Talking About My Generation, Part 2: Gen Y... Gen Why Not?
Today, it seems that news headlines about Generation Y (Millennials) are everywhere. Generation Y (also known as Millennials, Digital Natives, Generation Me, Generation Rent and Echo Boomers) are the generational cohort born roughly between 1980-2000. Millennials have been referred to as fragile, narcissistic, selfish and apathetic. Ouch. These news headlines don’t exactly paint a pretty picture of my generation. In part 1 of this blog I proposed an alternative nickname for Gen Y: ‘Gen Y Not?!’ or ‘Gen Why Not?!’ (for the more grammatically-correct-inclined of us) and provided an alternative point of the view to the common news headlines that Generation Y (Millennials) are apathetic. This blog (part 2) will provide more alternative points of view to other commons news headlines about Millennials being referred to as fragile, narcissistic and selfish. Note that I said ‘alternative points of view’ not ‘alternative facts’, because I do my research! Buckle up, enjoy the insights of one millennial and let me know what resonates with you in the comment section below.
Is Generation Y more fragile than previous generations?
This is contentious point of view to start with and one that I cannot entirely fault. The ever-increasing levels of people accessing specialist mental health and addiction services in New Zealand is consistent with international trends (according to The Office of the Director of Mental Health Annual Report 2015). As an alternative argument: Gen Y may appear more fragile than previous generations because we’re the most digitally recorded and studied generation to date. Seriously, think about it. Did our grandparents or parents have access to seeing other peoples’ lives even when we weren’t in their presence? I don't think so. Millennials are the first generation that have grown up totally immersed in a world of digital technology. The advent of the internet and social media has brought us a world where more lives being public, people and lifestyles can become their own brands and their are now unlimited opportunities to change our lives through online means.
In the University of Otago Magazine's October 2017 issue, the Vice-Chancellor's Comment stuck out to me as one of the more balanced views on millennials that I’ve read so far. Vice Chancellor Harlene Hayne speculated about the rising levels of anxiety on university campuses around the world, saying: "Perhaps this fragility reflects the number and size of the goals that Millennials have set for themselves. Perhaps the high level of connection afforded by social media has provided endless opportunities for comparison and self-doubt." Wow. This comment really resonates with the experiences of myself and millennial colleagues.
Jen Y Insight: part of our anxiety comes from being bombarded by advertising from a young age and now, the addictions to technology and social media. I’ve heard more than one story from parents expressing disappointment that their child’s first word was not “Mummy” or “Daddy” but “McDon...”, followed by the child flapping its arms in excitement at a McDonald’s sign. Add into the mix: hearing from parents that we can be/do/have anything we want in life from a young age, going into a working world where the gap has doubled between median annual income and housing prices in the last three decades and doing our best to pay off our student loans before we’re forty. Now you’ve got the perfect melting pot for anxiety, depression and quarter life crises. Does anyone else feel the need to take in 5 deep breaths and share a hug with a loved one??
As I shared in an in-house mindfulness class I recently taught, one of my favourite quotes is good ol’ Theodore Roosevelt’s “comparison is the thief of joy”. In a culture bombarded with advertisements in the streets and curated images on social media, it is easy to get caught up in stories of how our lives ‘should’ be and where we ‘should’ be by a certain age. This in itself is enough to raise anxiety levels. (An aside: can we please remove ‘should’ from our vocabulary? As Tony Robbins says: “stop shoulding all over yourself!”)
We are the products of our society – we are bombarded with more than 5,000 marketing messages a day and as a result can’t hold attention for more than 8 seconds. That’s less than the attention span of a goldfish! In essence: on demand services and technology have made us more impatient, and thus more anxious (or ‘fragile’). The likes of Google, Amazon, Netflix, Uber, Tinder and now Uber Eats mean that answers, goods, entertainment, transport, dating and food are just a few taps, clicks or swipes away. It’s no wonder that some days I feel like I need to check into Cell Phones Anonymous or do an extended digital detox. Please note that I have not Googled to see if Cell Phones Anonymous actually exists. If it does, I may need to go to a meeting...
