen by so many before us: the white picket fence, the 401K, and working 40 hours/week, 50 weeks/year until we turn 65. It’s that we have time to decide if that’s really what we want.
We are not in a hurry to get married and have children. Perhaps if previous generations did not have that pressure to start a family so early, they might have had more time and energy to pursue other things as well. We now have that option, and we’re going to seize it.
Here’s an example. I’ve always dreamed of traveling internationally. After a semester studying abroad, I began saving up money to travel in Europe, then I spent the next couple of years in various places.
Since then, I’ve had countless people, many of them well into their careers or nearing retirement, tell me that they regretted not doing the same thing. Whatever your pursuit is, it may be an expense of both time and money, but living with regrets is the most expensive choice of all.
Millennials did not wake up one day and collectively decide to be apathetic, lazy, or entitled. We woke up one day in a world that was different than the one described to us, and we had to learn to adjust.
Thus creativity and flexibility become the characteristics that will see us through to success. Millennials are doing it right. If you don’t believe me now, just you wait and see.