The following article was originally posted on The Huffington Post blog.
I am a Millennial. And it’s no secret: people give Millennials a hard time. Our generation composes 25% of the United States—the largest age range in American history, mind you—but has been given quite a bad rap, especially when compared to generations past. I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Millennials are constantly being chided for being narcissistic, sensitive, and entitled. We have been labeled as the generation that wants to have its cake and eat it too, but only after taking a picture of it and posting on Instagram. Countless psychologists, researchers, and writers have described the products of this generation as overweening children whose egos, feelings, and iPhones are all an inseparable part of their insufferable behavior. Perhaps Sheila Marikar best summed up the general perception of Millennials in her 2013 cultural studies piece for The New York Times when she said this demographic of over 80 million people can be found “tapping on their smartphones, strolling into work late, and amassing Instagram followers faster than a twerking cat. They complain. They ‘disrupt’ stuff. They simultaneously (and somewhat improbably) like both Kanye West and Kenny Chesney.”
The tone of this description, however true (and clever) it may be, makes Millennials sound vapid and superficial; a sentiment I strongly disagree with. But before I explain myself, let’s indulge the old fogies a moment longer.
A 2015 study commissioned by Elance-oDesk and Millennial Branding reported that 80% of the hiring managers surveyed claim that their Millennial employees display narcissistic tendencies. What’s more, 73% labeled their young workers as poor “team players.” From the research, it appears that we are seen as self-obsessed selfie snappers, bucking blue collar values and demanding that an “I” finally be added to the word ‘team.’ A study done by MTV revealed that 76% of Millennials believe “my boss could learn a lot from me” and 70% said they needed an allotment of “me time” at work to be happy. The study also showed that the overwhelming majority of Millennials view rigid work schedules and business casual dress codes as deal-breakers. If a place doesn’t provide these benefits, then we are probably Snapchatting our way out the door, as evidenced by a Forbes study that reported an overwhelming 91% of Millennials expect to move on from their current job in less than three years. But while the desire to job hop is an unmistakable part of our culture, it may be a little bit difficult to land a gig at that new company, not because there is not enough jobs, but because those hiring managers aren’t very impressed with the interviews that us Millennials are giving. In Jean M. Twenge’s impressively titled book, Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before, she shares the following example:
The young applicant seemed so promising on paper. When she arrived for the interview, however, she was holding a cat carrier—with the cat in it. She set the carrier on the interviewer’s desk and periodically played with it during the interview.
She did not get the job.
Another job applicant took a call on his cell phone 15 minutes into the interview. A third brought his father with him. These are, apparently, not isolated examples. A 2013 USA Today story notes that such behavior is gaining notice across the country: “Human resource professionals say they’ve seen recent college grads text or take calls in interviews, dress inappropriately, use slang or overly casual language and exhibit other oddball behavior.”
With all this information, it is easy to see why dear old Baby Boomers see “GenMe”—as Twerge calls us—as a corruption of classic values. To them, we are the result of too much PlayStation and not enough manual labor; too much Steve Jobs and not enough Abe Lincoln. We are the generation that expects open communication and affirmation as we go throughout our tasks, and believe that it’s not too much to ask for a good salary and lots of creative control. Our consideration for social norms is small and our yearning for individualism is high. We want to be a part of something big, but we don’t want to get lost in the mix.
Get the picture?
As a proud 90’s baby, I read all this information and you know what I think? (Remember, I’m a Millennial so even if you say no then I am still going to tell you.) I think to myself: Cool. So what? Why are these bad things?
Think about it. Would you be offended if somebody told you that you are too creative? Would you ever feel insulted if someone told you that your dreams and expectations for your life are just too high? Would it hurt your self-esteem if someone said that you are too free-spirited or too independent? If you answered yes to one or any of these questions, you’re probably not a Millennial. But for my generation, the answer is an obvious no. None of us would ever feel insulted by being told that we have too many followers on social media. My point is, what if all the “negative traits” that Millennials have been assigned are actually positives? What if “bad” attributes can produce good results? What if, to paraphrase a track on Kanye West’s masterful album Graduation, everything we’re not makes us everything we are?
I, for one, am proud to be a Millennial, and for the very reasons that others have created to label us as the worst generation. I’m convinced that these attributes are exactly why I think we are the best generation. We are a group of connected creators, social savants, and passionate purists. We have grown up as a part of the globalization of the Internet, which has built a world around us constructed by free speech and artistic expression. Unlike generations past, we are the first group who enters the work force believing we will find a job that makes us excited to get out of bed in the morning. Some may view it as entitled or demanding, but what’s negative about demanding a meaningful existence? We have been raised on the college dropout success stories of Facebook God Mark Zuckerberg, #GirlBoss Sophia Amoruso, and everyone’s favorite human being: Ellen Degeneres. We are inspired by the creative versatility and passion of artists such as James Franco and Shia LaBeouf. Our entrepreneurial role models are rappers-turned-business-moguls, and we would rather take pictures with a Banksy piece than read about El Greco in an art history class. We are not the manufacturing line generation, but the maker generation. We know that we don’t have to settle, and the world has come to expect that attitude from us. We don’t subscribe to the previous generation’s common wisdom that says you have to “work your way up the corporate ladder”—which is just a nice way of saying you have to hate your first (and most likely your second and third) job before landing somewhere “comfortable.” Past generations believed that good things come to those who wait, while our generation believes that good things come to those who drop out of school, create their own app, and then sell it for millions. While the Baby Boomers were focused on following pragmatism, we are focused on following passion. In the immortal words of Macklemore—the Millennial Shakespeare—we truly are “a generation of kids choosing love over a desk.”
All of these characteristics, regardless of how they’re perceived, make me feel extremely lucky to be born a Millennial. Rather than being offended when I hear terms like narcissistic, entitled, and sensitive being used to describe my peers, I actually feel a sort of inner pride. We are the first generation that has been given the freedoms to act this way, and we’re not scared to exercise them. We have grown up in and helped to create a world that values and vehemently defends diversity and equality, which has allowed us an unprecedented level of free expression, without fear of retaliation or suffocation. The “faults” that many use to define our generation are actually a manifestation of the power we possess. Our strengths truly lie in our perceived weaknesses, which is the very reason that Millennials will continue to change the world.
Robbie Tripp is the author of “Create Rebellion,” an abstract manifesto for disruptive creativity. He lives in San Francisco with his beautiful wife Sarah.