Millennial Cynicism

As I explained in my most recent post, I would love to interact with an engaged audience, and I would like these posts to represent that ongoing conversation in both tone and, sometimes, a direct reply. I was recently asked about our generation’s cynicism. Our taste for the morbid. Where does it come from? Why are we so ready to call bullshit? I think this is a great observation on our generation, and I think it stems from a few different areas across our lives.

Millennials are sandwiched in between Generation X and Generation Z. Yeah… they didn’t even waste a letter on us. They just skipped over the Y completely. Didn’t use it. And thus, millennials have been the generational middle child and have had similar symptoms.  These other generations are hardworking and demand a reward for their hard work, when we ask for a job we are called entitled.

I’m not breaking any ground here when I say we are of the Internet age. We were the first generation to grow up with readily available Internet access, and we took full advantage. Internet access means access to information. Every idiot with an iPhone instantly became a professional fact checker anytime you are having some kind of bar banter about how many Julia Roberts movies grossed over $100 million in the 90’s. (The answer is five. Hook, The Pelican Brief, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Notting Hill, and Runaway Bride) But the person who looked that up is a bummer and ruined a fun conversation. Other than killing bar banter, the encyclopedia of everything we keep in our pockets also made us mistrusting of things said directly to our face. Why would I believe what this guy is telling me when I can look it up and know for sure? It’s an understandable stance, but it quickly morphed into not believing anything you hear and assuming the worst until you can self-verify. Ignorance is bliss and we now know everything.

Our generation was dealt shitty hand when we finally entered the workforce. We were told our entire lives that we can do anything; we can pursue whatever we want and make a life for ourselves. Then the world economy fell into collapse while we were all racking up debt like a 2048 score. (Remember that game? What fun!) The fundamental thing we were told our entire lives, “You can do anything” became the biggest lie we were ever told. I’m not saying this is the worst thing to happen to a generation. Our Greatest Generation grew up in the Great Depression, and was rewarded with World War II when they graduated high school. That is a bad beat. What I am saying is a recession doesn’t exactly inspire goodwill.  It does something to people. Imagine having spent so much money to prepare yourself for a career only to find that the industry you prepped for doesn’t exist anymore. And you don’t get reimbursed. And there’s no way to pay it back. And it’s 2008. Remember how bad 2008 was? Everyone was singing that Coldplay song and Instagram hadn’t been invented yet. It was a dark time.

I’m also not saying that millennials were the only generation affected by the recession. When the recession first hit there were no jobs for anyone, and that was hard for everyone. I’m sympathetic to that. But as jobs slowly came back, in an attempt to prevent this kind of thing from happening, only the most experienced people were considered qualified for these jobs, and that didn’t include two year removed college grad with no real work experience so we were still stuck. In part, this is why we see “Entry Level” jobs that require 3 years experience. How does that even make sense? I just want it explained to me. Once you do manage to get your hands on one of those jobs, good luck with upward mobility. We are now seeing upper management staying in the workforce longer than ever, and a lot of that has to do with those people in upper management getting their retirements wiped out in the recession, so now they have to rebuild. Again, I understand that is hard. But those factors and fears trickle down and affect us younger people. (And that is the only thing that trickles down.)  Now, we are 9 years removed from the recession, employment looks a lot better, and we don’t have the same problems know as we did then. That being said, those issues that arose 9 years ago made an impact and contributed to overall millennial cynicism. (I hope I don’t write anything that boring for you guys ever again. Thanks for indulging.)

So turns out, we aren’t cynics for cynic’s sake. There are factors contributing to this outlook we have on life. And please remember, you aren’t alone. These are fears and hesitations shared by an entire generation. A perfect storm of obstacles was somehow branded as us being entitled. That’s the hardest part. You faced rejection after rejection, and then someone called you whiny because you want a job. That’s tough to hear. We don’t want a hand out. We want a seat at the table. These frustrations led to our generation creating new industries with new kinds of jobs that had never existed before. Desperation breeds innovation. So keep going. Keep beating down the door. You will get there. Let some of your cynicism keep you sharp, but don’t let it harden you. With that in mind, remember it isn’t as bad as it seems and in true cynical fashion, it could always be worse.

Take care.

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