With the ammo of sarcastic memes and passive aggressive status updates, along with the battlefield of social media, the generational war is getting out of control. With a battle that resembles that of the movie 300, the sides seem to be lopsided. It’s Millennials vs. Everyone Else.
Being a millennial, I’m upset that my generation has become the punching bag of our elders. However, I’m not here to go on a rant laced with profanity and flip the proverbial middle finger to the generations that came before us. I’m just going to do my best to offer some perspective in a culture that often doesn’t look for much of it. We get so stuck in our beliefs and our ways of thought that we don’t care to question ourselves. Better yet, we rarely try to see things from the point of view of someone else. It’s easier to stick to your guns and blame someone else.
Given my position as a high school teacher, I feel like I’m wedged in a good place of perspective for this generational discussion. I’m a millennial, but I work with plenty of Gen-X folks and even a few Baby Boomers (according to Wikipedia, Gen X falls between birth years of mid-1960s and late 1970s. Baby Boomers were generally born between 1945 and 1965). On the flip side, I spend most of my day with the next generation—Generation Z. I stare out into a sea of kids every day that weren’t alive for 9/11 and have grown up with an iPhone glued to their hand.
Each generation is different (duh), but different doesn’t mean that there is one superior generation. I get it, it’s become sort of a right of passage for the eldest generation to just dump on the generations younger than them. Your parents will tell you that they had it rough growing up, but your grandparents would probably find that assertion adorable.
“My generation had it the hardest.”
“No, mine did!”
“You kids have it easy these days.”
So on and so on. Everyone knows the comical “I walked 5 miles to school, uphill, both ways, in snow” quips.
Experience does give you a leg up in the game, but it doesn’t make you the best at it. Consider two baseball players. One of them is a high school senior, throws 94 MPH, and can hit the ball 400 feet with ease. The other is a 45 year old man that has been playing baseball since he was 5 years old. He’s not a professional or anything, he just plays in a local men’s league. He played a little college baseball before hurting his knee and putting his big baseball dreams to rest. Who’s the better baseball player? Easy choice, right? We wouldn’t dismiss the high school kid because he’s only 18 would we? Of course not. My point is that experience isn’t everything.
In the same breath, though, it means a lot. Just by living more years on this earth, you have a leg up on us. You’ve experienced more, seen more, and can collect those experiences into a “how-to” book on living. That “how-to” book is an excellent resource. One that I refer to often, as do my millennial peers. We ask our parents for advice. We seek mentors in the workplace. We listen intently as our grandparents share their wisdom.
One caveat to this, though, is that the “how-to” book is a paperback or hard cover. It’s in print, unchanging, and a little outdated. A lot of the principles are the same, but the mechanics are much different in the year 2017. Not only that, they continue to change every few years.
Think about how much has changed in just the last 20 years. Smartphones. Self-driving cars. A workplace that is no longer based on loyalty and pensions, but on innovation and creativity. Most jobs that were commonplace back then have either drastically changed or are no longer around. A student loan system that has most of my millennial peers drowning in debt. The circumstances aren’t better or worse, but they are most definitely different. While those circumstances have changed rapidly, most of the world observed and tolerated it. Millennials were the beta testers for it all. That’s why we help our parents with their smartphones. We were the first ones with our hands on them. That’s why we live at home longer than our older peers. We’re up to our neck in student loans. That’s why some of us have trouble finding steady footing in the workplace. New careers are created every year, while the one’s that we spent our college years training for have become extinct.
Should we suck it up and deal? Absolutely. Most of us do. The reason we get a bad rep is your accessibility to the whiners in our generation. Anyone in the world has the ability to post how they feel at any given moment (like this very post). If someone wants to post about how they hate their job or their student loans, anyone can see it. It gets shared or retweeted and now thousands of eyeballs can see the whiny 20-something sound off. In the past there wasn’t that kind of platform to speak from a soap box. You’re just getting more of it, so the perception is that there are THAT many more whining, complaining millennials that can’t be pleased. The “participation trophy” generation strikes again. Well, we weren’t the ones handing out the trophies, people.
My point is comparing generations is an apples to oranges discussion. They’re both fruits. They’re both round. But they’re quite different. With that said, they’re both tasty. So why fight over which one’s better? Yes, I’ll admit there’s a few bad apples in my generation (see what I did there?!?!), but that’s not exclusive to us millennials. We all have some peers or colleagues that aren’t the greatest, their age notwithstanding.
Instead of trashing the bad apples, why don’t we highlight the good? Most of my friends are millennials, but not many of them fit the negative stereotype. They’re hardworking. They’re not whiny. They’re not ungrateful. They are more anti-millennial if anything.
Even as I look at my students—Generation Z—I know that they are going to do amazing things. But they also have their downfalls. They’re apathetic. They showcase a good amount of learned helplessness. BUT, I had a kid in a 9th grade Algebra class developing an app outside of school. That’s NUTS! These kids are going to take innovation to another level. It may come with a headache for their elders (me), but if I focus on their strengths instead of their weaknesses, I can help them get there.
I always tell my kids that test me, “Look, I used to be an idiot, too. You know how I turned out as a halfway decent guy? Some adult told me I was acting a fool and corrected me. They guided me. They taught me how to be better. Consider this your ‘acting a fool’ message.”
It’s true, someone older than me crafted me into the person that I am. My parents, my teachers, my coaches, etc. For that I am eternally grateful.
We need more crafting and less criticizing. Imagine if I just stood in front of my classroom and said, “You people are all idiots. I fear for the future of the world.” Pretty ineffective, right? I doubt that it would help them grow and become better versions of themselves over time.
Less criticism and more compassion. Each generation has dealt with different circumstances, but we all have something to offer. Instead of cutting each other down, let’s try to build each other up. Highlight the strengths and help improve the weaknesses.
Rise above the social media bullshit. We’re better than that, right?