A Millennial Blog for All

Every generation has stereotypes about them that follow them wherever they go. Baby Boomers are spoiled and obtuse. Generation X is cynical and contrarian. We Millennials, and you’ve heard this in the news and online, are selfish and entitled, amongst other things. Like all stereotypes, they have a basis in reality, even if that reality is ephemeral or tritely stated.

Regardless, it is incumbent upon us to not fall into the patterns of stereotypes.

Here a few ways to confound and delight people who are not members of our generation. And yes, I am aware that this means changing your very nature, at least on the surface. And I’m also aware that this sounds pretentious. In any event, try them sparingly:

Slow down. Non-Millennials aren’t going to be able to keep up with our flittering attention spans. We’re a multi-tasking generation, and on the flip side, we are unable to keep our attentions focused on one thing for a prolonged period of time. It’s a positive development in the sense that we need to do this in order to keep up with the rest of the world, but it’s a negative one when concentration is required on something for more than a short while. Attempt to focus on something, anything. Meditate. Learn an instrument. Both will make you more interesting, too. Additionally, when explaining Foursquare and Instagram and Twitter to Octogenarians, don’t get exasperated; this is an entirely other world to them. Even the words themselves (Twitter primarily) are some type of joke to them. And honestly, can you blame them for laughing?

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Don’t be cocky. Cockiness, while undesirable, is understandable if you’ve done something impressive. Graduating from college is not impressive. Congratulations, you’re now one of hundreds of millions. It depends on how you fill your time after graduation day that will matter.

Don’t humble-brag. It’s the worst thing anyone can do, let alone a Millennial. For example, don’t say, “I’m so grateful that I went to grad school and didn’t have to straight into the work force” to a group of janitors. Don’t talk about your trips to Italy, Indonesia, or India, to a 23-year old single mother of three. I should write an entire column on humble-bragging later. Be humble, and not just fake humble. If you’re twenty, guess what, you don’t have all of life’s answers. Even if you make it to 100, you won’t have all of life’s answers. Relax.

Don’t whine. Millennials are known as whiners. Stop feeding the perception that we’re pampered and entitled. If you’re going to complain, at least make it constructive. And being constructive depends on the situation at hand.

Don’t concentrate so hard on being unique. It’s the most conformist thing you can do. Concentrate on being the best version of yourself. Always strive to be what you are, not what you think you ought to be. Be happy, but not at the expense of others, including your long-term self.

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Work hard. This is probably the broadest of the shibboleths I’m proposing, but seriously. How many times have you heard an employer say: “These young people just don’t want to work!” Or, “They’d rather just sit around and play on their phones than earn a paycheck!” I’m ad-libbing those lines, but the point is valid. I’ve known plenty of people my age who show up for a paycheck and that’s it. Show your employer that you’re not spoiled and entitled, and watch the surprise!

Plan ahead. This is one I struggle with most myself. Not just what you’re going to eat tonight, but how you’re going to eat in the future. Not just when you’re going to work, but what career you want as well. Set short- and long-term goals, and you’ll be surprised how much you find out about yourself.

Exercise good judgment. This is the very hardest thing to do, and this is something not strictly related to being a Millennial. Good judgment is something that is absolutely formulated in your twenties. It’s the difference between Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill; James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln. The only way to get better at it is to practice it, whenever possible. Say that its 10PM, and you have to get up early for work. Do you have a coffee with a shot of espresso? Or do you try to sleep now, even if you’re not really tired? Start exercising good judgment now.

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In this economy, Millennials do not have the option of being picky. In college, we dreamt of 6-figure salaries, or starting a thriving business, or taking our time to build our pet projects. However, idyllic as we pictured our post-graduate lives being, the realities of life, of course, hit us hard. Unemployment for recent graduates is at 12.7% as of July 2012.

But even the harshest pessimist likely could not have foreseen the most opportunistic and desperate of realities: unpaid internships.

ImageDoes this not entice you?

It’s been explained to us in ostensible terms: if you work for a company for free, you get a foot in the door. This can be true, sometimes. A dozen or so years ago, unpaid internships were not uncommon in the arts, but they have spread out into the industries of business, law, and journalism, even before the Great Recession hit in 2008.

Unpaid internships prey on a very common-sense theme: Experience trumps education. Our educational system does not value hands-on experience, so when the newly-matriculated graduate is loosed upon the world with tens of thousands of dollars in loans to repay and debt to refund, the question becomes: how can we possibly break into the industries we’ve thought about entering with only a $140,000 piece of paper that nearly everyone else has?

