I have officially decided that I’ve spent too much time commenting on a recent Facebook thread started in the last day by fellow bloggers Eve Kerrigan, Rachel Gall and Anna Akbari, about a recent article on Millennials called “Generation Wuss” by Vanity Fair’s Bret Easton Ellis.
I am, however, compelled to share and express my very “special” point of view in a blog post. No, I’m not an “entitled millennial”, just a Narcissistic Anthropologist who needs a fix. Also as someone who has been studying, marketing and helping to develop brands and products for Millennials since before they were even getting their first driver’s licenses – I have a point of view on the topic.
I honestly say that I feel a great deal of empathy for this cohort who has been the object of intense scrutiny and marketing-targeting since they started getting an allowance. They had the distinct privilege of growing up during the evolution of the information age and I think it’s safe to say that everyone feels we are officially at a point of “TMI”. The aforementioned article dishes out some tough love for what he essentially chalks up to a hypersensitive and seemingly ill-prepared-for-life cohort.
Lets take a step back and reflect upon this generation that entered the consumer world with so much love and fanfare.
Lets start with the love. Their parents – mostly boomers – decided that they were going to love them with all their hearts – and the fierce dedication of a tiger protecting it’s pretty. They gave them everything they didn’t get from their parents from cradle to constant cradling in the arms of self-esteem focused education.
They also gave their time: micromanaging every aspect of their school and extra-curricular lives to make sure they grew up to get into the “right” college and become successful, well-rounded adults. They encouraged their passions and told them they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up. And after 9-11, followed by the sub-prime crash happened and we seemed to “lose everything” – they became the epitome of close-knit families. Which is good – because as the young adults were graduating college with no job-prospects to speak of there was a home for them to come back to until (some are still waiting) they could get out of the nest and get on their feet.
But lets remember that their parents aren’t the only ones who have loved them.
Millennials have been the object of the marketing community’s affection ever since they started being able to count money. Not only did they begin their lives during a period of economic prosperity, which gave them above-average spending power from a young age, but since their parents also wanted to be their best friend’s and openly engage them in household dialogs they have always had a huge influence on family purchases as well – everything from groceries to home electronics to Mom’s next car.
Then they started to grow up – and the haters came out of the woodwork – especially when they entered the workforce. Employers couldn’t handle their neediness – for work-life balance that kept them from wanting to live for work, for rapid career advancement, for constant feedback on their day-to-day performance and for their boomer colleagues to be their best friends and family.
Given what some would call their coddled upbringing, it stands to reason that they entered the “real world” in a state of fantasy – believing in their infinite value and the world has been waiting on pins and needles for them to com share their specialness. And the disappointment has been palpable as HR organizations scramble to retain and grow their next generation of worker-bees while Millennials began experiencing a Quarter-Life Crisis – dropping out of the corporate world to go back to school and re-learn or to create careers out of their passions, less they end up like their parents who gave their lives to their jobs and lost everything as the market crumbled to pieces.
But unlike other generations – Millennials didn’t have to just go back to square one and stew when things got tough. They had a globally-wired communication to share their woes – and to seek affirmation from their peers. Social media means they can find friends by the hundreds and thousands to affirm their contributions great and small. The blogosphere has provided a medium for their musings and media has provided a soap-box for their angst. So, not only do they get to put it all out there, but they also get to suffer the consequences – now being barraged by generationally-driven editorial backlash by those who find the Millennial point of view to be insufferable.
It’s no wonder that hipster culture emerged as the Millennial embodiment of Irony.
If nothing else, this is a generation who knows how to poke fun at their situation and themselves and use social schizophrenia as a way to play with the concept of adulthood. What else can a generation do that grew up being adored and are now dodging bullets from every direction – whether it be economic or simply socially un-empathetic. They were blown up into big beautiful, colorful balloons and then popped the minute they left their padded homerooms. But they are finally growing up and finding their “option C” by creating new concepts.
They are adults and young adults who place tremendous value on play. They put serious energy into social commentary in the form of cartoons and couture. The mating game has become quite literal with apps like Tinder. They raise funds for entrepreneurship as a team via platforms like Kickstarter. They Instagram their exploration of the world – like a virtual refrigerator filled with art class projects and they will never EVER stop wearing Chuck Taylors to work.
I for one am excited by the energy I see entering the workforce – and the fortune 500 warriors who are doing their best to help this generation make their way. I am also impressed by how Millennials are waking up to their collective purpose – to create a new world that works for them – and asserting that power using their consumer clout. I know at least the world-class brands and marketers I work with have been eagerly engaging very deeply to understand this generations unique context and develop brands and business models that are far more empathetic.
I also think that the collective cultural kick-in-the-pants that Millennials have been getting them is preparing them well for the road a head. It’s good for them to have to fight a battle and know that they can win – and they will win. But here’s the deal – when this generation steps up to take the gold medal that they actually earned – I know in my heart of hearts that they will take the haters with them. Because this generation sensitive superheroes is actually all about the love – and they have been taught to share.