The “Me” Generation

The down-on-their lucky characters in Avenue Q, human and monster, were born in the 1980s, making them part of what has been titled Generation Y. Also known as the Millennial, “Me,” or Boomerang Generation (for their tendency to move back home after college), Generation Y consists of Americans born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, and they have been described as everything from “entitled” and “self-centered” to downright “lazy.” And it seems as though this name-calling isn’t entirely unfounded. According to an article published by The New York Postthe numbers back up these claims:

In a series of studies using surveys that measure psychological entitlement and narcissism, University of New Hampshire management professor Paul Harvey found that Gen Y respondents scored 25 percent higher than respondents ages 40 to 60 and a whopping 50 percent higher than those over 61. In addition, Gen Y’s were twice as likely to rank in the top 20 percent in their level of entitlement — the “highly entitled range” — as someone between 40 and 60, and four times more likely than a golden-ager.

Harvey’s conclusion? As a group, he says, Gen Yers are characterized by a “very inflated sense of self” that leads to “unrealistic expectations” and, ultimately, “chronic disappointment.”

And if you think the Gen Yers in your workplace are oversensitive as well as entitled, Harvey’s findings back that up, too. Today’s 20-somethings have an “automatic, knee-jerk reaction to criticism,” he says, and tend to dismiss it.

“Even if they fail miserably at a job, they still think they’re great at it.”

Generation Y-ers have put forth a valiant defense, however. The following excerpt from  Harvard Business Review article written by Cal Newport , a Millennial himself, offers, while not an excuse, an explanation at least, for his generation’s various failures:

“To many, the core problem of this generation is clear: we’re entitled. I don’t deny these behaviors, but having recently finished researching and writing a book on career advice, I have a different explanation. The problem is not that we’re intrinsically selfish or entitled. It’s that we’ve been misinformed.

Generation Y was raised during the period when “follow your passion” became pervasive career advice. The chart below, generated using Google’s N-Gram Viewer, shows the occurrences of this phrase in printed English over time.

Passion pic newport.jpg

Notice that the phrase begins its rise in the 1990s and skyrockets in the 2000s: the period when Generation Y was in its formative schooling years.

Why is this a problem? This simple phrase, “follow your passion,” turns out to be surprisingly pernicious. It’s hard to argue, of course, against the general idea that you should aim for a fulfilling working life. But this phrase requires something more. The verb “follow” implies that you start by identifying a passion and then match this preexisting calling to a job. Because the passion precedes the job, it stands to reason that you should love your work from the very first day.

It’s this final implication that causes damage. When I studied people who love what they do for a living, I found that in most cases their passion developed slowly, often over unexpected and complicated paths. It’s rare, for example, to find someone who loves their career before they’ve become very good at it — expertise generates many different engaging traits, such as respect, impact, autonomy — and the process of becoming good can be frustrating and take years.

The early stages of a fantastic career might not feel fantastic at all, a reality that clashes with the fantasy world implied by the advice to “follow your passion” — an alternate universe where there’s a perfect job waiting for you, one that you’ll love right away once you discover it. It shouldn’t be surprising that members of Generation Y demand a lot from their working life right away and are frequently disappointed about what they experience instead.

…We also lack a sophisticated way to discuss the role of serendipity in building a passionate pursuit. Steve Jobs, for example, in his oft-cited Stanford Commencement address, told the crowd to not “settle” for anything less than work they loved. Jobs clearly loved building Apple, but as his biographers reveal, he stumbled into this career path at a time when he was more concerned with issues of philosophy and Eastern mysticism. This is a more complicated story than him simply following a clear preexisting passion, but it’s a story we need to tell more.”

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