Bashing Millennials on the internet these days has become more popular than Kim Kardashian and videos of cats afraid of cucumbers — combined.
(Maybe a bit of an overstatement, but I’m a Millennial so you’ll have to excuse my entitled view and lack of common sense…See what I did there…)
And at the core of the fierce Millennial debate there seems to be one question at the forefront – What’s wrong with Millennials these days?
Like The Most Interesting Man in the World — Millennials seem to be a walking paradox that makes for great entertainment.
Entitled. Narcissistic. Lazy. The Facebook Generation all about instant gratification. Generation Me. These are the words used to describe the “Millennial Problem.”
Why is it that stereotyping certain topics is completely taboo, yet stereotyping an entire generation is all the rage?
Maybe it’s not entitlement, narcissism or laziness that is expanding the chasm between the generations these days. Maybe the generational chasm is growing because of all these stereotypes.
The Danger of Generational Stereotypes
We need to stop throwing out the same tired buzzwords to define the “Millennial problem.” (Click to tweet that)
We read a NY Times or Huffington Post article, or people watch someone under 25-years-old, and all of the sudden we think we have Millennials pegged. Grand, sweeping, headline grabbing, generalizations somehow become the norm.
There are 1.3 billion Millennials in the world. That’s like taking the United States and China and replacing every person currently living there with a Millennial.
Each of these “Millennials” are complex, diverse, unique individuals.
Millennials are people, not a catch-all marketing bucket. (Click the tweet that)
Many of us are not taking the time to truly understand Millennials because it’s much easier to have the three word answer than to take the time and effort to ask the right questions.
Buzzwords can’t be gospel truth.
Some Millennials will act entitled, some won’t.
Some Millennials will have an IV of technology hooked to their veins. Some still like the feel and smell of a paper book.
Some Millennials will persevere and work their ass off. Other Millennials will take repeated naps and watch Netflix.
Some Millenials will get married young. Some will cast marriage off like a pair of worn tennis shoes.
Some are immersed in social media and their iPhone, and yet at the same time feel very much alone.
Some Millennials are struggling with Obsessive Comparison Disorder. Some aren’t.
Some Millennials embrace being called a Millennial. Others can’t stand it.
As I wrote in my book 101 Secrets for your Twenties, “why do we think we can sum up an entire generation with a simple label like a box of Wheat Thins?”
Let’s be careful not to treat generalizations as facts. Because the problem is that these stereotypes become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Millennials Become What You Label Them
Stereotypes become your reality.
If you think Millennials are entitled, then you’re going to continually look at Millennials through that lens. Your perception will define your reality. You won’t look for examples of self-sacrifice or hard work because that would be contrary to the truth you already “know”.
Because you’ve read an internet article on Millennials doesn’t mean you understand them. (Click to tweet that)
Because you have twentysomething children does not mean you know what all twentysomethings are going through.
Millennials, just like every generation, have grown up in a wide array of circumstances and backgrounds specific to this time in history. They’re going through a real struggle of transition, uncertainty, doubt, depression, and frustration as life has turned out nothing like they planned.
And just because you don’t want to acknowledge that the struggle Millennials are experiencing is legitimate, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
I have two books geared directly for Millennials in their twenties and thirties. I’ve spent close to a decade researching emerging adulthood and Millennials, writing about what is truly at the heart of the twentysomething struggle. Yet after all of that I will not be so brash or arrogant to say that I have Millennials completely pegged.
So how do we move beyond stereotypes and actually bridge the Generational-Understanding-Gap towards healthy, productive, edifying relationships between generations?
Open, Authentic, Conversations
Boomers, Gen X and Millennials need to come to the table and have open, honest conversations.
Boomers and Gen X would do us well to remember, and Millennials would do well to forget.
- Boomers need to remember what it was like to be in their twenties to help Millennials through their questions.
- Millennials need to forget about having all the answers, and be open and vulnerable to learning from those who have gone before.
Parents, bosses, pastors remember when you were anxious about the future and overwhelmed with doubt? Where you were barely getting by yourself and struggling to find your place?
Millennials weren’t around when our parents were thick in the struggle.
Millennials didn’t see our parent’s sacrifice as much as we saw our parent’s success.
Leaders need to engage Millennials with authentic, transparent communication.
Boomers the more real and honest you can be about the difficulties you faced growing up, the closer the Understanding-Gap will become.
If bosses can go back and remember how they felt when they were nothing in the office, they can help empathize with twentysomethings and help them find productive ways to grow, instead of casting them aside as lazy.
The biggest obstacle facing most Millennials today in the office is not a lack of work ethic, but a lack of understanding.
How can leaders come alongside Millennials and help co-create their career path?
Millennials are desperate for mentors who are willing to tell the truth of their own struggle. (Click to tweet that)
As 77-year-old author Parker Palmer wrote:
“When I was young, there were very few elders willing to talk about their darkness; most of them pretended that success was all they had ever known … I thought I had developed a unique and terminal case of failure. I did not realize I had merely embarked on a journey toward joining the human race.” – Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
Boomers. Millennials. Gen X. There’s similarities in our struggle.
Even though the Internet might disagree, we all are still humans.
The more we can seek to understand and identify with the other side, the less we’ll rely on stereotypes and the Internet to bridge the gap for us.
I’d love to hear from you within the comments below:
Have you experienced stereotypes because of your age?