The likes of Google, Amazon, Netflix, Uber, Tinder and now Uber Eats mean that answers, goods, entertainment, transport, dating and food are just a few taps, clicks or swipes away - Jen Y Insights
Are they all narcissists? Or: will Generation Y ever stop taking selfies?
While I’m certainly not innocent of taking a cheeky selfie, I do think that calling out millennials as being narcissistic for taking selfies is too simplistic and an over-generalisation. Taking selfies is not a new trend started by smartphones! The first-ever selfie was painted in 1524 using oil on wood by the, at the time, 21-year-old Mannerist artist Parmigianino – see his ‘Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror’. It appears that selfie-taking millennials are being focused on being older generations as it is an apparently new trend. Please note that we’re not the only generation taking selfie sticks on holiday with us... When looked at in perspective, selfies only make up 4% of all images (depending on the city). The other 96% of photos feature monuments, food (obviously of our smashed avocado weekend brunches), pets, shoes, friends, family, and more.
Is social media a priority for millennials?
I was genuinely interested in the above question, so I decided to find some evidence about the priorities of New Zealand millennials. The University of Otago October 2017 Magazine helped me out here. It turns out that in 2011, the eight New Zealand Universities launched the Graduate Longitudinal Study (GLSNZ) which is "a comprehensive study of the graduating cohort of that year - a 21-year-old graduating with their first degree in 2011". "Among other things the survey asked our graduates - two years after completing their studies - how important various goals and aspirations were to them". The top 10 results? Spoiler alert: taking selfies is not in there!
- Being in good health
- Having a family-friendly work/life balance
- Working ethically
- Having a long-term partner
- Having children and a career
- Making a difference
- Contributing to environmentally sustainability
- Being culturally responsive
- Being unselfish
I love Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne's comment that "this list doesn't look like it was generated by a narcissistic, selfish or apathetic generation. ...these goals reflect a strong desire to be connected to the world and a desire to make a difference". From the hundreds of conversations I've had with 18-30 year olds about what is important to them in their lives, what they want to be doing and how they're experiencing modern-day workplaces, Hayne's comments ring true.
Personally, I like that I can commemorate a moment in time and am able to show family and friends overseas and colleagues what I do (try explaining what a ‘mindfulness facilitator, leadership development consultant and coach’ is to elderly relatives!). For others, taking a selfie is a form of self expression and creativity that they feel a sense of control over, unlike group photos, portraits, etc. (Note that I do draw the line at taking selfies with the Snapchat dog ear filter. That’s too far).
Are Generation Y selfish and entitled?
Professor Richard Shaw of Massey University says there is an unsurprising rise in individualism. Shaw says, “They have lived in a world in which the state has been pumping out messages about self-reliance, not scrounging, and trying hard. They’ve been told – you are responsible for what happens to you... Why would be expect young people to be any different?” However, USA Today claims an alternative view: “People born between 1980 and 2000 are the most civic-minded since the generation of the 1930s and 1940s”. And, try this on for size: a 2006 Harvard Institute of Politics survey found that 74% of 18-to-25-year-olds said that their number one reason for volunteering was to help other people, and 11% said it was to address a social or political problem. This does not sound like a selfish and entitled generation!
From my experience, approximately 60-to-70% of friends volunteer at least a few hours of their time per month, if not every week. Most, if not all, of my lawyer friends volunteer some of their time to providing legal advice at community law centres. Other friends volunteer their time by walking dogs at the SPCA or helping the local hospice. Other friends have even started a not-for-profit organisation that helps volunteer organisations get the help that they need using a modern employer-employee-matching-online-application. Check out Collaborate!
Curriculum Additions: Media Literacy Training?
In my first few years of work I was at times treated like a guinea pig or a social experiment by colleagues of different generations who had not yet worked with many millennials. They had read news headlines (mainly negative, sadly) and wanted to see if their unconscious bias would be confirmed. I’ve learned over the last few years more and more about scrutinising news headlines and pieces of research. While I haven’t had formal media training or gone through a ‘media literacy’ training program, I do think it would be beneficial for many people. Either way, I’m open to providing alternative points of view in the hopes of starting a discussion.