Working 20s: Underwhelmed, Underpaid, Underestimated
Corporate America and generation X have a lot to say about millennials in the workforce. We’ve been classified as entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused and lazy by every business publication from Forbes to Fortune. Well, here’s what we have to say to Corporate Americas and the Baby boomers who run it:
Every millennial I know feels professionally underwhelmed and discontent. That’s because we are fundamentally engineered to reject Corporate America. Millennials are pushers: we push boundaries and buttons. We’re anti-establishment. We inherently reject structure, routine, and institution. We’re not subservient. We have opinions and we’re not afraid to voice them. We’re not intimidated by titles nor do we care about the “chain of command.” We’re programmed for efficiency, with little regard to protocol or procedure. If there’s a better way to do something, we’re going to do it that way. If there’s a more direct route to get something accomplished, we’re going to take that route. Trying to conform to the institution of Corporate America is like chewing glass.
We are orphan dream chasers, starved by the workforce. We’re unsatisfied with the mundane and menial circumstances of entry-level work. We want more. More challenging tasks. More meaningful work. More growth opportunity. More money. More autonomy. More travel. More!
How dare they call us entitled! We’re just the products of our upbringing and environment. Since birth, we were brought up on the premise that we could do anything, be anything. We were encouraged to aspire to greatness: “It’s not enough to be good at something, you should aim to be the best at it.” These mandates didn’t end at home. They didn’t just come from parents who simply wanted better for us; but they were consistently reinforced by grandparents, babysitters, coaches, tennis instructors, private tutors, mentors, pastors, teachers, principals, and professors. The concepts of success and exceptional achievement have been so deeply engrained in our psyche that we don’t think of them as our desires, but as our destinies.
When I graduated from Howard University, I received a letter signed by then-President Barack Obama in which he said, “If you stay true to your ideals and focus on reaching your goals, I am confident you will help shape the future in extraordinary ways.”
No pressure … just the President of the United States impressing upon me his “extraordinary” expectations for my future.
The truth is that millennials have been conditioned to strive for excellence within a system that functions on mediocre. As creatures of the internet age and technological innovation, we’re naturally more advanced than the previous generations were at this age. We have access to an infinite amount of information at our fingertips. Technology has exponentially increased our capacity to accomplish tasks with efficiency and learn skills. Long division, encyclopedias, reference books and Rolodexes have been replaced by calculators, Google, and iPhones. YouTube has made it possible to master almost anything. We’re the generation of self-taught graphic designers, computer programmers, music producers, makeup artists, musicians, directors, video production crews. We’ve taken ‘self-starter’ to a whole new level. Everywhere we turn, we see our peers, friends, foes and former classmates starting their own businesses; turning their social media presence into capital; building their own brands; creating; designing; inventing at 19, 23,30-years old.
If you don’t build your dream someone will hire you to help build theirs.
– Steve Jobs
Millennials are not impatient because we’re lazy and entitled, we’re impatient because we know that we’re capable of more. We’re uncomfortable at the bottom because we were raised to aim for the top. We’re frustrated because, even at an entry-level age, we’re capable of mid-level work. By the time I graduated college and “officially” entered the workforce, I was already well acquainted with it. On top of a 3.8 GPA, a study abroad experience and numerous leadership roles in school organizations; I had 6 paid internships under my belt. I interned at companies like AARP, BET Networks, Paramount Pictures, the Television Academy. And not once did I have to get coffee, run errands, or do menial tasks. I did real, hands-on, tangible work.
Unfortunately, none of that means anything to Corporate America. Regardless of skill, work experience, and prior accomplishments; entry into the workforce requires a 3 to 5-year hazing period as an assistant, a receptionist, a junior, a coordinator, a bottom feeder, a tadpole. Take notes, schedule lunch, book travel, answer calls, count beans, pick up the dry cleaning, maintain the inventory, fact-check, research, scan documents, read minds, take the blame, stay quiet, chin down and smile! Eat corporate shit and call it caviar. Not because it makes sense or because it’s necessary, but because that’s how it’s always been done. Because it “builds character.” Because it teaches you to stay in your place. It teaches you to ask permission, to do what you’re told, to wait your turn. The system is designed for few to make it to the top and for the rest to make slow, incremental moves to the middle.
I suggest Generation X start backing up their files because the system is getting rebooted and new software is being installed. Contrary to constant criticism, millennials are not the virus, we’re the update. We’re iOS 11 and we get shit done!
So, carry on. Continue to innovate, think outside the box, question authority, challenge the rules, break protocol, push boundaries, teach yourself. Don’t be afraid to jump ship, take a leap, side hustle, freelance, multitask. Control+Alt+Delete!
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
– Rob Siltane