Millennials, a reputation

Millennials are defined as the generation born between the late 1980s and early 2000s. They are often called the net generation because of their use and familiarity with digital technologies. One of the interesting traits or features of a millennial is their workplace attitude, where there’s an emphasis on individualistic advancement and job satisfaction. Contrary to preceding generations, like the Baby Boomers, where a steady career path and loyalty were valued. According to a Gallup report, at least 1 out of 5 millennials changed their job within the past year and less than half have worked for the same employer for more than 2 years. The job hopping has earned the millennials a reputation for being fickle, pretentious, and entitled.

For quite some time, I thought I was born in the wrong generation. I felt like I did not identify with the people of my age, but rather preferred the values and lifestyle of people my parent’s age. I like structure and security. I value loyalty and organization. I prefer human contact as opposed to digital interactions. But it was not until my current situation that I realized I am a lot more like my generation than I thought.

Some of you may know that I have been actively on the job hunt for almost 8 months now. I completed my master degrees in the summer and have been trying to find opportunities that will allow me to use my degrees in a field of my interest. Little did I know, I had naively assumed many things about my degrees and the “benefits” I would reap. The bittersweet taste of my naivete made me think I was a victim of my generation- the same fickle, pretentious, and entitled generation.

Growing up I was taught to respect rules and follow instructions. If I were to do a, b, and c. then I would reap the benefits of my diligence. That is how I perceived job hunting. I did everything that I was told to do: pick a major and profession, do unpaid internships relevant to that major and profession, pursue a professional degree in that major or profession, network with people in that major or profession, then you will get a job. I thought I was given the formula for success and diligently worked hard to fill in the blank spaces by the end of it. But I knew there was something wrong with the formula because I have yet to experience the projected outcome.

Because you see, for my generation, the job hunt looks more like this formula: pick an interest and passion, share it on social media and the web, generate followers and supporters, start an exciting start-up or company. There is no specific order and often two or all can happen simultaneously. Growing up, I was told to pick a profession rather than an idea. Creativity and innovation were not part of my vocabulary. And I can barely handle Facebook. But I do know that people of my generation are thriving despite given the wrong formula. They have mastered social media like an art. They have figured out ways to hone the magics of entrepreneurship and YouTube. And they have started exciting companies and startups from online communication network systems to eye-wear subscriptions.

So then, what about me? Why can’t I seem to be “with” my generation?

Well turns out I am. Going back to my situation, I am unemployed. Often that statement is associated with misleading assumptions that question my qualifications, skills, intellect, and employability. Yet, would these assumptions hold true if you knew I graduated at the top 5% of my graduate cohort and completed two master degrees in two years? Or that I have successfully developed programs and built volunteer capacity for non-profit organizations and political campaigns?  Or that I have completed research projects and a honors thesis on various national and international security policies and issues?

When I remind myself of my accomplishments and successes like I did just now, I realize that I have been just as fickle, pretentious, and entitled as my generation. Fickle, as in picky, about the jobs that I apply to and how they align with my skills, experiences, and qualifications. Pretentious, as in showy, about the many accomplishments that I have achieved. And Entitled, as in permitted, to have high expectations for my myself and my professional career. With this realization, I know that there is no formula for success. Sure, it may look different among generations, but it also looks different across ages, gender, cultures, and ethnicities. What success looks like for one person looks differently for another.

So, the new formula may look like the one before, but there is an added element: Instead of employment being the outcome for this formula, it is now part of the formula of my success equation. Perhaps you chuckle and think, oh this is expected of a millennial. Fickle, pretentious and entitled to change the formula as I see fit, but it is these same qualities that embolden me to redefine success and build the confidence I need to succeed.

While one can say that a reputation precedes a millennial, I think it is more the case that a millennial’s reputation follows their actions and accomplishments.

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A game of Jenga

Based on my experiences, post-grad life is a lot like a game of Jenga. Like the game itself, you build yourself up in hopes of landing that dream job after graduation. Each piece of the puzzle that you carefully remove represents an assignment, an extracurricular activity, or an unpaid internship-pieces you used to build up your repertoire as a viable candidate for future success. However, no matter how carefully you remove the pieces and balance them on top, the puzzle’s collapse is inevitable- it’s only a matter of time.

Your skillful dexterity and patience keep you in the game until now. Your hands begin to sweat and your body tense up as you lock onto a piece you believe will keep you safe for another round. Carefully you begin to nudge the piece and notice the tower of blocks begins to shake. Your heart sinks from the weight of knowing that the game is over. Trying your luck any way you slowly pull the piece out only to watch the tower lean precariously over and fall.

But, it happens all in slow motion, the tower of blocks breaks apart like a demolition scene from a movie. You stare at the pieces strewn at your feet. Frustration and irritation swell up inside of you as you replay the last move in your head. “Which piece should I have had chosen?” “What could I have done differently?”

For me, my postgrad life feels a lot like a game of Jenga, or at least the aftermath. I had naively assumed many things about my degrees and the “benefits” I would reap. Yet the reality is, these degrees are neither “golden tickets” to a magical chocolate factory nor a “FastPass” to the ride of life. The ups and downs that I have experienced since the day I walked off the commencement stage have tempered my naive overoptimism with pragmatic hopefulness.

Faced with student loan repayments,  credit cards bills, rent, and the most dreaded- unemployment, I often find myself overcome with stress, anxiety, nervousness, frustration, anguish, despair, hopelessness (the list can go on…). However, despite how overwhelming and often unpleasant postgrad life is, a part of my naivete clings onto that hope that good things will come.

Because isn’t it that hope that keeps us moving forward despite the rejections received and the dejection that is felt? Isn’t it that hope that we agree to another game of Jenga despite knowing how the game will end? That hope that you will win the next round. The hope that life after graduation is as exciting and momentous as you envisioned it would be.