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.