As I was combing through articles for a column topic this week, a Thought Catalog post caught my eye. It was titled: “Millennials: We Suck. But It’s Okay, Because We’re Going To Change The World.” Before I come back to this article, let me backtrack a little.
A lot has been said about our generation, most of it not very nice. We’ve been called self-absorbed, easily distracted, entitled, apathetic and lazy. The cover of Time Magazine labeled us the “ME ME ME Generation.” After all, we are the generation of gold stars, short attention spans and Facebook.
We’ve been criticized for being unrealistic about job opportunities — how dare we be picky in this economy — and difficult to manage in the workplace — going back to the whole “gold star, unable to take criticism, easily distracted with Ipods and texting” thing. In short, we’ve been dubbed pretty much the “Worst. Generation. Ever.” — courtesy of Will McAvoy, the fictional anchor of HBO's "The Newsroom."
But, thankfully, we have the Internet to save the day, or at least tell us what’s wrong with us. A September 2013 Huffington Post article kindly elaborates on “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.” In case you were wondering, it’s because of our unrealistic expectations, overly ambitious career goals and the fact that every elementary school teacher we had told us we were special. Sorry to break it to you: We’re not really all that special.
Basically, we were overly pampered growing up and are now unprepared for the world — the really depressing and dysfunctional world — we have to face. Or so they say.
Jokes aside, there's some truth to be found here. We are ‘coming of age’ in an increasingly difficult reality. We’re the first generation to be living in a world of approximately seven billion people. That’s bound to cause some problems. We’re growing up in a world of decreasing economic opportunity, increasing income inequality, looming climate change and numerous bloody conflicts. It’s not exactly the most optimistic picture. Not to mention the fact that older generations continue to put off solving some of today’s most pressing problems, leaving them for us to deal with down the road.
And, the fact that we didn’t grow up exactly as our parents did is, in fact, what will prove to be our greatest asset.
Yes, we are overly idealistic but in a world where almost 50 percent of people live on below the equivalent of $2.50 a day, don’t we have to be? Yes, we expect more of ourselves and our jobs — we want to be doing something we love, not just earning a living — but it’s this passion that’ll inspire us to work hard at what we do every day. Yes, we were singled out and propped up on pedestals as kids, but that also gives us the confidence needed to stand by and push for the big reforms that many of our social systems need.
The Thought Catalog post claimed that our generation, as a result of how much we are exposed to, is growing up with a taste of everything, but not enough in depth training in anything. And while this makes us seem easily distracted or apathetic, it’s also forcing us to be innovative and chart our own paths. We have fewer traditional prospects, but we have the confidence, passion and creativity to make new opportunities — provided, of course, that we’re able to get away from Facebook long enough to do so. As the article says, “we might not reinvent the wheel” but we’re seeking to reinvent everything since. We’re seeing that certain political, social and economic systems that have been in place for years, don’t apply as well to the world we live in. And because we were told from an early age that we can do anything we set our mind to, we’re determined to find ways to change them.
That’s not to say that some of the criticisms aren’t valid — we’re not exactly the best-informed generation. Ironic, given the amount of access we have to information. With so many things constantly competing for our attention, we’re forced to decide what is and isn’t important. And, I’ll admit, we haven’t been the greatest at doing so. Buzzfeed articles of adorable yawning kittens certainly don’t help. But if we are able to find ways to focus our energy, the very things “Generation Y” is criticized for can become our biggest strengths. In fact, that passion, confidence and ability to remain idealistic is essential now more than ever, given the world we will be inheriting.
Harsha Nahata can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.