In the olden days, ten years ago, when I was a dot-com upstart displacing workers twice my age, I could hear people grumble about the workplace behavior of Generation X: We demanded foosball tables, non-hierarchical structure, tons of authority and exciting projects. In exchange, we worked extremely hard and fast, played well in teams, and felt a huge sense of ownership.
There was a generational clash at the office, and I remember thinking, “So what? I am making more than my 50-year-old co-workers and I get to wear jeans to work.” I felt sorry for the people who couldn't teach themselves how to do HTML.
Now I'm getting a dose of my own smugness because a lot has changed in ten years. I am not always the slick up-and-comer in the room with a strikingly new perspective. Sometimes I am just the Gen-Xer bombarded with the extreme optimism and potential of the Millennials. (Another insult: These people used to be called Generation Y, but they don't like to be associated with Gen Xers, so they prefer the term “Millennials.”)
According to Neil Howe, one of the authors of the book, “Millennials Rising,” this newest generation — born from 1975 to 1988 — has never known a recession and has been coddled toward success by overly invested Yuppies and soccer moms. Gen Xers, on the other hand, were latchkey kids, famous for neglect, and left hanging after college in one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression.
One of my brothers is sixteen years younger than I am, and therefore solidly a Millennial. I used to think all his self-confidence was due to the fact that my mom loves him best. But now I think it also as a result of his generation. He expects to always have work, always have fun, always have success. He works as hard as a Gen Xer, but has none of the cynicism. I used to think the cynicism would come (after all, he *is* my brother), but now I see it's just not part of his makeup.
Here's another snapshot of a Millennial — one I mentor. He got a great job out of college (as did all of his friends.) Then he quit his job and moved in with his parents so he could follow his dream career — acting.
When I moved back in with my parents because I couldn't find a job in a hideous economy, it was so embarrassing that I basically stopped talking to my friends. And my parents, for that matter, since we couldn't get along. But this guy, like most kids of his generation, is happy to go back home. He gets along great with his parents, they want him to succeed at whatever he likes. It's a love fest.
This is what I've been thinking: It's not fair that the Millennials had better timing in history and now have more confidence in the workplace. They are hard to manage because they make me see myself as the Xer I am: Cynical, hedging and a little bit exhausted.
But once I admitted to myself that I was jealous of the Millennials, I was able to see things more clearly. I decided to just adopt their way of thinking. There’s nothing stopping me. I put myself back in the time when I was the lucky upstart. And what really bugged me about the Boomers who watched me take their jobs in the 90s was that I thought they could teach themselves the same stuff that I taught myself: Web programming, interface design, viral marketing. But many Boomers didn't teach themselves — they just lamented the decline of the worth of their skills, and complained about how quickly things moved in the Internet economy.
So I'm going to start thinking like a Millennial: Optimism and self-assurance; believing that I can do anything, can make a difference, can get what I want. I am not sure I can transform myself completely, but it's better to try than to just be jealous. Besides, learning HTML was not all that great because it turned out to be the slave labor of the new economy. So maybe I'll be happy being a Gen Xer with a bit of Millenial, but not all of it.