Yes, I’m a millennial.

Last week at a work event I witnessed a roundtable discussion on the challenges older adults face when communicating with millennials. It was interesting to hear people 10 to 20 years older than me speak candidly about their frustrations getting through to my generation. A variety of causes were blamed, ranging from the popularity of text messaging to excessive praise from parents. A professional facilitator led the session, which lasted for several hours.

I sat in the back of the room, intrigued and a bit ashamed, and didn’t make a peep. I’m not sure if anyone participating in the conversation recognized the fact that I fell into the demographic they were describing, and I didn’t want to derail the energy in the room.

The thesis statement of the conversation was that millennials were bad at communication. That we pretty much lack the ability and initiative to interact with others in a productive way. There were even suggestions that younger people should be trained on ways to better engage with older generations as they enter the workforce.

I couldn’t help but feel a little bit stereotyped.

I know. I’m the anomaly. My entire profession is based on promoting clear communication.

But it wasn’t really the criticism that bugged me. It was the feeling of being casually defined by a broad term that made me uncomfortable. Yes, I’m a millennial, based on the year I was born. But I’m a lot of other things, too. For example, I’m a great baker and I make really good mixed CDs. I’m a dog lover and a world traveler.

Sure, go ahead and sum up my existence in a few phrases. I can take it. But you don’t see me or my peers sitting around, lamenting the inability of older generations to engage with us.

I get it though. We text incessantly. We have ADD. We ask ‘why.’ And we speak too fast and say “like” a lot. But we grew up with the INTERNET for pete’s sake, and cell phones and e-books and coed dorms. We lack the eloquence of Shakespearean actors, true, but man can we tweet with finesse.

The world has become a faster place, and as people growing up in it, we’re simply trying to adapt.

I think that as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, generations will always have challenges understanding each other and figuring out how to relate. This will continue to make parents crazy and teenagers rebellious, and ensures a place for detention in high schools from now through eternity. I understand how aggravating it must be to work with people my age and our endless quirks and eccentricities, but I believe that learning how to listen to us – maybe in ways you’ve never tried – is worth the effort.

You never know what you’ll learn when you least expect it.

We use slang and we swear a lot. It’s disgraceful. But we also can do things that would blow your mind. Just give us a chance and let your listening skills evolve with your patience.

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42 thoughts on “Yes, I’m a millennial.

  1. These “textbook” stereotypes really bug me as well. And yes, I too am a communicator, but I think that seasoned professionals underestimate our group. Yes, there’s technology; yes, there are easier ways to get the message across versus 10 years ago but you know what? Most millennials I know are willing to do the hard work because they want to grow quickly within an organization. How did the discussion end, by the way? Did the moderator teach the older professionals how to interact with/manage millennials?

  2. I so relate to this post. I’m also technically a millennial but I don’t relate to the generation much. I like how you’re calling on the older generation to take time to get to know them which they rarely do. I blogged about it too, feel free to check it out!

  3. I recently spoke to 200 millennials, students of retail. One of them asked me for career advice — I’m a boomer, in my mid 50s. I told her, sincerely, that I admire millenials’ idealism and desire to change the world. But I also warned her that workplace whining is verboten. Anyone who has survived three recessions in the past 20 years (I, and anyone in the workforce then) has zero tolerance for impatience or frustration when things move too slowly for younger workers. Millions of us have been laid off, multiple times. Our own incomes, savings, dream, and aspirations all took hard hits, repeatedly, as a result. Because the boomer generation was so big, many of us never even got the jobs we wanted because the competition was immense — as my younger half-brother (10 years younger, totally different experiences) sympathized. So millennials who feel mis-understood or stereotyped would do well to understand the circumstances that have shaped the thinking of their managers, even those only a decade older. Everyone wants to move up quickly. An antiquated notion we believe in? Paying your dues. We did, and acquired experience along the way.

  4. I’m not sure what the issues the participants in the group have with communicating with millennials, since you don’t really mention what they actually are, but I tend to wonder if some of the anxiety and frustration people express about how the younger generation is different has to do with changes they are experiencing in themselves. I see middle aged people texting as they walk down the street as well. I see people of all ages unable to focus on a single task at a time, or to sit with their own thoughts for five minutes. I see everyone unable to simply sit and talk with the friends present with them. Technology has changed nearly everyone, and probably not entirely for the good. But it’s easier to identify it in a single group it’s the most obvious in and blame them.

