What Gen Yers don’t know about themselves

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 a 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 Y 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 Y 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 Y often gets stuck. (This is a huge difference from Gen X, who thrive 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 they want 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 Y is 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 Y is 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 Y is 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 Y does not want to repeat this in their own lives. So for Gen Y, 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 they don’t believe in God.
For the most part, Gen Y has the same religious attitudes 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 Y frames their religious views in relation to their parents, and since Gen X had a childhood that will go down in history as negligent parenting, Gen X frames their views in relation to their 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 they don’t believe in that, they say they don’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 them. 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 they are not really religious.

5. Gen Y mistakes their 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 X wanted all this stuff when they were twenty-something as well, but they couldn’t get it. So when Gen X took over, they gave it to Gen Y. Gen X is the revolutionary generation.

Gen Y is simply demanding what their parents told them they 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 they are told.

I couldn’t help thinking this same thing when I read this New York Times Magazine article about the trend of teenage girls in Gen Y giving 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.

209 replies
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  1. Sally
    Sally says:

    THANK GOD!!!!!

    I’ve been waiting for this post for years.

    Thanks for finally writing what the rest of the world thinks about this generation!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for letting me know. I fixed it. Fortunately that was not the best link in the post. My favorite article that I linked to in the post was the one about how Generation Y has had enormous influence on the art of the self-portrait. It’s an old article, but it has stuck with a me a long time.


  2. erin
    erin says:

    Ouch. As a gen Y-er who has constantly championed your blog and your writing, I have to admit this kind of stings. I think your points are accurate but at the same time, there is quite the judge-y, hateful undertone that i’m not sure is warranted. Kind of an older sibling being jealous that the younger one got so much attention and had it so easy. We grew up on the cusp of a major technology boom that made the world a completely different place and adapted as we could. We graduated from college (that we were told we had no other option but to attend) with no job prospects competing with people w 20 years experience for an entry level position. We’re fighters, adapters and yes, content to focus on ourselves and our own happiness. Not spending every last minute trying to out-do each other and claw to the top. Life isn’t all about work. I don’t see why that is such a terrible thing…

    • melissa
      melissa says:

      spoken like a true Gen-Yer.

      And that’s coming from a Gen-Yer.

      Everyone my age loves to boo hoo and point out why things aren’t perfect: education system sucks, no jobs, we don’t get no respect… there’s always an excuse. As someone who prides herself in being self-aware and observant of my peers, I think this post is one of the most accurate things I have ever read. The point in the article doesn’t seem to be that there is something wrong with life being all about work as you put it. It’s just an interesting phenomenon that we all seem to have the same complacent attitude, but we resent being called complacent. We are generational gang of basketcases, which is why we all scramble to advice blogs such as this one to find help and guidance because we have such a hard time deciding anything for ourselves. Yet, how many friends do you have who consider themselves to be progressive and independent? But if we truly were progressive and independent, we’d be out there doing things, not sitting around talking about how, when, and why we might do these things. Gen-Yers chronically skirt around productivity because working for us is a sprint. We work, we facebook, we research something, we read a blog, we respond to an email, we kill time on youtube. The information age has forced us to be inefficient in our ability tackle work, and that trickles into our ability to tackle anything. We lack a Nazi-like drive and determination, which probably makes us more fun at parties, but less likely to light a fire underneath someone’s ass (including our own.)

      The picture you paint– of a generation of that had to adapt to technology change– I think that gives us more credit than we deserve. We didn’t adapt to the technology because we were only children during the technology boom. We just play with the cards we were dealt. And complain how we wish we had different cards.

      • avant garde designer
        avant garde designer says:

        Interesting take from a Gen Y’er.

        I disagree with some of it. For example, I’m often impressed by what this generation is doing. I see lots of movers and shakers – when they can’t find a job, they make their own (start a business). I also see them breaking away from convention. Who says you need to work in an office and from 9-5. I’m jealous the internet didn’t offer me this same opportunity when I was their age because then I could have raised my kids as I did (I was one of the very few who stayed home) and still do some kind of work.

        I also agree with the Gen Y’er. I see this sometimes in my Gen Y kids, like the lack of focus and easy distractions. However, I just assumed they got that from me. I’m the last of the Baby Boomers but apparently I was born 20 years too late because these Gen Y descriptions, both good and bad, describe me to a T.

      • Kahlin
        Kahlin says:

        I think this is somewhat accurate, but I have another take on “not being able to make decisions.” I’m a Gen Y’er, and I recognize the good and bad that comes with that, but I don’t necessarily think that we’re incapable of decision-making. We, as a generation, have been taught over and over again to base decisions on grounded research, theory, or some demonstrated practice. We seek out so many blog posts, articles, advice columns, etc. because we have been groomed to do so to make the best decisions. I think that’s commendable. Why not put thought, time and research into something that might have a great effect on my life?

    • KateNonymous
      KateNonymous says:

      “We grew up on the cusp of a major technology boom that made the world a completely different place and adapted as we could. We graduated from college (that we were told we had no other option but to attend) with no job prospects competing with people w 20 years experience for an entry level position. We’re fighters, adapters and yes, content to focus on ourselves and our own happiness. Not spending every last minute trying to out-do each other and claw to the top. Life isn’t all about work. I don’t see why that is such a terrible thing – ”

      …and you didn’t invent that. Everything you say here is also true about me and other members of Generation X. And of quite a few people in generations before that, throughout time, even before we were so hung up generations.

