The Millennial Problem…

Perhaps the largest “problem” is a change that older generations are just not ready to embrace. We have all heard the phrases: “they are lazy”, “snowflakes”, “they are not managing their money right because they are not buying homes”, “entitled”. Similar words were used by our parent’s parents, and their parents before them. I have been contemplating these words, the behaviors that older generations point out, history, and where society is at right now.


Over the last 200 hundred years, technological advancements have driven changes in youth and our social structures. Let’s take the industrial revolution. In the factory boom we saw a huge shift from living on farms to living in cities. It was not an easy transition. Older generations bucked against the idea of trading being more self-sufficient on their own land, to moving into side by side homes and apartments in crowded cities. There was a lot of upheaval between generations at that point.


Once again, technological advances have led us to a huge crossroad in our society’s direction, and thus the direction of the younger generations. With integration of the internet, social media, robotics, and artificial intelligence, our society is making another large shift. How we view work and jobs is being redefined. How we consume knowledge and connect to each other is rapidly changing. Even the way we educate our children is moving into different territories.


All of these things are still in their infancy when compared to the big picture. This means there are going to be trial and errors. It also means that there is going to be contention between the older and younger generations. There is no fault on either side, it is just growing pains. What we have to stop doing though, is assuming that each side is wrong. The younger generation needs to be open to the wisdom gathered by the older generation. The older generation needs to support the youth while they redefine these new roles and inner workings of society.


These changes are going to happen whether we want them to or not. The same way that factories redefined how we lived, worked, and played. Wouldn’t it be better if we tried to support and guide them through the process, instead of pushing them to do what we ourselves were pushed into by our parents?


Before anyone asks, yes I am in the millennial generation. I’m right on the border between millennials and Generation X. I have two children in the millennial generation and three in generation Z. This has given me some unique perspectives.


Let’s start with the “lazy” comment, since it is used the most. We say they are lazy because they don’t seem to see work as older generations do. If it is an activity that they are passionate about or makes them feel good about themselves, they seem to jump right into it. However, if it is a mundane activity they just don’t have much interest exerting their energy into they let it slide. I can personally relate to some of this. I have a degree in nursing. I spent most of my career as an ICU nurse/ Educator, helping people, which is what I always wanted to do. I’ll admit I made really great money, yet working in a world that saw my patients as dollar signs and not individual people was heartbreaking. Now I run a youth program and work as a resident leader in my neighborhood, which doesn’t pay me money but fulfills my greatest passions. Between the two scenarios I would chose the passion and people over money every day. It is beyond a struggle though to do this in a consumerist society that revolves around money to survive. This is where the real struggle is, and the one these younger generations are bucking against. They want to be able to work in areas they are passionate about and that gives meaning to their lives on a personal level. This is the shift coming in how we define work, and it is happening because of millennials and generation Z. It’s not how older generations define work. It’s not the same struggles they went through, choosing a job for the money factor instead of following their dreams, so it’s harder to accept. Now I will admit there are some who take it to extremes and are just lazy, but they are in every generation.


Let’s look at the Snowflake comment. First of all the parents need to take some responsibility for this one too. Helicopter parents, wrapping our kids in invisible bubble wrap so they never get hurt, scheduled/ structured play all the time, all of these things contribute to these issues. Humans learn more from our mistakes and failures than from our wins. When we shelter youth from making mistakes, falling and scraping their knee, or letting them explore their limits, we are also depriving them of learning about boundaries, pushing themselves farther, genuine effort, and how to pick ourselves back up. We never want to see our kids get hurt if we can prevent it, I’m a mom, I get that. At the same time though we have to pick our battles with that, or face a generation too scared to take risks and unable to function on their own. It’s about balance.


Entitlement is similar to the snowflake ordeal. It’s a learned behavior and I see it in all classes to some degree. Many poor feel they are entitled to help, such as welfare benefits/ social programs and special benefits because they do not have the money themselves. Now there are many reasons why people are poor and need help, but the fact of gratefulness has started to become lost. This is where entitlement emerges. I see it in rich people, who feel because they have money, that entitles them to special privileges and respect. Again, money provides them with more opportunities, but respect and privileges should be earned, not just given. This is a generational society issue and requires changes on all sides.


My last point has to do with their money management skills. First let me say again, these are learned skills, and it is dependent on how they observe others around them. It also depends on what they feel is most important to them in the long run. We see more millennials spending money on experiences, than on possessions. This includes food, entertainment, trips, etc. How current society views and measures wealth is largely dependent on possessions and property (buying homes).


A large majority of younger people see more personal value in experiences then property. I also can’t blame them. First, you don’t really “own” that property until the mortgage is paid off, and that usually takes 30 years. If some hardship happens that affects your ability to pay, then all the money you did put in is gone when the bank forecloses, including a large mark on your credit. The “wealth” is in being able to take out large loans on the equity, when you sell, or leaving something for your own kids. Home ownership also comes with a lot of other responsibilities and further money investment too. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d personally rather own than rent any day. I actually do own my own home, and that means no mortgage, but we made a lot of compromises and put in a lot of hard work. For us it wasn’t about building wealth, it was about building stability. At the same time though, I can fully understand the younger generation taking a different road. In essence you are paying for an end game payoff, where these youth are more about building their life now.


Like it or not, our world is changing. Work is changing. How we define wealth is changing. Instead of putting the younger generations down, being negative and dismissive of their ideas, wouldn’t it be better if we worked together. There is a wealth of wisdom and knowledge in our older generations, if they would let go of the control and be more open to new ideas. There is amazing innovation and a new world emerging from our younger generations, yet they need to learn empathy and patience for the rest to catch up and understand.


I’ll end this with a good video I found that I think you’ll enjoy, and remember (all sides): Change is hard but the most beautiful things are born from change.

(opinion article by Lisa Barnett)

About the author: Lisa Barnett