Millennials hate competition, love recognition and aren’t as revolutionary as they think

May 16, 2013
May 16, 2013

This originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can follow Penelope Trunk here 

Now that I’m not the CEO of Brazen Careerist, I don’t have to be the national cheerleader for Generation Y. I fantasized about this moment for years: the moment when I’d write the post titled, 10 Things I Hate about Generation Y.

But it’s hard to hate people you hang out with all the time, and the truth is, I’ve spent the last ten years being a Gen Xer surrounded by Gen Yers. The pinnacle, I thought, was me spending my days fighting with Ryan Healy about work. But in fact, it turns out the pinnacle of my education on Gen Y is my arguments with Melissa about her peers that end in snippy impasse.

Sometimes, I think Gen Y is lame and she won’t admit to it.

But, I find, as I think about all the things I hate about Gen Y, that it’s hard to hate something you know so much about. And in fact, I have become a way better person myself from studying Gen Y. I have noticed that my worst traits are the aspects of myself I least understand. And that is true of Gen Y, too.

1. Gen Y mistakes the speed of the Internet for their own speed.

Gen Yers are not risk takers, they are not conflict-seekers, and they are generally respectful of institutions and organizations. When Gen Y doesn’t like something, you probably won’t hear about it. They just won’t show up. I have written before about the conservative nature of Gen Y.

But what I’ve noticed lately is that this nature results in Gen Yers having a difficult time making decisions. They have had their parents making decisions for them for most of their childhood, and they crowdsource decisions as adults, so when they must make a decision that no one can really help them with, Gen Yers often get stuck. (This is a huge difference from Gen X, who thrives on counter-culture, I-did-this-myself diatribes, and from Baby Boomers, who make all decisions based on how can they look like they are winning against everyone else.)

2. Gen Y wants to look like a winner more than it wants to be a winner.

Gen Y is the most team-oriented generation ever. The American experience has been largely about individualism since the Declaration of Independence. So it’s a big change for such a huge generation to be more oriented to the group rather than the individual.

The result of this way of seeing the world is that Gen Yers are very, very non-competitive. They were in soccer leagues where everyone gets a trophy. They enter the workplace and they have little interest in leading in a hierarchical way. And they love to use the collaborative software that serves, unintentionally, to flatten the workplace hierarchy.

But Gen Yers are consumed with their image. Online, they manage themselves like they are celebrities. They revolutionized the art of the self-portrait because they take so many. And Gen Y women are renowned for dressing up at work in great clothes regardless of how much money they make or what the rest of the office is wearing.

But I think what might be the best illustration of this trend is that they don’t make enough money for a huge, lavish wedding, but they still want their wedding pictures to be gorgeous, fun and exotic. So they elope, with a photographer, and post all the photos of a great wedding on Facebook.

3. Gen Y misunderstands entrepreneurship.

Gen Yers are scared of being screwed-over by corporate America because they saw their parents give up everything for corporate life and then get let down. Gen Yers do not want to repeat this in their own life. So for Gen Yers, entrepreneurship is the ultimate expression of their conservatism.

Gen Y thinks the safest route in employment is entrepreneurship, so in poll after poll, the vast majority of Gen Yers say they want to own their own business. But what they really mean is they want to have a safety net. They want to feel like if they get laid off they will not be left high and dry like their parents were.

In general, though, Gen Y likes working for someone else. Gen Y likes assignments, they like feedback, they like meetings, group efforts, and after-work happy-hours. These are all the trappings of people who work for someone else. Entrepreneurs are mostly lonely, anxious people, living on the edge of what’s normal. And when Gen Y gets an inkling of those feelings, they run back to corporate life.

4. Gen Y thinks it doesn’t believe in God.

For the most part, Gen Y has the same religious attitude as Gen X. It’s just that Gen X frames this as an obsessive drive toward creating inclusive family and inclusive work and communities, and Gen Y frames it as not believing in God.

The reason for the discrepancy is that Gen Yers frame its religious views in relation to their parents, and since Gen Xers had a childhood that will go down in history as negligent parenting, Gen X frames its views in relation to its own values (which, of course, have to do with their backlash against the demise of the family).

So, Gen Y actually does believe in God. Gen Y thinks there is something out there that created matter. I mean, what was there before the Big Bang? Who knows? We can call that God. Gen Y doesn’t argue with that. But Gen Y thinks God must mean the Christian God. And if it doesn’t believe in that, it says it doesn’t believe in God.

So, in fact, Gen Y is pretty accepting of all religions, and willing to participate if you put it in front of it. There are no public displays of religious protest as a way to instigate change—that is Baby Boomer territory. And there is no taking a risk and taking a stand to create a solid religious life for their kids like Gen X. Gen Y goes with the flow, supports any religion as long as it supports gay marriage, and hedges against any conflict by saying it is not really religious.

5. Gen Y mistakes its own practical behavior for revolutionary behavior.

In general, Gen Y tries to go through life by ruffling the least feathers. So, for example, Gen Y might appear to be creating a revolution at work by demanding flex-time, fair-wage salaries, and good mentoring. But really, Gen Xers wanted all this stuff when they were twentysomething as well, only they couldn’t get it. So when Gen X took over, it gave it to Gen Y. Gen X is the revolutionary generation.

Gen Y is simply demanding what its parents told it should expect from the world: Work that matters and work that complements a life that matters. Those revolutionary expectations come from the Boomer parents. Gen Y is just doing what it is told.

I couldn’t help thinking this same thing when I read this New York Times article about the trend that as teenage girls Gen Y gives more blow jobs than any generation before. When Baby Boomer women had more sex than any generation in the past, it was a feminist revolution, changing the whole fabric of society. But when Gen Y teens talk about why they give more blow jobs, it’s different, but simple: they do it because while their parents told them not to have sex until it really really mattered to them, the boys are, of course, dying to have sex. So one way to keep everyone happy is with blow jobs. It’s the ultimate expression of Gen Y practicality masquerading as revolution.

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