      • Naeema
        Naeema says:

        Penelope you’re spot on! Thanks for saying what many have felt but haven’t said. I would like to share a little story about life decision making.

        Recently my car caught on fire so I had to make the decision of purchasing a used car or leasing a new one. It took me 6 months of research and saving but I finally made a decision. And, I didn’t consult my firends on facebook or twitter in that time because honestly I didn’t think they would have anything helpful to say. But in the process, a few people did ask me if my parents were going to help me with a down payment or put me on their insurance.

        Wth? I thought the point of having a job and saving money was to be able to things myself. I laugh at the situation now, but in the moment I was horrified.

    • Varun
      Varun says:

      Erin, I completely agree with you 100%.

      Yes, we grew up on the cusp of a technological boom. May I invite those who disagree with Gen-Y to consider the true scope of it? We’re not talking about better software here. We’re not even talking about a “paradigm-shift” or any related business-speak bullshit. We’re talking about a mindset-shift here: from ruthless competition to soulful collaboration, from ecological indifference to ecologically-minded, from zero-sum game to win-win-win, from rejecting the consumerist “American Dream” to creating our own American dream. A Gen-Y commenter to this post said he/she is happy because he/she is in love and has traveled the world and doesn’t want to be a millionaire. I freakin’ DIG that. That’s US. We refuse to subject ourselves to other people’s definition of success.

      Bashing Gen-Y with comparisons to Gen-X is ridiculous. Saying that we’re not rebellious or progressive or independent is equally ridiculous.

      Ultimately, my point is this: we are defining ourselves with our own definitions of success, happiness, etc.

      • kim
        kim says:

        I am of generation x and due to being towards the end of generation x perhaps, I do meet and associate a lot with generation y. They do stay with the parents longer but I must admit that when i was in my twenties I did live off and on with my parents. It all depended on the job market. If I got a job close to home, I stayed at home with my parents. If the jobs were far away, I rented. During those times at home, I saved so much on my modest salary at the time, and have yet to replicate this rate of savings although i now earn four times as much.I admire their environmental consciousness. I am the same. In fact, due to changes like global warming and the seemingly un-ending financial crisis, life is demanding that we be more conservative and more ecologically minded. I agree with some in the post who said that life does not have to be super-competitive and cut-throat. Relaxation is darn important!

    • another Melissa
      another Melissa says:

      as some one who’s between Gen X and Gen Y – you sound immature and delusional. what have you accomplished to deserve such smugness?

    • ChazFromGenY
      ChazFromGenY says:

      I’ve got to say, the way you overgeneralize an entire generation is pretty annoying. However I do think you are correct about some things such as caring about image so much rather than what we really are like and how what is in our pictures is reality for most of us, I’ve seen that firsthand. I think it’s funny though the way you say we “think we don’t believe in god”, I am a young Gen Y’er and I am 100% atheist, I understand the myths and illusions behind Religion, not to mention how clearly harmful Religion is to the world. The thing is though, don’t mistake this for cynicism, I have a very positive outlook on life, and want to get the most out of life since being proud atheist forces me to admit the reality of death. I accept facts of science and evolution. I also of course support gay-marriage because I believe anybody should be able to get married considering I know how marriage is a long-outdated virtually useless concept. In any case, it’s ridiculous the way you feel about Gen Y, I’m guessing your children are from Gen Z, which is why you talk that generation up so much, but the truth is that we only have predictions of what the majority of Gen Z will turn out like due to the fact that the world the will grow up in has vast possibilities, a lot of things can change between now and when Gen Z is growing up.

  3. Patty
    Patty says:

    Great post!!! Being kind of stuck between the two generations I get to see the best (and worst!) of both groups. Seems only recently that Gen Y is realizing the Baby Boomers were full of crap with all this follow your dreams/work defines you nonsense…protesting then turning around a few decades later to buy McMansions…no thanks dreamy Baby Boomers.

  4. Garry Polmateer
    Garry Polmateer says:

    Wow, this is a surprising list of stereotypes. Not even stereotypes, but counter stereotypes. While I can’t disagree that there are generational differences based on age, I feel like this topic continues to get analysed to death. I’ve seen more exceptions than I can count from Gen X/Y/Z/Next/Boomers… While I believe we should build business for the future and acknowledge it’s changing, I don’t agree that trying to pigeonhole generations of people will get us too far. I will concede that it was an interesting read and makes me want to spend some more time on this blog. So, success! -Garry

  5. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    I’m 25 and contemplating the future. All I really see is the person I’m in love with right now, weekends outdoors, and a job that helps people and doesn’t make me want to kill myself. Is that so bad? I have no desire to be a millionaire– I already have everything I need. That’s perhaps what’s most troubling thing to me– at 25, I’ve accomplished my two biggest life dreams so far: traveling the world and falling in love. And I’m happy. Why is that so annoying? Narcissism, I suppose, is the potential trap.

    And I hate happy hour.

  6. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    I like what you’re saying here, but you’re overblowing the historical statements.

    “The American experience has been largely about individualism since the Declaration of Independence.” No, actually, the American experience has largely been about community building, it’s the American MYTH that’s about individualism.

