People lose their minds trying to understand the Millennial generation — a generation that, for some reason, everyone thinks is different, not quite right. The term Millennial makes me twitch, maybe because I remember when we were just normal Gen-Y’s with bright futures. But somewhere along the way, I suppose when we started driving and getting jobs, we became Millennials, an insulting and entitled generation of special snowflakes.
Millennials want to find meaning and purpose in their work.
Millennials want to be a part of something bigger.
Millennials want to work for people and with people who share their values.
Millennials want the hours of work they give to an employer to mean something and to make a difference in the world…
I guess that makes us weird.
The funny thing is, we thought these desires were a part of being human, not just a part of being in this generation. We get compared, boxed in, and treated like freaks because we want things that, in reality, every generation has likely wanted, but has maybe been less vocal about. It’s frustrating to say the least.
So you can imagine the joy I felt as I read this passage from Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, a book that takes place in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, and was written in the 80s, before we Millennials were potty trained and able to disrupt the workforce. Check it out:
What I am trying to say — and I do not think this an unfair comment — is that we were a much more idealistic generation. Where our elders might have been concerned with whether or not an employer was titled, or otherwise, from one of the ‘old’ families, we tended to concern ourselves much more with the moral status of an employer. I do not mean by this that we were preoccupied with our employers’ private behaviour. What I mean is that we were ambitious, in a way that would have been unusual a generation before, to serve gentlemen who were, so to speak, furthering the progress of humanity…
Butlers of my father’s generation, I would say, tended to see the world in terms of a ladder — the houses of royalty, dukes, and the lords from the oldest families placed at the top, those of ‘new money’ lower down and so on, until one reached a point below which the hierarchy was determined simply by wealth — or the lack of it. Any butler with ambition simply did his best to climb as high up this ladder as possible, and by and large, the higher he went, the greater was his professional prestige…
…such thinking was quite out of step with that of the finest men emerging to the forefront of our profession. For our generation, I believe it is accurate to say, viewed the world not as a ladder, but more as a wheel…
…we were, as I say, an idealistic generation for whom the question was not simply one of how well one practised one’s skills, but to what end one did so; each of us harboured the desire to make our own small contribution to the creation of a better world, and saw that, as professionals, the surest means of doing so would be to serve the great gentlemen of our times in whose hands civilization had been entrusted.
Whoa, wait, what? Is this describing Boomers vs. Millennials? Or have other generations cared about the ends and not just the means?
Is it possible that every generation starts out wanting the very same things we weirdo Millennials want? Could it be that the grouches who think Millennials serve no purpose in this world are just jaded at the thought of being replaced in the workforce or having to do things differently because the times have changed? Could it be a jealousy that rises from the fact that this generation seems to be more comfortable vocalizing their desires than the generation before?
Here’s the reality: every generation thinks something is incredibly wrong with the next. It’s part of aging. Hell, I almost said something to the loud and obnoxious teenagers who were on their phones for the entire screening of Wonder Woman…almost. But then I remembered that I was that loud and obnoxious teenager to the generation before me.
My point is this: it’s time to stop putting people into little generational compartments and deciding who they are, simply based on when they were born. We’re all human and we all want to know that we matter, that we’re making a difference. Even the most rigid and unemotional tough guy wants these things — he may simply be less honest with himself about it than his younger neighbor.
So can we all agree to stop using the M word and start getting to know the people who are working for us and coming into the workforce personally? Can we agree to give people the opportunity to show us who they are, what they’re about, and what motivates and inspires them, without using profiles and personas to label them and box them in? Please and thank you.