Archive for October, 2009
Why has the Millennial generation aroused such anger? Why do people seem to think it is OK to bash Millennials when they wouldn’t do the same thing to any racial, ethnic, or religious group? This is a question I keep asking myself when I see articles that make snide remarks about Millennials or when I hear older managers talk about the problems with having a younger generation in their workforce. What is behind the anger?
I have a few hypotheses. One is that the bashers are really envious of the lifestyle and approach of Millennials. Millennials have their whole lives ahead of them and they seem willing to take risks and make choices with their needs and goals in mind, even if those choices involve leaving jobs that are not working for them. When I type the previous sentence out, the words seem to mock me, ‘Why would anyone stay in a job that was not working for them?” Well, many boomers have done just that and we really wish that we could just pick up and leave. Yet we have made, as David Whyte says in The Heart Aroused, “Faustian bargains with our mortgages and car payments.” We are too indebted and our investment eggs have lost such value that we don’t believe we can voluntarily drop everything.
Secondly, Millennials currently demand the kind of company they want but that all of us need. The requests they make for challenging work, for feedback on their efforts, and for an opportunity to have a say in their future are things that everyone would like in the “workplace of our dreams.” Many boomers believe that although that would be desirable it is not, as some people would say, practical or realistic.
My third hypothesis is that Millennials ask questions that force us to look at our assumptions. They wonder why we accept the world as it is. Recently I received an American Girl catalogue and one of their featured dolls is Julie Albright, a girl from 1974. She actually represents the time of my initiation into the outside world. I was idealistic, engaged, energetic about wanting to make a difference, and involved in doing so. I wore bell-bottom jeans and tie-died shirts; I wanted peace; and while I didn’t actually protest, my heart was with those who did. Where has that person gone? For a long time it has not been fashionable to tout those values—we were supposed to have grown beyond that. But when Millennials make us remember the person we were, it makes us uneasy and we tend to lash out at them in response.
As my son Ian says, my version of heaven might look more closely like a Millennial’s than I really want to acknowledge.
This is not about the confirmation or dismissal of faith. The heaven I speak of is not just a state-of-mind but rather a state-of-being. To establish the differentiation I’m presenting between the traditional ivory kingdom – with its angels plucking harps and martyrs popping grapes – and the heaven for Millennials, I will define my meaning of the word “heaven,” at least in this case.
Excluding the practitioners of certain beliefs, what a Millennial knows of heaven is simply the comprehension of the highest quality of reality. It involves the acknowledgment that we have stumbled upon our own little slice of happiness. The Millennial heaven is not necessarily a religious paradise.
What Millennials, such as myself, might’ve once longed for (as most people would deep in adolescence) evolved as we developed into adults.
During the hours of puberty, all we wanted was one day – just one day – with a smile devoid of braces, a forehead no longer sprinkled by pimples, and to be without the feeling of general embarrassment for our existence. There was always the dramatic, “Does this boy or that girl have a crush on me? Will I get a date for Saturday? Do my parents wish I was never born?” and other such inquisitions. We were constantly bursting with questions; I know I was. And how exhausting were these concerns then, while the hormones ripped away all previous sense of childhood, causing anxiety in the middle of algebra class?
The problem with this time of life, as I’m paraphrasing from a very wise man, is that “you have a lot of responsibilities and not a lot of power.”
These days, Millennials are discovering that power, realizing that they can dictate the rules and determine what happens tomorrow and the morning after. This is the heaven to which I refer. We are leaving the old dreams of werewolves hunting beneath full moons, the tooth fairy dispersing coins from her purse, a benevolent Santa Claus overlooking elves, and other such imagined absurdities, finally arriving at the doorstep of veracity.
Yes, we leave those fantasy moons behind as we enter heaven; it is a requirement of modern maturity. But they are not, I think, completely abandoned. We will always retain a fleeting sense of the fantastical. Our imagination will never be entirely extinguished, just as no one’s should.
Not to disregard the important role of spirituality for many, many people, but it does not seem uncommon for Millennials to be protective of their unconventional beliefs. Conviction in principles can indeed be that we break free of predictability and traditions, though not forgoing the comfort of ritual. And so the heaven that we strive for is tangible in a new and fresh way. There is an electricity in our goals, where we assemble ourselves to a place of authority – not over other generations, but over our previous selves.
It is fair to say that true liveliness in today’s expanding culture is like marching through a storm, and heaven is donning a raincoat. It’s obtaining a defense that not only gets you through the rain, but shields you from the disadvantage of not being prepared, of not having that authority. My realized paradise is a positive, exciting idea, where I have power over my life and can pursue true passions while still preserving a sense of reliability. The truth is anyone can gain this attitude, this proud position on a personal throne. It’s never too late to grow into the best version of yourself.