    “Gen X had a childhood that will go down in history as negligent parenting,” this is true only by the current standards. We didn’t have to go work in mines, or sew cheap clothes for the upper classes, or get sent off to boarding school at the age of 6. Gen X was relatively pampered, compared to the vast majority of Western children in the last 500 years, or people of the same age in most of the world right now.

    • Virginia
      Virginia says:

      “The American experience has been largely about individualism since the Declaration of Independence.” No, actually, the American experience has largely been about community building, it’s the American MYTH that’s about individualism.”

      You’d probably get a different view from AMerican Indians and black slaves. Or women for that matter. As for the subsequent Gewn x/y/z (millenium) kids, when all has been handed to you with no struggle, you tend to be bland and not know how to work hard for something. Experiencing a bit of discomfort initially to get the prize at the end of the tunnell is not a bad thing. When your parents put you at the end of the tunnel, where is there to go but on the couch with your ipod texting your inane friends?

  7. Chris
    Chris says:

    Spot on post.

    So what can be done to correct this behavior…now that “we” can’t use the excuse “but we didn’t know”?

  8. Elizabeth Harper
    Elizabeth Harper says:

    Fascinating post today … even more so than usual. As a boomer born in 1960 with a daughter born in 1987, I see a lot of truth in what you’re saying about my daughter and her Generation Y friends. I think you’re dead right in many ways and it’s useful information that can help me navigate the relationship I have with her.

  9. sandyb
    sandyb says:

    Well written, as usual, but the comments will be skewed on this one: only the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers will say “right on!” or “I agree!”. Gen Y readers (like myself) have a hard right eyebrow raised to some of the generalizations you’ve made.

    This post takes the praise you’ve shared for Gen Y in recent years and turns it on its head. Is Gen Y just a “market” you’re an expert in or do you have genuine feelings of admiration (as you’ve written before) for Gen Y?

    Also, when will you write about how annoying Gen Z is? Now THAT will be interesting.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Sandy, this post definitely doesn’t negate what I’ve written about Gen Y in the past. In fact, this post links to at least ten previous posts I’ve written about Gen Y, as support for the arguments in this post.


      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        Which of the many, many links, tags, favorite posts, etc that are listed in the side bar and footer of every page on this blog specifically support your opinions stated in this post about Generation Y? Every one of them is about Gen Y. That doesn’t mean they have anything to do with the specific list of grievances you have posted here.

  10. cortney
    cortney says:

    on the one hand, this makes me feel content about not fitting in with my peers as a gen y-er. on the other hand, maybe i am gen y to a t, since i don’t think there is anything too particularly horrible about these criticisms. i don’t even see a hateful undertone.

    is it possible to be 30 and gen x?

  11. Brooke Farmer
    Brooke Farmer says:

    I’ve heard a lot of young women say that they now have anal sex as a way of “saving their virginity.”

    The blow job route at least makes more sense.

    • Lynn
      Lynn says:

      Wow…sex is sex. It’s sad all these people giving blow jobs and now you say anal sex? That’s the same to me as intercourse.

      • Brooke Farmer
        Brooke Farmer says:

        My closest friend has a 20 year old son. I’ve spent a fair amount of time hanging around with him and his friends over the course of the last few years. I have repeatedly heard the anal sex thing from him and several of his female friends. It seems to be just about having *something* they have saved.

    • avant garde designer
      avant garde designer says:

      I find this kind of sad. If you’re really honest, giving blow jobs or taking it from behind is not the most gratifying for women. So this means these young women are just doing whatever it takes to get/keep the guy (plus maintain her virginity to please the guy she finally marries). When are women going to start acting for themselves?

      • Brooke Farmer
        Brooke Farmer says:

        Personally, I am a fan of the safe slut. I think women should enjoy sex exactly the same way men do if that is what is gratifying for them (for some women it is and for others it isn’t). This isn’t a terribly popular view.

  12. Van
    Van says:

    I’m 24 and agree with this post. My generation is apathetic and complacent. And to go with your other points, I work for almost 24/7 when you count my full time work and then “side creative work.” (AND I’d like to transition to my creative work/passion full time one day.)

    This makes me want to buck against the status quo of my generation and stir up some shit since no one else is! It’s true, we’ve been taught not to offend and we don’t make waves, but if you’re not taking risks and pissing someone off- is it something worth doing? Is your message or cause strong enough? Is it something unique? Probably not.

  13. Jan
    Jan says:

    I’m 27 and from Germany and I completely agree with everything you’ve said. It’s not just the US – the gen Y here is very conservative as well (although they would vehemently disagree – they think they are the most revolutionary generation in history). It sometimes drives me crazy how passive and bourgeois most of my peers are. Not a shred of proper rebellion in them, not even in the face of serious injustice. They like to join anti-nuclear-power demonstrations and wear Che Guevara T-shirts, somehow thinking it makes them as revolutionary as the Woodstock generation; but if things get really serious, if they are personally treated poorly at work or school, they simply bow their heads and don’t dare say a thing, displaying an almost self-annihilating compliance.

    Here’s another great article about it:

  14. Ann
    Ann says:

    “But Gen Y thinks God must mean the Christian God. And if they don't believe in that, they say they don't believe in God.” What if you’re Jewish, like me, and part of Gen Y? I know–“the Jedeo-Christian God”. Ridiculous–there’s Jesus and then there are those who don’t believe in Jesus. So please don’t lump us together. Other than that, great article and unflattering as it might be, I think some of it is true.