    • Thanks for your comment…In the session I participated in, people seemed to think millennials had poor interpersonal skills, and relied too heavily on texting and email above actual conversations. Technology certainly has played a role, as you noted.

  5. Okay, I’m probably showing my age, but what is a millennial? I’m a baby boomer but I pride myself on keeping up with technology. I have a twitter account but I don’t really get tweets. I love Facebook and my iPhone (although the Galaxy seems to be the way to go). I have to admit that I frequently lament about how people on the street always have their eyes on their devises and are oblivious to their surroundings.

    • Hi – a millennial refers to a generation of people who are in their mid-twenties to early thirties today (born between 1982 and 1996, roughly). The definition varies a bit per source, but we came after Generation X and before the current net-generation. We are definitely tech-dependent!

      • I guess that would make me one too! Which is confusing, because I would have thought that name ‘millennial’ would suggest someone who was born in the millenium, as in 2000-2009ish. As I was born in 1986 I feel very out of touch and much older than the group of people you described in your blog post. I mean, I remember a time before tapes, before mobile phones, before the internet and before everyone had a laptop/computer in their home. I feel like there should be another name for those of us born after generation X but before 1990ish. But anyway, I think I am starting to slightly digress. Good post :-)

  6. Good for you! I find the analysis done on generations to be fascinating but at the end of the day, it really is just stereotyping. Sure, there are global experiences that impact a generation in ways unique to them but as the youngest of the baby-boomers (1964), I’m right on the cusp of the gen x’ers and sometimes identify more with them. I wish, however, that the millennials did lament the inability of the older generations to engage with you. Not doing so seems to indicate that perhaps you find us, the older generation, irrelevant. And that makes me sad. Because we, too, have a lot to offer.

  7. “But we also can do things that would blow your mind.” What exactly would those things be? I don’t say that to be insulting. I’m a GenXer I guess, but every generation thinks they are either ignored or unappreciated. That is until they grow a little older. Then they wonder how their generation blew it so badly. There a great people in all generations. There are also duds. Pop culture tends to describe each generation yet pop culture is never about the many but the very few who produce it. I guess my point is, don’t get too worried about the label it won’t stick to long and what YOU do will define you not your generation.

  8. This was nearly the same experience I had in my management training within State Government. My professional role suggests I my age might place me within Generation X, but I am a clear Millennial. Within small group discussion, my group lamented about the problems with Millennial and their lack of professional motivation. I calmly continued with the discussion until the trainer made the group stand with their generational label. I stood proudly alone in the Millennial corner of the room. The trainer asked each generation group if they were surprised by the conversation in the small group. I made sure to speak up and say as the only Millennial in a group of Traditionalists and Gen X-ers that our generation has a respect for the way things are but will always want something better for the future. We are tech savvy, quick to learn, quick to adapt to change, and have the energy to implement plans. You have so perfectly approached this in retrospect of your experience. This is an excellent example of why the Millennial generation has SO much to offer the workplace.

  9. Working in academia, I see both sides of this stereotype. Some of our faculty blame all of their failure to reach students on flaws within the Millenials. Others go so out of their way to accommodate those supposed differences that they fail to see the forest for the trees!

  10. We actually lack a lot of “millenials” at my workplace and man do I wish we had more of you! At 30 I’m the youngest person in my office by at least 10 years but with the fast pace and constant need to multi-task between telephone, computer and paperwork we need more millenials like you who grew up on the internet, have ADD and are able to focus on more than one task at one time. I wish I could hire a whole staff of people with the fast-paced mentality of your generation.

  11. Methinks every generation feels misunderstood by older generations. Every generation feels they are carving a piece of new territory. I am 54 yr. career woman who also has been a car-free cyclist for over last 20yrs. So is there anything in my background that would make it difficult for millenials to relate to me? (I forgot being an immigrant daughter with 2 university degrees..should make me far less “conventional” than a fuddy-duddy boomer woman. I forget to go fashion shopping while paying off a home mortgage…) It’s important that the reverse is true too: that millenials not pigeon-hole the boomers either.

  12. I hate that there is so much tension between the generations sometimes. I wonder if it has less to do with experiential difference and the fact that there are (please excuse my slight deviation) too many people on this planet period and somewhere, in our subconscious, we are anxious and competing for survival. In today’s world, survival means employment. Thus anything marked as “different” or “other” takes on a more hostile tone than it might have previously. And just another aside, I hate the phrase “paid our dues”. You mean you’ve lived and breathed in this world longer than younger people. You’ve probably learned some things a long the way but I see plenty of stupidity at all age levels. Usually, the people who say this feel insecure about what they have to offer, in my experience, and are simply deferring back to “experience” much of which has become obsolete with the rapid progression of technology. Besides, if you apply this theory in a tight job market, nobody young will ever get the chance to even “pay their dues” and rise up. Yes, I’m technically a millennial and ,no, I don’t hate older generations. I just get so mad when they regard us with hostility for wanting a chance to make our mark.

