This is what ageism towards Millennials looks like
As usual, my 81-year-old neighbor made no apology for interrupting my morning run.
“Harris,” Mr. Wilson hollered, rising from his bench to flag me down. “I’m giving a presentation to my AARP pals about your generation and want to consult our resident Millennial.”
Say what? Had he just asked for my perspective? He who lectures me every morning without knowing a thing about my life? He who assumes that I want need to hear what he has to say, as if it will have some pivotal impact on me?
I glanced over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t talking to someone else, but nobody was there. He was talking to me.
And for that, I paused Beyoncé (gasp, I know. Don’t worry, it gets better worse) and removed my headphones.
But I had misunderstood. Of course I had misunderstood.
Actually, let’s be clear. I hadn’t misunderstood.
He had misused the word “consult.” What had sounded like an invitation to speak was most certainly not. (Silly girl). Because I am young, my thoughts do not matter. At least not to my neighbor.
He didn’t want to listen. He wanted to talk. At me. So I stood with a learned patience as he declared my generation entitled.
I’d heard it all before, from countless men and women – Millennials are entitled, lazy, unmotivated, etc. Same script different day. We are always the problem, never the solution.
Sometimes it’s a business owner who made a bad hire and blames my entire generation’s “poor work ethic” — instead of honing her hiring process. Sometimes it’s a grandparent blaming Millennials for ruining the church with our “unusual ways” — because heaven forbid we revise or revive the institution. Other times it’s a boss ignoring a Millennial’s idea until someone older says the exact same thing, because young people should be seen but not heard (and certainly not heeded).
This morning’s expert: Mr. Wilson.
I needed every hour I could get. Mr. Wilson, on the other hand, had woken earlier than his tee-time, as he usually does, choosing to kill time by wasting mine. (Retirement must be nice – a privilege I hope my generation is afforded, though I’m not holding my breath).
Now, I like Mr. Wilson. Despite my frustrations, he is a lovable man who won’t ask me about my day or life or anything, for that matter, but who always checks on me before, during, and after a storm. He looks out for me in his own way, and I’m grateful for that. So I feigned intrigue as he continued, “You’re very tech savvy and good multi-taskers, but need constant praise and can’t be trusted for a full day’s work.” According to his logic, I’d already put way too much effort into my flippant workday by getting out of bed before noon.
Per usual, this diatribe (not to be confused with the praise I so desperately breathe) began to sound more like an attack than a “consultation” until he clarified, “Now, this isn’t about you, you see. Just about your generation in general.”
It’s never about me, though. It’s always about “everyone else.” I’m never the rule, always the outlier. My ageist assailants find this distinction easier to defend. “It’s not you, it’s them,” they say, as if my generation is some spooky ‘unknown’ to be feared instead of understood.
Millennial-phobes overlook these truths, though, because someone needs to be blamed for the “dating apps that devalue the sanctity of marriage” and the “digital world that is rendering human interaction obsolete.”
For the record, dating + living with parents = celibacy, but too many of us need the free meals. (Celibacy and curfew < hunger).
When I graduated from college 5 years ago, I succumbed to stereotype. I believed these all too frequent assertions. I believed that my friends were unique overachievers and that everyone else my age was rotting away in a lazy, entitled unemployment ditch somewhere waiting for food stamps and a corner office. When I couldn’t find a job, I would blame my association with a generation of lowlifes. I’d pretend to be anything but a Millennial (because…gross).
Sometimes, I’d think that my superiority to the “norm” would get me hired and promoted faster than the rest. When it didn’t, I began to wonder: Are Millennials really all we’re cracked up to be?
I researched and I documented and I made graphs and wrote outlines, trying to make sense of the data — trying to make the identity we had been prescribed make sense. But it didn’t. And it still doesn’t.
The research disproved all the brainwashing and illuminated the danger of stereotypes. Rooted in fear and ignorance, if we aren’t careful we start to believe them.
Because I had subscribed to stereotype, I never demanded a platform for opposition.
But I’ve done my share of listening, and I deserve a voice too.
“We are tech savvy. That’s why we are less inclined to show up for the same mediocre preacher every Sunday. We have millions of preachers, educators, and innovators at our fingertips. Institutions are lost on us. We care about missions. What do you stand for? What does your business stand for? These are the things we care about, and our brand loyalties are fierce because of it.”
“Yeah, yeah,” my neighbor said, dismissing my comments as he turned to walk away.
“As a Millennial, I’d be happy to help you prepare your presentation,” I offered, still hoping to be heard. This sent him into a fit of laughter.
“No, no, Harris. These old folks want to hear from someone they can trust, see. You haven’t done your time like I have. You understand.” But I don’t understand! And with that, he turned his back on my generation and our truth, waving as he walked away.
It’s easier for Traditionalists, Boomers or Gen Xers to point fingers than to admit that maybe they could have been better stewards of the economy Millennials have inherited. It’s easier to stagnate in routine than to evolve, and easier to talk than listen. But we are tired of being the scapegoat and we are tired of this resistance to change.
We may be young, but Millennials are changing the world.
We are on track to become the most highly educated generation in American history.
We don’t color between the lines, because we are a generation of Jackson Pollocks, and that is a beautiful thing. But it demands a change in perspective.
We do things a little bit differently, yes, but we crave mentorship. We admire the Traditionalists for weathering the Great Depression with fortitude and resourcefulness. We worship the Boomers for giving us the Beatles and the Internet, and Gen Xers for founding Google, Amazon, and life as we know it.
We have so much to learn from them all, but we want to be in partnership — the kind that welcomes two-way conversation. Together, our achievements would know no bounds. (We gon’ slay).
So let’s get excited about it. Let’s have a conversation. All of us. It’s time. Traditionalists, Boomers, and Gen Xers –please hear us out. We are a generation defined by action, mission, technology and efficiency, and all we want is a voice valued not in spite of our youth, but because of it. We are better together, but only if Millennials can be seen for who we are instead of who we’ve been depicted to be.
Those who risk understanding us may just find that Millennials aren’t all we’re cracked up to be. (And that having groceries delivered by drone isn’t so bad either).