  15. Lucy G.
    Lucy G. says:

    Absolutely spot on! As a sales manager who is a Boomer, I am constantly amazed at the HUGE differences in behavior between X & Y generations. It’s tremendously difficult to effectively motivate members of both generations on the same team. There is some wonderful demographic research out there as to why the Y’s are so different from X.

    Thanks for the great post.

  16. Sydney Owen
    Sydney Owen says:

    I’ve had two people DM me about this post, all with different reactions. One is livid. Another is silently cheering you on.

    I, in true Gen-Y fashion, think I’m the lone wolf, different from the rest of my whiny ass generation. I’m not upset by any of your points, in fact, I’m sitting here, high on my “I’m one of the good Gen-Y’ers” pedestal and nodding and agreeing and making mental notes of people that fit the descriptions you use to describe how conservative we are.

    If nothing else, the post is eye-opening.

    If nothing else, I’m realizing that, perhaps, by me thinking that I don’t fit into any of this whiny bullshit that my generation does, that I could be exhibiting the same entitlement and garbage that so many people generalize about this generation.

    But you know what? You’re right about a lot of this.

    You were my first official career mentor. Thank you for giving me that. Thank you for telling me that the most important thing to my career is mentoring, because you were right. Am I a better Gen-Yer for realizing and acknowledging that I was doing as I was told by seeking out amazing mentors such as yourself? I know I didn’t invent mentoring, but I happen to kick ass at finding good ones, fostering those relationships, and giving back when people seek me out for mentoring as well.

    I started my own company so I could live the kind of life I want to live right now, and I could allow that to evolve as my dreams change, instead of royally fucking corporations by leaving them for when something better comes along. But, there is a safety net, as I had my first client lined up and my retainer worked out and an insurance policy in my own name in hand before I made the big jump from my last agency job.

    There are a lot of Gen-Yers that are “doing as they were told” because they had awesome parents that let them know, at all stages of development, that they could take on the world. Those are the Gen-Yers I’m proud to call my friends. Do we take credit for being totally awesome and blazing our own path, whatever that may be? Yes, because at the end of the day it is OUR path. We had the support to get there but we’re the ones doing it. And there are a shit load of Gen-Yers that sit there and complain about their situation, their community, the world in general, and do absolutely nothing to change it.

    Awesome post. And the reactions have been a delight to read as well. Keep on keepin’ on, P.

    • Amy Gibson
      Amy Gibson says:

      Well said, I really enjoyed reading your post. I network constantly, instinctively and I love it (if only I could make a career out of it). I too have awesome mentors and so what if my Dad told me at 15 to do it, was he wrong?

      I am nervous to start my own business but inspired by your story. I Will make my own path and it Will be amazing and I can’t wait to get there and thank all my mentors along the way.

  17. Marshal Thomas
    Marshal Thomas says:

    Having the link to your book at the bottom of the site that houses this post is a nice touch.

  18. Dan
    Dan says:

    Your comments about gen x/y are strange. If I could pay you to stop stereotyping people when they were born, I would. I am so called gen X and I have NOTHING in common with you. I am married, pro life, have faith in God, two children, and I don’t view life at all as you do.

    Do you have nothing better to do with your time than dream up things to write about that are irrelevant? On second thought, please don’t answer that.

    • Harriet May
      Harriet May says:

      Can I just point out that you don’t justify a point whatsoever in your comment? You seem to being saying that being married (something you and Penelope share, by the way), pro-life, and having “faith in God” and kids (also, like Penelope) makes you the opposite of the stereotypical Gen Xer? You’ve completely lost me. If you don’t like what Penelope writes, why do you read it? Just to make pointless comments with unnecessary political undertones?

    • Jan
      Jan says:

      There are almost 7 billion people in this world.
      If something is irrelevant to you, there are still cca 6.9999 billion people left that might find it relevant and agree with it.
      I do. A lot others do as well. That probably really scares you.
      Besides, do your time and life really hold that little value to you that you willingly spend them reading blogs you find irrelevant?

  19. Varun
    Varun says:

    In defense of my Gen-Yers, let me say that practicality is a revolution in and of itself. (We’ve grown up witnessing the problems associated with excess). Or, let us find a middle ground by realizing that every generation has it’s own (personal, context-specific) revolution.

    As far as saying we’re “conservative”, may I invite you to consider using the word “risk-averse”? “Conservative” has a political undertone to it and, if you check out stats of the 2008 election, you’ll see that most of us are not political conservatives. We might be “risk-averse” in general, but we are at times risk-neutral and risk-loving.

    And I don’t believe Gen-Y likes “working for someone else”. We like being social. We like working together. Sometimes that means working for someone or having someone work for you. You’re right, we dislike hierarchy, and find stuff like http://www.bettermeans.com totally sick.(full disclosure: I am in no way affiliated with them).

    We mostly reject the winner-takes-all mentality & the zero-sum game(we see how it is soulless). We reject the economics of scarcity and embrace the economics of abundance. We’ve realized that collaboration is better than competition and, in a world that’s more interconnected than ever, we’ll thrive because of it. (It’s not that we don’t compete…we are now doing so in our own way on our own terms)

    Honestly, I’m starting to think we’re the human embodiment of Steven Johnson’s book “Emergence”: Intelligent & independent creatures who like hive-minded interdependence.