  13. It’s funny to think that my generation and the one before created this technology and speed of communication, and are now uncomfortable that the Millenials are so fluent in it they run rings around us… Of course they do, they’re the new generation! If they sat in permanent awe and confusion about the advancements the previous generation made, we would never progress!

  14. Glad I stumbled on this through FP. The thing that really irks me about the fruitless millennials-vs-older-generations debate is the perception that millenials are so coddled and generally entitled that they don’t know what hard work really is. Hm. Try graduating college and beginning your career in the midst of a horrible recession – and shall we mention our stunning student loan debt burden? That is not something other generations had to contend with. Maybe I’m extra-bitter, b/c as a writer, I feel like my chosen career field was practically vaporized right about the time I graduated college (2006). But I worked my ass off for years and carved out a career for myself in my field. So many millennials are in the same boat – seeing their chosen career field meet unprecedented change just as they’re trying to enter it. My parents have both worked for their employers for over 25 years. Those kinds of jobs are hard to find today! Between all my freelance work, I am very lucky to have one day off a week. Same with tons of my peers. So don’t tell me that millennials are lazy. Whew, sorry for the rant. While you’re on the topic of inter-generational tensions, maybe you’ll enjoy this post I wrote awhile back on whether older people had a better childhood than kids today. http://alainamabaso.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/were-surviving-a-letter-to-older-generations-who-think-they-had-a-much-more-risky-hardcore-childhood-than-kids-today/ Congrats on FP! Enjoy the ride.

  15. Differences between people born at different times is an interesting topic; but for me, your post is more about the risky business of generalizing. Few individuals see themselves as a “typical” anything, yet our brains contextualize (Malcolm Gladwell calls it “thin-slicing”) and generalize large groups (people, animals, situations, etc.) to basically make our lives easier. (Imagine going into a new situation without learning any generalizations about it.) The problem arises when you apply a large-scale generalization (“millennial” and all its connotations) to an individual (you, sitting in the meeting at work). No one wants to be a poster child for something that has nothing to do with them as an individual. Enjoyed your post!

  16. The biggest issue is when Millennials are perceived as lacking respect due to not doing things exactly the way the older generation does. The older generation has already succeeded in getting to their stage in life, so they perceive us to be disrespectful when we try to forge our own path instead of using their blueprints. It’s hard to change someone’s mind when they feel disrespected.

  17. I agree, we definitely have ADD. But I think the real problem for older generations trying to communicate with us is that we don’t buy into the “Thats the way it is” or “because I said so” anymore. When someone tells us something, we jump online and fact check the hell out of it in an effort to become more knowledgeable. Older generations probably think that were being confrontational when really its just a desire to find out the ‘why’ behind things.

  18. Coincidentally I am in the same place with one of my classes *Introduction to Teaching* during which we have discussed issues related to Gen Y’s. I found it particularly frustrating too as the majority of my class are in their late 30′s or early 40′s (making most of them Gen X). I found it both dissapointing and quite interesting and that was so because I was basically being dissected by an older generation. The feeling I got from it was that they had mistaken a liver for a lung, or a heart for a kidney. I found that the majority of their conclusions were incorrect and when I attempted to correct them they would dismiss my statement and attempt to reaffirm their own conclusions.

  19. Yes this is very well written…I however, fall a little bit into the older category (as in my early forties). Yet, I am raising a nine year old son with what this generation has embedded into culture…growing up with the norms of all kinds of technology. I ask this though…. might you have felt a tad guilty as feeling labeled “millennial”, that you are not still an individual? I can see your justification and you are right, but, I do not see that this is your fault or your generations. Parents and generations before might own their characteristics of morality. I raise my son on the internet and lots of tech goodies , but I sincerely do not “spoil” him. I realize you are sticking to your script here, and I might be going a little bit ahead of your script. But, is it not up to each individual? …..

  20. I’m a Millennial too, and I hate being defined just by my generation. There are Baby Boomers who text, drive while talking on cell phones, and swear. I don’t do either of the first, and I don’t do much of the second. Like you, I am more than a Millennial. We all are. I’m an aspiring photographer, cat lover, and gardener. People of different generations need to find common ground with each other as individuals.

