When one of my best friends, T, sent me the link to Huffington Post’s wildly popular “Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy” with a light “Have you seen this? I feel like its relevant for your blog,” she probably wasn’t prepared for the indignant and capitalized missive I fired off in response. I’d already read the article and was immediately put off by its use of an ethnic pejorative as an acronym (“GYPSY,” both the term and the implications of its use are insensitive, at best). I quickly dismissed the hyperbole that followed. But T was right, this article was relevant to my newfound Millennial identity, so I re-read it. Then I wrote an impassioned reply because, special unicorn that I am, I was profoundly offended.
T read my agitated response and told me to slow my roll. She commented that the article wasn’t really talking about ME, or even the majority of Generation Y. Rather the author was criticizing a tiny minority within a massive population in order to generate page clicks. Well, kudos to the Huffington because I will be using their article to start a series on Millennials, our Baby Boomer parents and our expectations not only for employment, but for life.
Millennials are known for being close to our parents. The Huffington Post’s article, and others, criticizes some Boomers for being over-indulgent, over-involved parents who instill unreasonable expectations in their children. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported about Millennials taking their parents to job interviews! Have I asked my mother when it is seasonally appropriate to wear a dark linen suit to an interview? Yes. Has she ever accompanied me to one? Absolutely. Not.
While I am sure these “Helicopter Parents” exist, I believe that their existence is overemphasized and overstated. To test this theory, I turned to anecdotal evidence in the form of querying a group of college friends (Wellesley ’03!) whom I fondly refer to as “Bennetton Wendies” because our comely cultural diversity has always reminded me of United Color of Benetton ads. I think of us in groups: two African Americans, two Asian Americans (Taiwanese and Japanese) and four White Americans (two dark brunette, one dark blonde, one light brunette with a natural punk rock platinum streak). We hail from California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Texas and Washington. Our college-educated parents include business owners, social workers, educators, corporate executives and administrators. Some of us attended public schools, some parochial, others private. Some of us were on financial aid in college and had campus jobs, others had parents who paid the entire college tab. We are very different people. I managed to lure five of these ladies into a conversation about our parents and their expectations.
Despite our differences, it turns out that no Wendies had what we would ever describe as a “helicopter parent.” No one had those Danny Tanner moments when our dads would come into our rooms and wax philosophical after we did something wrong. All of our parents set high expectations and expected us to do well in school. The difference was in the message that preceded those expectations.
For my White friends, the sky was the limit. They were told they could do just about anything. For those of us with ethnic minority backgrounds and/or immigrant parents, that message was qualified. Of course we were told that we could be bankers, doctors, lawyers etc. However, our parents also told us that we would need to work even harder just to be perceived as breaking even.
For some readers these are controversial and divisive observations – that educational background, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and nationality could play a part in how some people parent. While I am sure there are copious scholarly articles to support what I have admitted is anecdotal evidence, I don’t have the space or time to present them here. I simply want to point out that within a population of millions of people, tied together only by a range of birth years, there will be nuances. Baby Boomer parents have vastly different backgrounds and life experiences, which likely lead to vastly different styles of parenting.
Clearly part of the reason the article hit a nerve is because I am frustrated with my employment prospects and that frustration has nothing to do with my unreasonable special unicorn expectations or bloated sense of entitlement. My parents taught me that even if I work harder and do my best, what I desire might not come to fruition, especially not right away. I may have to settle. I may have to compromise. I certainly have to bide my time. Perhaps there is a tiny group of Millennials out there frustrated with life because they have yet to reach Mark Zuckerberg levels of accomplishment. I, however, would really just like a full-time job with benefits.
My fellow unicorns, do you feel your upbringing has influenced your expectations especially as you navigate your job search and/or your workplace?