Sometimes, these unpaid internships do indeed lead you to where you want to go. Other times, they lead to desperation and despair. We hear from our peers how they are forced to do menial labor; the labor that paid workers refuse to do. Grabbing lunches; making photocopies; cleaning offices; making coffee; answering tedious phone calls. Some have worked over forty hours a week (some much more).

ImageWould you work for a man who had this mug? Courtesy of store.theonion.com

 

How did so many businesses get kids to work for free?

Historically speaking, we need to go back nearly 80 years in order to find the law that allows for something like this. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed, and it laid out a 6-point test, still in use today, for hiring unpaid interns:

1. The internship must be similar to training that would be given in an educational environment;
2. The internship must be for the benefit of the intern;
3. The intern does not displace regular employees;
4. The employer derives no immediate advantage from the intern;
5. The intern is not entitled to a job at the end of the internship; and
6. The intern understands that he or she is not entitled to wages.

(Credit: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/statutes/FairLaborStandAct.pdf)

If followed to the letter, this would be acceptable. The first point is a bit unreasonable nowadays, and the second and fourth points might be a little naïve to expect, but otherwise, they are not without merit. But how many unpaid internships do you know that follow these six steps? These steps are more in line with apprenticeships, which are very nearly anathema in the United States at this present time, except for in the vocational areas of electrical work, plumbing, and the like.

It is common knowledge in many industries that recent college graduates who are taking unpaid internships are going to work hard to get noticed. If they’ve taken the initiative to take something without pay just to be in an industry, then they will take an unreasonable amount of degradation before getting fed up.

Take the case of two unpaid interns vs. the movie industry. Two men filed suit against Fox Searchlight, stating that, in direct violation of the 6-point test from earlier:  “Fox Searchlight acted illegally, the lawsuit asserts, because the company did not meet the federal labor department’s criteria for unpaid internships. Those criteria require that the position benefit the intern, that the intern not displace regular employees, that the training received be similar to what would be given in an educational institution and that the employer derive no immediate advantage from the intern’s activities.”

Recently, Fox stated that they have changed their policy to ensure that no interns are paid less than $8 an hour. The two men have since expanded the lawsuit to include all internships under the parent company of Twentieth Century Fox. That case is ongoing.

 

That is just one example of the situation we’re dealing with. Of course businesses would love to get free labor; it helps keeps costs manageable. And recent graduates are so desperate that they are willing to take these marginal ‘jobs’ just to attempt some sort of forward momentum. However, this does not take into account the vast number of students who come from lower-class families and harder situations who can’t afford to take an unpaid internship in a big city. It puts them at a distinct disadvantage.

There are positives to unpaid internships, of course. Other than the fact it can actually get you a foot in the door, and resume experience, the big seller is that it ‘builds character.’ While this is something you will hear from people who have apparently already gone through their character building years, there is a kernel of truth to it. Only through friction can fire start, and only through adversity can we learn perseverance. However, it can easily be argued that these lessons can be learned with some pay as well.

This is not a progressive vs. conservative issue; it’s a moral issue. It lends itself to the greater problem of a regressing economy, and the lengths which some employers are willing to go to meet their bottom line. This should be concerning to authorities and to business in general. The market that allows for this sort of desperation will beget more desperation.

Before any laws are changed, or any trends dissipate, it is incumbent on any matriculating or recently matriculated college graduate to look very closely at their opportunities in the job market, and take care to discover whether or not any internships being considered are fair and/or worthwhile.

Eventually, the world economy will gradually get better, but it will also evolve, as all economies do. Will it involve rampant unpaid work for college graduates? Or will involve young people being able to make a fair wage? Millennials have to decide.

A fascinating article was recently penned by Joel Kotkin for the Daily Beast the other day, called Generation Screwed. You can read it here:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/07/15/are-millennials-the-screwed-generation.html

His take is backed by sound numbers and good analysis. Those numbers and analyses suggest that the game is rigged against the Millennial generation by the Baby Boomers and Generation X. But not out of hubris or malice, but out of fear and stupidity.

