“I have to say, “the red faced teacher said, “You kids are the worst.”
It was the late ‘70’s. I was sitting in what was once upon a time the coat room for an old and dilapidated class room. For us seniors, however, it was a place of grace: The high school newspaper office. Newspaper staffers had our study hall assigned to the newspaper office. Our advisor, the head of the English department and his best friend usually joined us for informal coffee clatches. Where our advisor was thoughtful and scholarly, his friend, a blustery history teacher, had a perpetually bleak outlook on the world in general and our fading New England city in particular,
His riff on why we were so terrible usually went something like this:
“You kids have it so easy. You don’t know how good you have it. I wish I were my own kid. The way you kids get everything you ever wanted. We had to work, you know. Work! You kids, with your hair and your music and now this disco. Disco! I can’t even look at you kids when I teach anymore. And your cars! They’re awful. You’ve got no respect. You don’t know what it is to work for what you want.”
He wasn’t the only one who talked about us like this. I heard it occasionally from my parents and from their friends too.
I bring this up because a few years back we started to see articles that said the “Millennial” generation, the children of Baby Boomers were the worst. According to all of these articles Millennials are lazy, entitled, poorly educated, borderline sociopathic, narcissistic. In other words, they are the worst. Ever.
Some of this conversation was kicked off in 2013 by Time Magazine columnist Joel Stein with a cover story titled, The Me Me Me Generation. After re-reading this article, I still can’t entirely decide if Stein was being tongue in cheek about the whole thing or deadly serious. Or maybe he’s just not that good of a writer (He is from Gen X).
Just Another Way To Divide Ourselves
In these divided times, we’ve gone ahead and divided our generations and given them pithy labels:
There’s the aptly labeled “Greatest Generation”, the one that survived the depression and then won World War II . They were born between 1901 – 1924.*
They were followed by the “Silent Generation”. Silent, I imagine, because they grew up in the Depression era and the War era and were too busy to speak up.
Baby Boomers are so named because they were born after the War during the “Boom” years in America: 1945 – 1964.
They were followed by Madonna’s people, Generation X (or the Baby Bust) from 1965 – 1979.
And then the generation we all talk about, Millennials (or Gen Y), who were born at the dawn of the personal computing era and came of age during the early web years: 1980 -1995.
And the kids born after Millennials? They’re called Generation Z. There is no letter after Z so do we stop with the labeling? Does the zombie apocalypse come next?
I work in retail marketing and I understand the need to divide and label every measurable thing. Still, these generational labels leave me cold.
Boomer, But Not A Boomer
As a certified “Boomer”, I’m supposed to have fond memories of Elvis and Davey Crockett on black and white TVs. But my other cultural symbols are of Civil Rights, Women’s Lib, Flower Power, hippies and the Beatles. I was supposed to have protested the Vietnam War, tuned in, dropped out and dropped acid. But I’m a “young” boomer. I wasn’t born in the late 40’s or ‘50’s so I don’t really care about Elvis or “I Love Lucy”. I have little to no memory of most of these other cultural touchstones.
I was a small child during the 1960’s. I sort of remember the election of 1968 and the Kennedy and King assassinations. But maybe I just read about it in class. I fell asleep waiting for the moon landing in 1969. I went to Junior High and High School during the 1970’s. I remember Nixon and gas lines and Ford and Carter and really weird clothes. But aren’t those the supposed early cultural touchstones for Gen X? The ‘50’s and ‘60’s that define our “generation” are memories only because I’ve read about them or seen them on TV.
Former Obama White House staffer and current podcast host, Jon Lovett stirred the intergenerational waters a few weeks ago on his Podcast “Lovett Or Leave It” by declaring that Baby Boomers are “the worst” generation ever and that their cultural legacy is “garbage.”
Would he have gotten along well with my newspaper advisor’s best friend?
-Dude, really? Buffet? If this were a sincere apology you would have played a little Springsteen.-
Personally, I don’t like piling on Millennials. They’ve been criticized for growing up in the era of participation trophies. But I was a soccer coach who handed out these trophies and I’m here to tell you that kids, at least the Millennial ones I coached, had excellent BS detectors. They wanted the trophies because kids – from all generations – like to collect things. A few of the children I coached were on the field because they really liked playing soccer. Some were there because their parents signed them up without asking them if they wanted to play (They didn’t). Most of them were there to collect the uniforms, trophies and get inappropriate snacks. They knew whether or not they had done a “Good job!” out there on the field and didn’t really want to hear those two words.
It’s Pretty Much The Same For Every Generation
In my role as a consultant I now work with more Millennial and Gen X account supervisors, managers, account executives, sales representatives and even executives than with people from my generation. For the most part I like almost everyone I encounter. My MO is try to make any situation that I encounter work. I try to remind people that we have clients to keep profitable and relationships to maintain. Period.
I spite of what the press says, there is little difference between the way I and my colleagues acted when we were in our 20’s and 30’s and the way today’s younger generation behaves. The differences that I encounter are more technological than anything else.
I recall a supervisor telling me to not be so advancement oriented. “Gotta walk before you can run,” he often said.** “You’re not entitled to that until you can show me what you can do,” another told me whenever I asked to be put on new projects.
In other blog posts, I’ve mentioned the grand old timers in some Rep Rooms I worked in who were not thrilled with women entering the business. Or mainframe computers. Or in store merchandising. They didn’t think we kids knew very much about how our business worked. They were right. We didn’t. Fortunately, some of them got over their resentment and taught us.
In other words, we weren’t the worst. And neither are Millennials.
*For the record, the Greatest Generation raised Baby Boomers and Boomers raised Millennials so in the end, this whole debate has always seemed very circular to me.
**This same supervisor later sent me on a trip to Montana in November. It snowed, I barely made it home. I think he was trying to teach me something.