Give millennials credit where credit is due

Negative millennial stereotypes more than a mere ego hit

More stories from Hailey Novak


Photo by Hailey Novak

College student millennials crowd Einstein Bagels in Centennial Hall to sip coffee while working through the busiest time of the semester.

Nearly every day I deal with anxiety surrounding whether or not my efforts as a creative writing student will amount to anything, especially when I’m questioned about my future by members of “Gen X” or the baby boomers. I dread explaining that I’m not exactly sure what my specific career will be but I hope to put my writing and communication skills to use so that I won’t have to live in my parents’ basement forever.

Shockingly enough, this answer does little to satisfy them. They want to hear something practical and assume I expect my unknown career to be delivered on a silver platter.

Last week I read a Facebook post shared by a close friend praising an article by Tim Urban which claims that the special brand of Gen Y’s, GYPSY’S (Gen Y Protagonists and Special Yuppies) need to quit claiming they’re special and acting like they deserve way more than they’re willing to work for. As a 21-year-old millennial, this had me thinking.

“There’s a stigma around studying humanities” said Eau Claire creative writing and business management student Brendon Paucek.  “That it’s selfish with no real tangible output, but the skills received aren’t quite understood. Aside from the communication and writing skills gained you have a skill of critical thinking to offer which some other areas of study don’t enforce or understand.”

The Guardian reporter Aisha Gani gives insight on the topic in her article, “Millennials at work: five stereotypes – and why they are (mostly) wrong.”

She interviewed Peter Fleming, a professor of business and society at London’s Cass Business School who said “There’s an existential element that is quite prominent in the way Gen Y chooses to work who say: ‘I’m not willing to give up most of my life for this because I’m a person, a human being that wants to be happy.’”

Urban’s article implies we should push our selfish desire for happiness aside and pursue something more realistic. We’re not cut out to be president of the United States like our kindergarten teachers lead us to believe and we need to quit living in fantasyland. At the same time our label of laziness encourages us to constantly work harder and strive for more. What’s a millennial to do?

“Today you can work just as hard as people from generations before us and not reap the same benefits,” Paucek said.

The “easy fix” solution of working harder and expecting less that Urban suggests is troubling as I observe my peers taking on full course loads, working up to three side jobs and clocking hours at unpaid internships all for the hope they land a job once it’s all said and done. This makes the negative connotation connected with the millennial stereotype even more insulting.

“The social/fiscal issues we’re faced with now are more complex than those Gen X had. We shout a bit louder to get what we want because we have to work harder to fix these more complex problems,” said Paucek.

I have friends fighting during their free time against human trafficking and closing the wage gap, encouraging a greener way of life and more knowledge on global warming and political awareness, to name a few. Many are using social media to encourage awareness and demand change for these causes.

Lazy is hardly an adjective that comes to mind when I look around at fellow Gen Y’s.

But these same friends are among the 5 million college students and fellow millennials dealing with mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It can feel helpless because while we’re also fighting against our stereotype, some of us are battling an internal war with our mental health, something we’re often told to “relax” to fix.

We’re caught in this conundrum between how others conceptualize our generation and who we strive to be.

These mental health disorders can be blamed on an inability to cope from “helicopter parenting”, an overinflated sense of self from the participation trophies we were presented with as kids, or possibly the crippling student loan debt looming overhead as we pursue a college degree, aka the new high school diploma equivalent in the job market.

“I think a millennial is someone who has real struggle,” said English critical studies sophomore Mary Shaw. “There’s a lot we deal with that older generations don’t recognize, they think everything is handed to us but we’re dealing everyday with a job market that’s getting more and more competitive.”

This truth Shaw describes has emotional effects we can’t ignore.

Shaw comes from two parents who immigrated to the US and says while they mean well, it is implied that they want their sacrifice to be worth it for her in the end. Though she was pushed to study a “practical” field of science or chemistry, Shaw is trying to find the balance between her passion and practicality, something all of us yuppies know too well.

I urge members of Gen X to look a little deeper next time they utter the word “lazy” in regards to yuppies like myself. In reality, most of us have learned to work smarter, not harder, something that non-Gen Y members might not be familiar with.

The way we choose not to settle and fight for what we want may forever be looked at as narcissistic, but I choose to view it as admirable. We’re a generation that knows what we want and is willing to risk a lot for it, even if sacrifices include our emotional stability or a lower paying job.