Taylor Swift doesn’t care if you think she’s part of the “Me” generation. She flew in the face of all of our careful quantitative analyses of the so-called millennial demographic when she ended her “1989” tour in Australia last week by sending a heartfelt thanks to her 125 crew members and band technicians on Facebook.
It wasn’t just one of those “I gave at the office” social media thanks from one of those entitled millennials either. She posted the message after sending all her 125 employees on a long vacation at Hamilton Island, a small resort island off the coast of Australia, as a reward for making sure the “stage gets built, the lights are on, the costumes are made, the guitars are tuned, and the show goes on,” in her own words. She clearly understands what her employees deserve for all the work they do, and sounds like a pretty cool boss to boot.
But who could forget the 2013 Time article by Joel Stein that unabashedly proclaimed Millennials to be “narcissistic, overconfident, entitled and lazy”? Bloggers and pundits have fallen over themselves in recent years to blame young people for a whole host of society’s ills, even going as far as to inventing ridiculous pledges for them to recite so they completely understand why they are terrible people. Just recently a study was released blaming millennials’ entitled nature for our country’s poor roads and infrastructure – I am not making that up, follow the link.
The Millennial-bashing is getting out of hand! And it’s something every generation has endured. In a reaction piece on millennial backlash for the Los Angeles Times, Ann Friedman eloquently identifies a discernible rhythm to the media coverage each generation gets:
“A generation is identified and named when most of its members are children or in their early teens. Around age 18, commentators and reporters start shaming and blaming these almost-adults for the decline of Western civilization. The reasons vary by generation: It’s because of rebellion (boomers), apathy (Gen X) or selfishness (millennials). Once a generation begins shouldering professional and familial obligations, there’s a steep decline in media coverage… They are our workhorses, no longer sucking up resources from Mom’s basement and not yet draining our national coffers as retirees.”
Friedman is also quick to point out that the U.S. Census Bureau has only ever officially identified Baby Boomers as their own “generation” – every generational label since then has been decided by the pundits and those who would stand to profit from it. Sketchy at best is how I would characterize it.
There is usefulness to studying generational demographics, such as identifying buying habits, reliable motivators, sociopolitical attitudes, and so on, but the studies will never be able to tell you what people are really made of. In my experience, each person is a thousand different things and there is no manual that can prepare you for every situation. The only way we can ever know what people are truly made of is by seeing how they perform, i.e., giving them a chance, and trusting them.
The big question is why? Why do we persistently cordon off generations from each other, continue to manufacture animosity toward young people, and create needless judgment and tension? I’ll defer to Ann Friedman once more, who couldn’t have said it better:
“We are anxious about the future. More specifically, we are anxious about a future in which our values and lifestyle have been rendered obsolete. Documenting the way the younger generation lives — and the values it holds — is a way of figuring out whether we’ll still be relevant in 10, 20, 30 years. It’s a crystal ball. And, typically, we don’t like what we see.”
Today Is A Fairy Tale
We all (hopefully) instinctually know that not everyone’s character can be defined by an arbitrary birthdate window. We all (hopefully) naturally realize that every person is an individual, and is shaped by a combination of nature and nurture, not demographic trends. We all (hopefully) take this attitude into work with us every day, and attempt to connect with our colleagues as people and not as a statistic.
If I may be so bold to make a sweeping generalization of my own, Taylor Swift’s gesture to her crew is the type of attitude this generation has in spades. They have more education and opportunity in front of them than any generation that came before them, with a strong sense of social justice. Their contemporaries have created some of the most successful companies the world has ever seen, blazed a path to the future with technology, and they’re just getting started. It’s easy to accuse a young person of being entitled. What’s more difficult is admitting you like their music.