  21. Communicating between generations has always been a difficult thing. It’s even more difficult when there’s a generation in between the two generations trying to communicate. In reality, many people in their 40s and 50s have very little in common with people and their 20s and early 30s. That in itself makes things difficult. I’m one of those in my 40s that does not to text (I can it just takes forever) does not like leaving a voicemail and I don’t even really care for e-mail. I prefer face-to-face conversations. If I’m unable to have a face-to-face. I will call and talk to a real live person. If I’m unable then as a last resort. I will sit down and write a letter. Somehow I find it more personal to take the time to sit down and write out a letter by hand than just sitting in front of a keyboard typing it out and e-mailing it to someone. And with today’s technology you don’t even have to type all you have to do is talk. But if you can talk to the computer to get it to type out what you say, why can’t you talk to the person that you’re trying to communicate with? I understand it’s a little old-fashioned but it’s just kind of the way I am. I also understand that that is part of the problem. The world is moving much faster than it did when I was growing up, and certainly much faster than when my parents were growing up. Sometimes I think people just need to slow down and enjoy the moment. Take a little extra time for the personal contact versus the cold machine. When speaking to someone face-to-face, you get more than just the words that are coming out of their mouths. You get the expression on their face. You get their body language and you can better understand what they’re saying because of it. Many times in an e-mail or text message the true meaning of what you’re trying to say does not get through and you wind up spending more time explaining what it is you were trying to say then you would have if you had just picked up the phone and called. I can respect your ways of doing things and only ask that you respect my way of doing things. When we both do that we can meet somewhere in the middle in finding accommodation that is suitable for both of us.

  22. I was born in 1982 so I’m on the cusp of Gen Y/Gen X. I don’t think the older generation recognizes enough that these millenials are still growing up. It’s not an excuse for them but it’s not fair to think they won’t mature professionally and get past some of these habits. When I first started working 8 years ago, I rarely picked up the phone to solve an issue. I preferred to email or IM. Now, I prefer the phone. It took time and experience for me to change some of my habits. I think the older generation needs to do less complaining about the millenials and spend more time teaching them effective communication. I just had to teach an employee in her 50′s how to do a pivot table… So, who know, they might even learn from the millenials!

  23. There are a lot of fusty old codgers out there no doubt. They feel entitled to be listened too because they’ve been around for a long time. I get it. But just like we can only access their stories by listening to them and their peers or via recorded history they can only access our experiences by hearing us. We are still in the act of making history. It’s not all recorded, only in the making. Listen up, you’ve forced us to listen to what your world has to say. Hear us out as we change it, or you might get swept aside by someone who could have showed you how to change with it.

  24. Born in 1980 here and I have always been lumped with Gen X and Gen Y which is just plain confusing. However, I’ve been a manager of people aged 16-22 for the past 10 years and ya know what? Young Adults are the same Young Adults I dealt with 10 years ago. There really isn’t that much of a difference. The only major thing I see that is irksome is a bit of an entitlement mentality that has cropped up in the past 6 years. This is the “i deserve to be paid more money for this job” mentality and if they don’t get the money they think they deserve they cease to be productive members of the workplace. Unfortunately, they think this is perfectly okay and acceptable behavior. I mean, frankly, all us deserve more money than what we are being paid considering the money our CEO’s make, but we accepted the job knowing what we were going to be paid. If you don’t like it, quit. Don’t stay and make your managers and co-workers lives miserable as we work towards terminating you.

  25. As a GenXer raising 2 Millenials and teaching Millenials I see both sides. I like (no I love) tech. I get that. The source of the problem (I think) came when society was hit with so much technology over such a short period of time; it’s possible that alone has had unintended consequences on those born within its midst. But it’s still a multi-faceted issue–and not always about personality stereotyping. While there may be people like you who don’t fit into the box they described, I’ve seen a trend in the younger people I’ve encountered (including my own children) that concerns me. Some of it has to do with the ability to communicate and the sense of entitlement (regardless of socio-economic status), some of it has to do with paying attention to the greater scheme of things. I’m not blaming your generation, after all, you were raised by baby-boomers and GenXers. Perhaps its a societal trend. It does, however, make me pause and wonder what the world will be like in 20-30 years. By the way, I didn’t know that “older adults” qualified those 10 yrs older than you. Now I feel like a granny.

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