  20. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    “Gen Y are not risk takers, they are conflict-seekers, and they are generally respectful of institutions and organizations.”

    Penelope, do you mean they are NOT conflict-seekers? Because it’s hard to be someone who seeks conflict while also being someone who doesn’t take risks and is respectful of institutions.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. I fixed it. I always marvel at the errors I make on these posts. Most posts take me about five hours to write. And even after I hit publish, I make ten changes in the first five minutes it’s posted. With all that attention, it’s ridiculous that I could have such a glaring error.

      I think there is some lesson here, about how if you work too hard the work doesn’t pay off. Or diminishing returns. I think I should link now to my post titled Don’t Be the Hardest Worker. But I like being the hardest worker for what I love doing. So I’m not linking.


  21. Smiley
    Smiley says:

    Love it! A found myself agreeing and arguing with you as well as learning something new all in one read. Signed an a-typical gen y…

  22. jim
    jim says:

    As a Gen Xer who now is in middle management in tech, I feel validated by point 5. I grant my team all sorts of flexibility, often quietly outside the bounds of what the company allows, simply because I wanted it back when and couldn’t get it. I know that it makes all the difference in terms of loyalty. Every time one of my team wants to work from home, or keep an odd schedule, or whatever, I know I’m putting dollars in the Bank of Good Will. I also know I can make withdrawals from that bank when the chips are down — and my team has always risen to the occasion.

  23. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Great post – spot on. Something employers need to adjust for when hiring particularly new uni grads. Also helpful for families where siblings span from Gen X thru Y.

  24. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    This post shows exactly what is wrong with both Gen X and Gen Y. Since Gen Y has already been explained above allow me to give a counter point. Gen X wants credit for ‘giving’ Gen Y ‘all the good things they have.’ Gen Y is very conservative (as stated above), and as a result doesn’t trust Gen X’s gifts. Gen Y watched Gen X run away from their own problems in career, social life, and spirituality. I would argue that resignation is the defining trait of Generation X. Gen X is the first generation to survive the ‘one hit wonder’ nature of modern career accomplishment, and are jealous as hell of the younger group who may be able to respond to disappointment in a more effective way than they have. Thanks for the post. My blood is boiling. I haven’t read something that got me this genuinely wound up in a long time. Real controversy is an amazing thing.

  25. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    On a side note: my first impulse was to rip your opinion to shreds on the grounds that it is based on your own extremely narrow experience with others. In other words, you had this opinion before you ever dealt with Gen Y by your own admission, and are using conversations with one or two specific people to back them up. This argument is so awful it is pathetic. I wanted to give you credit for writing something so potentially inflammatory, but I’m not sure you even did it on purpose. I guess the results the same either way.

  26. Jean Gogolin
    Jean Gogolin says:

    Whew. I’m a 71-year-old outlier – at least Charlie Gilkey once called me that; I describe myself as the world’s oldest living blogger — and this post just made me tired. So full of generalizations. So “I’ve heard all this before,” however carefully thought out and intelligently written.

    I guess 7 decades of living and observing must mellow one’s perspective.

    • avant garde designer
      avant garde designer says:

      Jean, love it that you’re contributing to Penelope and blogging. I sometimes feel out of place for doing the same, but, hey, it’s good to know I shouldn’t – I’m only 50.

      I agree with generation generalizations to a point. But overall, I maintain that instead of defining generations, we should define ages of our lives. Even though generations go through each age in different cultures, economics, histories, etc., in many ways they’re still the same. Twenty-year-olds always are going to save the world and do things better than their parents did. Thirty-year-olds always have just enough life experience to think they know everything and 40-yr-olds typically begin to realize they don’t. And so on.

      I’m not old enough to know subsequent age generalizations but I bet there are many. I do know, though, that young adults always have ideals but as time goes by and life happens, they realize ideals and realities usually are two different things. Just like the Baby Boomers ended up being the very people they despised in the 60’s, it’s likely the following generations will do the same.

      PS: Jean, your blog would be easier to read if you chose a different font (I’m a graphic designer).

      • Jean Gogolin
        Jean Gogolin says:

        Thanks, avant garde designer; good to hear from you. What do you suggest as a font for my blog? I enlarged it to make it easier to read . . . . I’m using Headway.

  27. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I think you’re right about Gen Y and entrepreneurship: everyone I know wants to open a bar/bakery/specialty store or work from home as some sort of event planner. But I never wanted to be an entrepreneur until recently, when I considered the possibilities it presents (not for safety, but for innovation). Mostly because my Baby Boomer dad was perhaps ahead of the game, and became disillusioned with Corporate America while he was still there. So he gave up everything to start a company (in derivatives), got screwed over by the board he created, and returned to the corporations to earn enough money for his next venture. Actually, it was contracting Transverse Myelitis that really pushed him to make his next move; I guess maybe because once you find yourself paralyzed and in hospital for months on end, how much lonelier and anxious can you get? (Not to mention that then the world collapsed largely due to derivatives and another opportunity presented itself, but that’s a different story.)

