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Gen Y Believes in the Future

New York Times: “The Why-Worry Generation”

Who makes the future? More importantly, who makes a better future for everyone?

It’s not a trick question. But it seems to have confused a lot of people.

According to an article by New York Times columnist Judith Warner, members of my generation — which some people call Gen Y, or millennials —

have been depicted … as entitled whiners who have been spoiled by parents who over-stoked their self-esteem, teachers who granted undeserved As, and sports coaches who bestowed trophies on any player who showed up.

I’m sorry, but what planet have those people been living on?

I have wonderful, supportive parents, but I work for every A I get. And I’ve played lots of sports (including a non-magical version of Quidditch) but I never got a trophy for anything more than having a good attitude.

But this isn’t a complaint session about unjust attitudes toward my generation. There would be no point in writing that and even less point in reading it. I have too much respect for my readers to waste their time, at least deliberately. 🙂

Instead, I’d like to clear up some misunderstandings. Maybe that will help people form a fairer picture of Gen Y.

Earlier generations had it tougher

Absolutely, earlier generations had it tougher than we do. I know it, and no Gen-Yer would argue about it.

We know that our parents didn’t have cell phones or educational software. They often had teachers who didn’t care if they succeeded. Our mothers had to fight against sexism (more than we do). Our fathers had to cope with the upheavals of the 1970s and 1980s. And they were all forced to wear those ridiculous fashions.

But truthfully, how does that make my generation look bad? It doesn’t:

Stories abound about them as college students, requiring 24/7 e-mail access to professors and running to Mom and Dad for help with papers or to contest a bad grade.

Let’s look objectively at those complaints. E-mail did not exist in our parents’ time, but now it does. Professors have e-mail and so do students. We would be foolish not to use it. And professors can choose to answer e-mail or not. If they do answer their e-mail, even on weekends, what’s wrong with that? It means that they are dedicated teachers, not that their students are spoiled.

As for running to Mom and Dad for help with papers, I plead guilty, but so what? Isn’t helping their kids what parents are supposed to do? I get help from parents and aunts and uncles as well as from my regular teachers. The result is that I learn what I’m supposed to learn. Since when is that a bad thing? Nobody ever does the work for me: they just help me do it better.

Working to live, not living to work

Another complaint people have about Gen-Yers is that we’re not worker drones. We actually want to have fulfilling jobs and lives outside of our jobs:

Many are increasingly declaring themselves unwilling to work more than 40 hours a week. … Almost universally they want to find a job that’s not just a job but an expression of their identity, a form of self-fulfillment.

Again, Gen-Yers realize that we are lucky. Earlier generations didn’t have a chance for limited work hours and fulfilling jobs. But they still wanted those things, and when they could get them, they grabbed them.

OMG, we even believe in ourselves!

Judith Warner, who wrote the article, puts Gen Y in a fairer and more positive context. She interviewed nine college students* recommended by their professors, and she found:

Emerging adults with a striking ability to keep self-doubt — and deep discouragement — at bay. Many were jobless, others were dissatisfied … [but] They didn’t call into question their choices or competencies. It was as if all the cries of “Good job!” they heard as children armed them against the repeated blows of frustration and rejection now coming their way.

That’s actually more positively than I would state it myself, because I have tons of self-doubt. I just don’t let it stop me.

Who makes a better world?

Let’s get back to the question with which we started. Who makes the world? And who makes it better?

Yes, a lot of it is outside of our control. But let’s try to answer the question anyway.

  • If you believe that you can’t make the world better, then you can’t.
  • If you believe that you don’t deserve to have a better world, then you won’t.

Whether it’s realistic or not, members of my generation believe that we can make the world better. And we believe that we deserve to have a better world.

Our parents deserved a better world, too, but they couldn’t get it. They did what they could to make it better for us.

And now it’s up to us Gen-Yers to finish the job.

Is that whiny and self-obsessed? Then the world could use a lot more whiny and self-obsessed people.

We can do it. We deserve to do it. Let’s get to work.

*Just for the record, I wasn’t one of the students she interviewed.

Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

  1. David
    June 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Ever since Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, each successive generation is better than the previous one. Yes, even if the air is dirtier, and the oil is foreign-er. You couldn’t be where you are, generation-wise without the advances of each previous generation. You can see the progression in the Bible, and follow it through our history. I don’t begrudge ‘your’ generation anything, I just hope you use it wisely. This stuff about ‘creating’ living cells from nothing, cloning, embryonic SC and so on could be great if used the right way…

    Good article, though.

    • Rinth de Shadley
      June 1, 2010 at 8:42 pm

      Hi, David —

      Thank you! But may I ask about changing one word about the generations? I don’t see my generation as being “better” than previous generations. Because those earlier generations solved problems before we ever got here, we don’t have to face a lot of the issues that they did. Because they (you, and my parents, and your friends) fought against prejudice and bigotry, for example, we have less of that to do.

      Gen-Yers are not better than Gen-Xers, just different and in some ways, more fortunate. And we thank you for it, very sincerely. You didn’t do everything right, but neither will we. 🙂

      • David
        June 2, 2010 at 6:10 pm

        OK, how about “New and Improved”? “Advanced”? Thank YOU for remembering us and our contributions. I leave Monday for two weeks abroad in the Philippines. Hope to share some pics on my blog when I get back.

      • Rinth de Shadley
        June 2, 2010 at 10:00 pm

        Hi, David —

        Have a wonderful trip to the Philippines! I always have to look up the spelling of that country.

        Btw, I finally wrote the blog about human rights that you suggested so long ago. It took a long time because it’s a difficult subject and I was a little intimidated. Thank you again for suggesting it. I hope that you like it, which doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with all of it. 🙂

  2. Observer
    May 1, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    I think you’re a bit starry-eyed… Boomers are mid-40s, at their youngest, Gen X-ers are still young, if anyone is going to change things, its a mix of generations…. or individuals…. from different generations

    • May 1, 2011 at 10:55 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that we all have something to contribute.

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