Complaining about an up and coming generation is a past time across cultures. And Gen Y, it is indeed our turn. The generation that raised us does it, the generation that is slightly older than us does it, and we do it to ourselves. The complaints about us range from being entitled to oversharing, to having egos larger than life. These are all complaints that I don’t necessarily disagree with. But I also argue that there has been no other generation that has come under as much scrutiny thus far. And indeed our upbringing in the information age has made it all possible.
I was having dinner with a friend earlier in the year that I had not seen in a while. I took her to one of my favorite restaurants in town and got a fancy cocktail. I bashfully took a picture of the drink, as I had always been so keen on “not being one of those people who takes pictures of their food and drinks.” Even when I do it, I explicitly include that “I hardly ever do this,” to justify it. And as I quipped about Gen Y’s need to take pictures of food and drinks (while taking a picture of my drink), my friend laughed and responded, “If the older generations could have done this when they were younger, they would have.” And this amongst other things is what people tend to forget.
If you take what has become the traditional path of young people – a full-time collegiate experience, especially if you do so in the USA – by the time you’re in your senior year, you’ll likely be negotiating your emotions. On the one hand, you’ll have senioritis and can’t wait to get the hell out of college. On the other hand, you might be experiencing the fear that “real” adulthood is imminent, and there’s no turning back. Around the time I was graduating college, Plan A was law school and of course I was going to get in because I was smart and things always ended up working out mostly how I wanted them to. Law school was going to be the first-stop of my wonderful post-grad life, right? Wrong. There was going to be no law school for me (which was a blessing in disguise).
Plan B was a year in Spain, learning Spanish, and doing some post-grad year program. Good, solid plan, right? Nope, that ended up folding in the end as well. Plan C – fine I’d get a job that I actually wanted. Which shouldn’t be too hard because I had the grades, and I had interned/worked all four years of college, right? Wrong again. My first job had nothing to do with my grades or my prior internships. After getting interviews through my brother’s connections, I essentially created my first job because I networked with a blogger who I reached out to. She was my first boss, and has since become a friend and mentor. She was the person that taught me everything I mostly do today in the digital writing and marketing world.
The extra burden of being an international graduate who could not legally take any old job just to survive, and who would eventually need a sponsorship were also concerns. I was lucky though; I had a brother who I lived with, and who connected me to everyone he knew while supporting me in every way once I moved to Chicago. And I also had supportive parents – both monetarily and otherwise. I remember once making a quip on Facebook about growing up to which my Dad (who gets on FB every now and then) commented, “Ah growing up is tough my dear.”
And it is. Even when you do everything right – grades, experience, networking – you can end up struggling just as much as those who did not. So you can imagine my extreme irritation at times when I am told that my generation is entitled and full of itself, which I can admit is somewhat true. But let’s also face the facts: My generation graduated into a TERRIBLE global economy, which was not our fault, if I might point out. We were and continue to be overworked and underpaid, in the event that we are paid at all, and not interning and/or working for free. Not to mention the sad state of personal and school debt that many people find themselves in. (Which they were told they could pay back because they would of course be getting decent-paying jobs after college.)
The false reality that we were set up for, which told us that as long as we worked hard, went to school, double-majored, made the President’s and Dean’s list, got the internships, that we’d be fine; did not match up to the experience of many taking what they could find just to be able to survive. Or perhaps we had the means of looking, at least for a little while, for something that we could actually do that didn’t make us want to jump out of a window at day’s end. And all of this for the privilege of listening to the people who did screw up this global economy tell us that we are entitled, spoiled, and have huge egos when we mention our long hours and little pay. And indeed we’ve learned to say very little because we’re trying to pay the rent. And we’re aware that many of our peers with college degrees and post-graduate degrees who weren’t so lucky or privileged are making copies and coffee, just so they won’t face malnutrition or depression or both.
I was raised by parents who came up from poverty so I was always told that I would have to work hard for everything, and hopefully along the way someone would give me a break. I got a break, and I know I will need more. I may have done the right things but I cannot deny how lucky I am despite the challenges I did face and will face. Others have not been so lucky. Yet continuously the story is the same: Entitled, overshared, “me, me, me” generation. And perhaps we are, and even as a member of this generation, the overshare and the sense of entitlement irks me ever so often.
But there is another side to the story that we cannot forget: The generation that criticizes us so much, were the same ones that raised us; we were born and brought up in the world that they had a hand in making. They had a hand in shaping our realities. And I can affirm the need for individual responsibility and hard work till I am blue in the face (which in itself feeds into the potentially problematic ideology of meritocracy). But I cannot and will not relinquish responsibility from the generations that came before us, for at least partially constructing the reality that we live in now.
So the next time you see some Gen Y taking a picture of their drink, maybe he or she is embarrassingly or obliviously being their self-involved stereotype. Maybe. Or maybe they are trying to share the few moments of pleasurable escape with the world before having to return to their underwhelming reality. Because believe it or not, no matter where many of us are in our lives, even when we’re not where we think we should be, even when we go home knowing that we could have done better but we were just so tired, so frustrated, so disheartened on that day; on most days, many of us are doing the best we can.