    As for me, I’d rather read Byron than bother learning what SEFs are. So there’s where I differ from my dad– and more than creating revolution, don’t we all just want to be different from our parents? But I think that I’ve always been anxious and lonely too, so entrepreneurship probably is not such a huge leap for me. I’m already immersed in it, working for my dad’s newest startup. There we are all Gen Yers that form the core, and as it so happens, we do collaborate (over competing). But we are such a small company that every person more or less represents what would be a department in a corporation. So we need each other more than we present any sort of threat, and surely that model, paired with Skype, breeds collaboration? That’s not to say I don’t up my game, though, when someone else is making a good impression with their work. Hey, I still need someone to recommend me on LinkedIn, after all.

    • PFJ
      PFJ says:

      People thinking they are “entrepreneurs” because they open a little shop or restaurant . . . completely wrong.

      Entrepreneurs do something new, daring, different.

      Working for one’s self by opening a shop or restaurant or whatever may be a challenge — but if it isn’t a new idea, it isn’t “entrepreneurship.”

      • Lori
        Lori says:

        you are completely overlooking the fact that a business that looks familiar can build on what’s come before and incorporate new ideas. out of the million places you can buy a hot dog on the street, there’s that guy who does something different, attracts all the business, then everyone copies him. there is always room to extend other people’s ideas, reinvent a stale business, etc.

        don’t you remember the seinfeld umbrella twirl episode?

        also – you’re just wrong. an entrepreneur is someone who starts and runs a business, not someone who invents something entirely new. check your dictionary. what looks old hat to you as a consumer doesn’t feel that way from the inside – it’s always new (to the entrepreneur), always a challenge, always happening at 60 mph in a new world.

  28. Q
    Q says:

    Thanks for posting this, Penelope. I am someone who straddles Gen X & Y (turning 34 this year) and I have a customer base that is a mix of both. I find this post (and other Gen X/Y posts) helpful in framing how each group thinks and acts. I find the Gen Y’ers I work with adaptable, collaborative, just a tad conformist (this could also be labeled risk averse).

    This post is more food for thought, helping me understand and build relationships. Penelope’s posts are often provocative. Think and draw your conclusions.

  29. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    O.k…I agree with some of this, but not all. Maybe I see myself between Gen X and Gen Y? (I am 44, born 1967). I am right in the middle of Gen X – I think?
    I do agree with some of your post on Gen Y but I thought my cousin was considered a “Milennial” and not a Gen Y. Maybe she is Gen Y?
    My cousin is 25 (born end of 1985) and she does seem to act very entitled and kind of has an attitude that she knows more than Gen X and Baby Boomers (her parents). But maybe it’s just her personality. She has said she wants to have her OWN business. Of course she does! She doesn’t want to take orders or work for any boss. She wants to be in charge. She does have a lot of friends, mostly groups of friends and they are from her private school days and college. And, yes I noticed she does a lot with groups of friends. I think that is a good thing about this generation!
    They happen to be born when all the technology took off. When I got out of high school I learned how to use a computer at my first job and progressed from there.
    I really don’t like Facebook all that much…I think Gen Y and generations under it LOVE it!!
    I cannot stand all those photos shots of people posing for the camera with millions of photos of oneself. It seems very, very self-involved and ridiculous to me.

    I think Gen Y will start speaking up a lot more as they all graduate from college and see jobs are NON-existent! I feel bad for anyone dealing with that.
    I wish my parents encouraged me more and paid more attention so I do agree with the lack of parenting for GEN X.
    BUt it’s the TOTAL opposite with GEN Y and Milennials! My gosh, there parents are OVER-involved. I noticed how competitive parents were in the 80s with their kids baseball teams etc…and schools, grades, etc…
    And at least GEN Y was told they HAD to go to college. That is definitely good parenting because it’s very competitive out there even with a college degree. So one must AT LEAST have a degree. Today a B.A. isn’t enough. Most have to get a Masters degree and even that doesn’t guarantee the job/career you want.

    My guess is that we will see less apathy and more outrage as GEN Y feels the “depression” (and not it’s not a recession…we are in a depression….) I mean the parents of GEN Y are hurting…loss of jobs, homes, retirement so they can barely help their unemployed college educated kids as it is.
    These kids are used to the word NO so as the economy worsens they will feel it more and more and hopefully learn from this more than Baby Boomers and/or us (Gen Xers!)

    San Diego, CA

    • Lynn
      Lynn says:

      At the end of my post I meant to write that GEN Y is NOT used to the word – NO. They are used to getting their way and told how great they are from their parents. (maybe not all but in the 80s…parents were changing and learning to tell their kids how great they are at whatever it is they do. And told they could be whatever they wanted to be – but go to a good college first.

  30. Olivia
    Olivia says:

    Pish all of this isn’t as harsh as you might be lead to believe through the comments – To critique is to care enough to wish for correction.

  31. Anca
    Anca says:

    As a Gen Y-er I see nothing to disagree with here, even as a self-labeled atheist liberal. I just have one question: now what?

  32. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I’m not sure the function it serves to lump age groups into big stereotyped buckets. I’m on the wikipedia demographic starting point of Gen Y (31 yrs old) and I don’t see this behavior in my generation or the mid twenties one either. I’m a white collar project manager/team lead so I’m pretty networked in my organization.

    I get the feeling this article is more cathartic for the author than useful.

  33. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Generalizing like this is about as valid as an astrological reading. It’s thought provoking, but it’s really just another stereotype in a culture already full of them. Sorry for the five minutes I lost reading it.

