Millennials and Stereotypes: Are They Fair?

By: Justin P. Goodrich, LL.M

I remember being told on numerous occasions throughout high-school that I was part of ‘Generation X’.  Born in 1981 I was part of the grad-class of 1999, and though that is almost twenty years ago I still remember clearly the various occasions my fellow classmates and I were told about being part of ‘Generation X’.  With that in mind, suffice it to say that I was shocked when I recently learned that I am actually part of ‘Generation Y’, thus making me a millennial.

When I was first accused of being a millennial the first thing I did is what every good aspiring academic does – I researched.  Alas, according to The Center for Generational Kinetics, ‘General Y’ is the generation that spans 1977 to 1994.  Indeed, I am a millennial and I must say that I’m not pleased about it.

As much as I am not the kind of person who generally paints a demographic with a single brush, there are a great many stereotypes that exist regarding millennials – stereotypes that I find offensive to be associated with because they are the opposite of the way I aspire to live my life.

As I conducted my research on the millennial mentality I found a great many references to: a lack of education, lack of ambition, lack of employment, undeserved sense of entitlement, undeserved sense of confidence, and this notion that more than any generation before them millennials ‘know everything’ and believe they can ‘achieve anything’.  More specifically, they think they can achieve anything without the necessary work ethic.

Now before I go any further, let me tell you that as someone entrenched in the academic community most of the millennials I encounter are not like this at all. That, of course, is no surprise because among the knowledge that is gained through attending post-secondary institutions, so too do individuals learn to be critical thinkers and to engaged the world in a holistic manner.  As I have written about before, education isn’t just about getting a good job, it’s about learning to be the best possible version of you.

Returning now to the ‘stereotypical millennial’, even though I do not encounter them often, when I do it’s profoundly disturbing.  There is nothing that irritates me more than a twenty-something who is constantly on a journey to ‘find themselves’ and has the ‘it’s all-about-me’ attitude.  Indeed, that lack of self-awareness, coupled with selfishness, drives me nuts.  I also find it offensive when these individuals – who are incapable of accepting criticism and believe there’s nothing they can learn from those older and more experienced then them – tell me how ‘awesome’ they are and are going ‘to do whatever makes them happy’, even though their conduct sometimes results in others being hurt.

For The Record…

Though I have encountered individuals on both ends of the millennial spectrum, I still had to ask myself if the afore mentioned stereotypes were fair?  Moreover, if so, how did an entire generation get pained with a singular brush?  Enter author and speaker Simon Sinke.  According to Sinke, these stereotypes are accurate – however, millennials themselves many not be to blame!

Focusing on societal factors, Sinke suggests that millennials are nothing more than a product of their generation.  Sinke then flushes this notion out by referencing a generation where “everyone gets ribbons just for participating” and the psychological implications that has on self-value and confidence; the addictive nature of technology and the manner in which technology displaces foundational interpersonal skills; and, the manner in which convenience allows for instant gratification thus making values such as effort and patience a thing of the past.  Indeed, by telling an entire generation that life is ‘fair’ and that they can have ‘anything they want’ has resulted in a massive disservice to an entire generation.

Going back to my question regarding whether or not stereotypes pertaining to millennials are fair, and taking in to account the insights offered by Sinke, though it seems that these stereotypes are relatively accurate for a large segment of those who make up Generation Y, it’s only fair that we – society as a whole – take at least partial ownership for the millennial mentality.  To that end, allow me to close with this thought:  if we (and I include myself in this statement because though I am technically a millennial, I was not raised the way many others seemingly were) accept that all of us are partly to blame, then it is now our responsibility to actively reprogram some of the toxic thinking, attitudes and behaviors that we allowed for in order to ensure that millennials have the best chance for long-term success and genuine fulfillment.


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