The previous generations have taken what they could from what was offered without fear of the well running dry. Now, the well is running dry. Boomers aren’t retiring as early not, because all of a sudden, the money isn’t there to move to Boca Raton. And considering the palpable desperation frothing from the masses of 18-29 year olds looking for gainful employment, companies that are looking to hire new workers are low-balling Millennials

The Millennial reputation, oftentimes well earned, is that we are whiners, and who strut about with undeserved sense of accomplishment. Working with Millennials in a professional environment can be extraordinarily frustrating.

Millennials

In Ron Alsop’s The Trophy Kids Grow Up, he discusses the unusual precedents that our generation sets up for the workplace. We don’t like dressing up for work, and we don’t like our personalities infringed upon or stultified. We want flexible schedules, steady pay-raises, and a clear path up the corporate ladder. This rubs many in the business world the wrong way, and this is perhaps why many major companies are uncomfortable hiring us. But it’s a feeling they steadily have to get comfortable with. We are unavoidable, considering there are 90 million of us swarming the work force in segments, year after year.

There need to be new and clever ideas if we are to have it anywhere near as good as the previous generations have. There is a serious debate going on in Washington DC, and indeed, all over the world, on how to ensure that the wealth of nations does not dissipate taking care of generations who have grown used to spending without paying much back. We need to impose responsibility on those in power, and take that power away from those who refuse to be responsible.

The Millennial Manifesto

We Millennials were born between 1980-2000, however it is much easier to define us by our characteristics. While not every single characteristic will qualify for every single teen and twenty-something, these broad strokes coat the vast majority very well.

Like every generation, we are shaped by the times in which we grow. Our generation was not shaped by war, but by money. Until recently, we had no needs that went unfulfilled, no desires unrequited. We avoided responsibility because none was given to us. Because of that, we are more likely to put off marriage, homeownership, and children. They are not the key to happiness as in previous generations. They scare us. They are burdens.

We are narcissistic and fickle, and we have been bred that way.

We are driven to excel: in school, in careers, in life. And we are disappointed almost beyond measure when things go wrong.

We are ill-equipped to deal with adversity, but we have been shielded from it for so long.

We care about success and community, but politics-as-usual nauseate us.

We are socially very liberal, because social conservatism has not been proven good or fair to us.

We are philosophically inclined and artistically endowed because the time and ability has been afforded to us.

We are technophiles; technology is simply another language we’ve learned.

We do not believe in absolutes. We have a sense of right and wrong, but it’s not black and white; it’s on a gradient scale of gray.

We believe in knowledge above power, and intellect above judgment.

We deny the emotive side while following our gut, without any desire to hone that skill.

We desire to have our lives perfectly synced. We are not adept at compartmentalizing, yet we do not enjoy truly deep questions either.

We are efficient multi-taskers, and because of that, our focus is scattershot and our attentions are deficient.

We want our news satirical and our humor off-beat; traditional machismo has been eschewed for androgynous sensibilities.

We deplore labels, so much so that we label ourselves against labels just to get away from them.

We tend to be close to, and respect, our parents and elders.

We are incredulously spoiled, yet oftentimes selfless.

We cannot take criticism, but we do not appreciate coddling.

We do not want to work for it, because we’re not sure if we actually want it in the first place.

We are very skeptical of organized religion, to the point of holding to skepticism as a dogma. While we mock organized religion, we believe in memes and evolution and social justice.

We are not religious. We are spiritual. Yes, to us, there is a difference.

We are well-traveled, and would rather see the world than work for a fortune.

Our distrust of authority grows with every disgraced politician, clergyman, and celebrity.

We don’t hate money, we just hate the greedy. Which oftentimes is the rich. We think. Old money is a foreign concept to us.

We dislike face-to-face communication, and find it taxing. We’d rather text you. Phone calls are avoided unless necessary.

We tweet; we like things on Facebook; we bookmark and have rss feeds sent to our email; we Skype and FaceTime; we text constantly.

We are a generation of true immediate gratification. Anything less is a denial of basic human rights.

We are very health conscious. We run, we go to the gym, and we do yoga. We would rather eat grilled edamame than Twinkies. We will pay more money for Whole Foods, and avoid obviously bad food, even if it’s far cheaper.

We are desperately individual.

We need options.

We believe, above all, in fairness. That nebulous, capricious ideal that means the world. The lack of fairness is deplorable to us. Any perceived intolerance puts you in Dante’s 9th circle. Racism, sexism, and inequality of any type burn us, and make us angry enough to fight.

We want it our way, we want it now, and we want it for nothing.

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