    • Alan
      Alan says:

      There is no committee that meets every Tuesday to dream up the stereotypes. Stereotypes exist solely because they’re true. They are the most empirical thing that there is.

    • my honest answer
      my honest answer says:

      I kind of agree with Sarah, except to qualify it by saying that stereotypes exist because they are -often- true. Obviously they can’t all always be true.

      Also, regarding 1. Gen Y mistakes the speed of the Internet for their own speed. I have to say that often they mistake the WORK of the internet for their own WORK. My teacher friend recently had a high school essay handed in where the kid hadn’t even deleted the *need citation* note from Wikipedia!

      I couldn’t stop laughing about it, but it’s obviously not a good trait.

  34. tiger
    tiger says:

    we just have more tool available so everyone can be an artist/musician/designer. there’s no longer that huge barrier to entry (financial and distributionwise) to create “professional” quality music and visuals. so everyone is an artist. gen y has the tools and the methods to “follow their dreams” while at the same time is able to work in the corp world. weekend dreamers if you will.

  35. Anthony Delebreau
    Anthony Delebreau says:

    Perhaps Generation X and the Baby Boomers should attempt to adapt to a changing workplace and/or shut the hell up. Just saying

  36. SD
    SD says:

    This blog post is interesting. It is true in parts, but to a Gen-Yer you missed the mark. We do believe in God, just not the same way the past generations have. We do see our practical actions as revolutionary, not because they are revolutionary acts, but because we share them and make them public. That is revolutionary. This is mainly due to social media. We are team players but the game has changed so this generation play to knock others out, but rather to challenge each other… I could go on and on. It’s all true, but do you get it?

  37. Zingus
    Zingus says:

    I’m …not even entirely sure where I stand.

    Where do you put the bar between Gen X and Gen Y?

  38. Judy M
    Judy M says:

    Hey Penelope,

    Thanks for writing this. I am a career coach and I find some (well quite a few) of this group really fit this description and I worry how they will fare in the world as they move through it. I wondered if you’d read the theories on repetitive generational cycles/patterns put forth by authors/researchers Strauss and Howe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strauss_and_Howe … their ideas are very intriguing and your description sounds like it fits well with a current repeat of the Silent Generation.

    Have loved reading you for years… fun to have you branching out into new territories!

    Judy (Victoria, BC Canada)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the link, Judy. I love Strauss and Howe. Anyone who is interested in understanding history through the lens of generational trends should read their research. It’s so fun and it really made me see the world differently.

      I was a history major in college and I’m shocked that professors did not spend more time teaching us to think in the way that Strauss and Howe do — they show patterns for not only understanding the past but also predicting our future. And that’s really what history is all about.


  39. Reader
    Reader says:

    What REALLY scares me is what’s happening to the NEXT generation. I attend a conference every year in Aug. This year it seems to coincide with the beginning of school. One colleague (a gen-Xer) told me she couldn’t make the first day because it was her daughter’s first day of high school. Another because it was her daughter’s first day of COLLEGE. Do today’s young people even WANT their parents around for first day of high school?? first day of college?? I’m a baby boomer and clearly remember that I didn’t even want my mother walking me to school the first day of kindergarden.

    • Lori
      Lori says:

      maybe they’re not hovering over their kids taking videos; maybe they’re just marking what is to them (the parents) a momentous, important day. boomers were at work missing the school play, soccer game, etc. gen x’ers are determined to “be there” for the important stuff.

      i get tired of people who react to every close family as though it’s a dysfunctional mess.

      • Debbie
        Debbie says:

        The first day of school is not a momentous family occasion! The first day of high school and college are important simply because they are days when the child needs to pull up their big boy pants and manage it by themselves. They shouldn’t have their parents hanging around as back-up — that undermines the experience entirely! The problem with too many Y-ers is that their parents never gave them a chance to handle anything by themselves, never trusted them to do anything upsupervised, never gave them responsibility to make minor decisions and handle things on their own. As a result, we have too many “adults” who cannot take adult responsibilities or make adult decisions (#1 above). These skills don’t just magically appear, they require practice and their parents were around so much they never gave them any practice.

        This is also an example of where the parents are inappropriately making the kids the center of the universe, which leads to that sense of entitlement and narcissism.

      • Lori
        Lori says:

        disagree that the first day of college is not a momentous occasion. re: “big boy pants”, my 14yo is starting college in six weeks. i’m driving him, but then he doesn’t have a license. we will probably get pizza to celebrate. there will be high-fives involved. i get what you’re saying, but you’re assuming “parents who celebrate their kids’ momentous occasions” = “helicopter parents who don’t let their kids fail/do anything by themselves/etc.”. i don’t equate those things, because i’m a celebrator and not a micromanager.

        it is a fallacy that kids whose parents aren’t around and don’t give a crap about what they do all turn out to be awesome achievers. it is an equal fallacy that kids who come from close families are emotionally crippled and can’t think for themselves or figure out how to microwave a burrito on their own.

        seriously, do you think that believing a kid’s first day of college is a momentous occasion equals making your child the center of the universe? when IS it okay to call it momentous? first wedding day? first grandchild? (subsequent weddings/grandchildren = yawn)

        i love my kids. i celebrate their stuff. first day of college, yay. first published article, yay. wrote their first short story, yay. wrote and directed their first short film, yay. and they celebrate my stuff. we support one another, we encourage one another, we talk about how things are going. you can love and value one another without being dysfunctional.

