Is It Because I’m a Millennial?
The original portraits of millennials — flighty, soft, demanding kids waiting for their dream job to ride on into their unicorn and rainbow paradise — have been so robustly rebuffed that they are laughable. But what seems to be missed from the debate is the realisation that not only are a vast majority of millennials NOT aligned to these stereotypes, but it is precisely because of the experiences that we have amassed as millennials, that we have grown into something close to the diametric opposite of this image.
“I job hopped — through necessity and choice.”
I am a millennial. I am on the older edge of the generation, and by the time the last millennial baby was born in 1997, I was already working (for a measly pre-minimum wage hourly rate), and queuing in the snow with a hot water bottle rammed down my coat for Britpop tour tickets. But if you wanted to stereotype me, there’s plenty to go on. I left home at eighteen to travel and work for charity. I job hopped — through necessity and choice. I still see no reason why I couldn’t achieve anything I want to, if I try hard enough. I am currently taking a grown up gap year because experience is more important to me than a pay check. I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.
Boom and bust
And yet, when you look at the forces that have shaped me, it becomes clear that I am who I am, not because I have no grasp on the ‘real world’, as seems to be the imagined millennial curse, but because I have seen the real world in all its gory detail, and made my choices accordingly.
I started out on my career bright eyed and bushy tailed, in a retail corporate HR department whose major battle was to ensure workforce stability. Times were good, employment was abundant, and keeping people sufficiently engaged and rewarded to retain them was our major concern. Within four years, I had risen to a senior leadership position, just as the economic crisis of 2008 hit. Over a matter of months the good times soured dramatically, and I spent my 27th Christmas making thousands of people redundant in one of the first and the most brutal corporate bankruptcies of the crisis.
Shaped by the environment
The environment in which we millennials have grown up has shaped us unquestionably. We experienced the worst economic crisis in decades during our formative years. We saw the rules of the game change overnight. It is not a world in which we can be soft, or flighty, or demanding.
We learned to dance on a moving carpet, when the rug was snatched out from beneath our feet. We learned that a life well lived could not be measured in money in the bank, but experiences shared, when we saw stable jobs disappear overnight. We leaned to be bamboo strong but flexible when we saw mighty corporate oak trees topple.
I have no doubt that we are different to previous generations. However, our environment has made us not soft, but empathetic. It is an environment that has not made us flighty, but flexible.
It is not an environment that has made us unnecessarily demanding — but we have become more confident in our own choices, and those choices might well set us apart from previous generations, as we shape a world in which curiosity, empathy, flexibility and creativity become the key measures of talent.