Respect the Millennials: They Have a Country to Fix

Millennials, the generation born from around the mid 1980s to late 1990s, account for over fifteen million U.S. citizens. Pew Research claims that, partly due to immigration, it’s the largest age category to exist so far in American history. However, this enormous number isn’t what has academics, researchers, and the media all abuzz. If a person Googles the word “Millennials,” he or she will find many websites that make provocative claims as to either how promising or how disadvantaged the generation is. Most websites acknowledge the poor economic conditions everyone must confront, yet many victimize young adults, calling them lazy and stating that they have no hope of overcoming their economic troubles. In the meantime, a growing number of Millennials choose to ignore the criticism while optimistically seeking creative and effective solutions.

Twenty-somethings can and have become frustrated with their twenties for a number of reasons. For one, parents of Millennials practically condemn their future. To be fair, today’s economy looks nearly as bad as the Great Depression of the 1930s. I remember my elders telling me when I was young, “The sky’s the limit.” Now that their children are grown, parents have changed their tune from telling fairy tales about the sky to blaming us for being lazy, unproductive, and deviant. Maybe they are embarrassed for having spent their lifetimes working in large corporations and climbing the ladder, only to find that they may not even have a stable retirement fund to show for it. Just let me say, in this age of technology, the analogy of the sky is useless, and so is trying to force young adults into large corporations.

A number of scholars are finally coming to the Millennials’ defense. Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist, noticed the plight of young adults and wrote the book The Defining Decade to “set the record straight about twenty-somethings.” She says the biggest misconception people have about this age group is that they cannot comprehend or are “not interested” in addressing the specific issues of their adulthood. Jay is right about the misconception. Many well-meaning parents gave their children advice that sounded like this: “You have ten years to figure out what to do with your life, so revel in your youth while you can.” Unfortunately, some took that advice a little too seriously and now suffer the consequences of missing out on what Jay considers the most important decade of a person’s adult life.

Consequently, as young people realize the issues they face in the present economy, many are taking drastic measures to ensure they don’t make the same mistakes their parents did. For example, Daniel Kim of Lit Motors acknowledges that many people are no longer interested in working for large corporations. He himself took a different path than going to college, graduating, and going to work for someone else. In fact, according to Kim, dropping out of college was one of the best decisions he made. Now the founder and CEO of a growing company, Kim “design[s] and develop[s] innovative and sustainable transportation solutions for our growing world,” and his formula for success isn’t rocket science. He notes, “[A]fter I dropped out of Reed I was like, well, what do I want to do, what am I curious about? I wanted to learn how cars worked . . . [s]o I applied to become a mechanic.” Many other young adults are doing the same by giving up on the rules of society and paving the way for a different kind of success.

According to Karen Foster of the University of California, Berkeley, the studies performed on Gen-X and Gen-Y “fail, for example, to account for the ways in which key concepts like community, environment, and politics have evolved” over time. Liz Ryan of Forbes says the workplace is changing fast; the traditional work week is now virtually nonexistent. Both Foster and Ryan point out that we have to change or make adjustments along with shifting labor dynamics if we want to achieve success. Ryan says, “If we can take a break from bashing millennials for their widely-reported rejection of traditional workplace values, maybe we can learn something.” With the advancements in technology and the growing global economy, it’s about time we allow for new and different views concerning our roles in work and society.

The recent rise of numerous Millennial entrepreneurs validates Ryan’s claim. David Karp, CEO and founder of Tumblr, and Taylor Swift, singer/songwriter, are excellent examples of highly successful entrepreneurs. Both played the lead role in building their careers, and neither one of them started in the mailroom of a large corporation. Karp didn’t go to college, and Swift didn’t even finish high school before starting her career. In a recent interview, Jody Rosen describes Swift as a sort of one woman army using “careerist calculation” to fight for both traditional and new methods of making music. Rosen says, “[h]er path to stardom has defied established patterns.”

David Karp also struck out in a different direction. Before finishing high school, he began homeschooling so he could spend more time working with computers and engineers. By looking at Karp’s story, anyone can notice that he didn’t fight against already existing laws of adulthood. He didn’t try to reinvent anything; he was simply driven to explore and invent using what others had already laid down before him as a starting point. Jack Nadel of the Huffington Post helps push the argument for entrepreneurs no matter what their age happens to be. He notes that between 1993 and 2011, small businesses created “64 percent of the net new jobs . . . in the United States, 98 percent of America’s exports, and produced 33 percent of all export value.” So while many parents may condemn our future, the statistics show that our innovative minds may be just what our current economy needs.

The good news is that Karp and Swift hardly deviate from the lives of many everyday twenty-somethings. Some of my own friends and acquaintances provide examples of the shared attitudes and ambitions of young people today. For example, one of my entrepreneurial friends, Elijah, provides such an example. He chooses to be carefully optimistic and not to care what people think about him. Choosing a less traditional route to entering the work force, he opted out of college altogether because he realized it would simply interfere with the success he can achieve on his own time. He says, “I think I have different goals and desires for what to do with my life that a lot of people don’t consider.” Elijah’s story is one of many that defines highly creative, brave, and innovative people with the desire and drive to remold society.

A recent Gallup poll shows that American optimism is improving in regard to personal considerations, possibly because young adults know they’ll have the last laugh; they realize that the very generations criticizing them were the ones that created the poor economic situation, and it is now up to Millennials to turn things around. People aren’t perfect, and neither are generations, but people can learn from their mistakes. Looking back and finding the root cause of mistakes and choosing to try something different will bring about changes that might rebuild our economy.

One thing we can be sure about, as Nadel says — innovative entrepreneurship will benefit everyone by creating the opportunity for new jobs. Pew Research collected statistics stating that Millennials believe they are honest people, but in an almost rebellious fashion, they are deviating from the traditional route to success. They have heard and understood what their parents have said either to or about them, but are the previous generations watching as their dynamic offspring demonstrate motivation and commitment to become more than what society has labelled them? Someone needs to remold society into something better through innovative means. If nothing else, I hope preceding generations will at least appreciate the effort most Millennials put into reviving an unsteady economy.