      • Debbie
        Debbie says:

        It makes sense that you will drive your 14yo to college since he can’t drive. I adore my kids, but no, the first day of high school/college is not a momentous family occasion for me to attend. When my kids walk out the door for high school/college, I’ll be proud of them and excited as they start the next phase of their lives, but why would I drive them there? Dropping them off won’t make me feel any prouder of them and I think my presence would undermine their independence.

        I realize that some baby boomers were crappy absent parents, but just because my parents allowed me to walk to school and stay home by myself for an hour or two when I was a kid doesn’t mean they were negligent. I have the best parents ever (baby boomers) and I know they were proud of me and I never wanted them around for my first day of high school, or God forbid, college! Those were times for me to be independent and not under my parent’s supervision. I felt fully supported and loved and that my parents knew I could handle everything without them being there and I want my kids to feel the same way.

        I want my kids to accomplish things and figure out things on their own like how to find your way around a new school all by yourself, how to walk to school all by yourself. I’ll be at home ready to high five them and talk to them about how their day went, but I don’t need to be next to them while they are having that experience. They need to have it by themselves.

        And frankly, my life can’t revolve around my grown children, so no, “I have to drive my 18yo to college” seems like a lame reason to miss something important for my work.

      • Lori
        Lori says:

        all reasonable. i just want to throw out there that in some families, kids are much more independent as a matter of course and therefore you can celebrate the “momentous occasions” (the kids’ .. and the parents’) without crippling their ability to do things on their own.

        you say “my parents knew I could handle everything without them being there and I want my kids to feel the same way”. i just want to reiterate: celebrating milestones isn’t the same as not believing they can do things on their own. my children are competent, capable, self-assured – and they know it, and they know we know it. hopefully a parent doesn’t leave it off till the first day of high school or college to let their child test his wings.

      • M. Jordan Lichens
        M. Jordan Lichens says:

        As member of generation Y, helicopter parenting is one of the most annoying things in the world. It’s one thing to help a child move into a new dorm or apartment, that’s just pitching in a helping hand for family. However, I’ve seen incidents where a young man or young woman over the age of 18 will have their parents call the college office or professors when something doesn’t go the way that’s planned. I also feel residual embarrassment because it’s absurd that parents feel they have to still get involved in conflict. Pure and simple: if you’re child is not mature enough to solve their own conflicts and learn from errors, they are not mature enough to attend college.

        I get that my generation is the “self-esteem” generation but dealing with pressure and disappointment is part of the learning process, as is fighting one’s own battle. You have to stop holding your child’s hand at some point, and college is typically a good place to start.

      • Debbie
        Debbie says:

        @M. Jordan Lichens — Good to get your perspective. Parents calling professors and college administrators much less employers and hiring managers just boggles my mind! I know I would have been totally embarrassed if my parents felt the need to do that and I’m glad there are younger people who have enough capability and pride to realize they can handle this stuff on their own.

        Celebrating occasions is different from having to be there for every occasion, but even then, I think it can be concerning in some cases. I know several GenYers who’s parents celebrated everything they ever did and as a result those adults are now entitled and narcissistic and expect everyone else to celebrate everything they do and they expect their parents to continue to help them out all the time. These adults have not been prepared to be adults and are the sterotypical GenY. They can’t find or hold down a job and so are still reliant on and even living at home with their parents after college.

        I have to say, this is my biggest fear for my own kids — that they will be 25 or 28 and still wanting to live with me and not be able to stand on their own!

        I think my best chance to avoid this is to follow my parents’ lead more than many of peers do and give my kids less empty praise and more freedom and more responsibility at a younger age and expect them to rise to that challenge, just like my parents did with me.

        Of course that doesn’t start at high school. It starts at a very young age with chores and responsiblities and upsupervised unorganized play time and doing things like walking to school, playing in the neighborhood, and dealing with teachers by themselves.

        And my giving them the gift of me not being there every second of the day, attending every little thing, giving them the chance to do things on their own and figure things out on their own, in small, age-appropriate and ever-growing doses. When I’m not there, they can take small risks and problem-solve on their own, critical skils that must be allowed to develop from the time they are very small if they have any shot of being competent enough to move the hell out of my house before age 27.

        I’m an involved, supportive parent and we’ll talk about their day around the dinner table like my parents did, but I don’t need to experience it right next to them. I want to let them have their time and experiences on their own.

        I think that’s healthy and it’s the only way they will ever be prepared to one day handle professors and employers on their own without me. And that’s my absolute goal as a parent — for my kids to become functional grown-ups.

      • Lori
        Lori says:

        for more about the dark side of praise, read po bronson’s article on carol dweck’s work in NY mag or alfie kohn’s “punished by rewards”.

      • aYearLater
        aYearLater says:

        Can’t tell you where but I’ve read either an article that show having a lot of links in large text segments is disrupting to a person’s understanding of the text. It’s distracting, not just visually, but mentally.

  40. Davers6
    Davers6 says:

    As a retired boomer Marketer who now teaches marketing to Gen Y students at our local college, YOU TOTALLY NAILED IT!!!

    My hat is off to you for hitting the dead center of the Gen Y bullseye with this one … VERY well done!

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