“People try to put us down,
talkin’ ‘bout my generation…”
– The Who, My Generation
Over the next ten years, my generation (some call us “Millennials,” some call us “The Me Generation”) will gradually invade the workforce, the school board, the rabbinate, and the political sphere. We are growing in age, in number, and in influence. According to a recent estimate, we will comprise nearly 80% of the workforce by the year 2025. We are the largest generation in history (yes, even larger than our parents, the “Baby Boomers”) and we are also the most professionally restless. We want to be successful, prominent, and powerful – and we want it now. The world may or may not be ready for us, but – ready, or not – here we come.
There are, of course, numerous obstacles which stand in our way.
Among these — an unwelcoming economic atmosphere, an overcrowded traffic jam on the road toward employment, and, perhaps most acutely, a skeptical slew of senior managers who refuse to stomach the idea of such impatient and impulsive young professionals climbing the ladder at a pace so fast and furious it nearly threatens the very foundations of the chairs in which they comfortably sit. In other words, our collective ambition both amuses them and threatens them. They see it as childish, and, yet, they fear the implications of empowering its youthful momentum. The result is a cold war, a generational clash between the “old” and the “new.”
The old want to maintain their control, and the new want to shake things up.
The old want to keep things as they’ve been, and the new want to reinvent things to their liking.
The old want to preserve their authority, and the new want to seamlessly redefine it.
The problem is that the old are getting older, and the new are getting smarter.
Our will to innovate is often thwarted by their will to dominate.
They see us as immature, unseasoned, inexperienced ingrates — and, truth be told, they may be right.
But their resistance to our invasion only serves to strengthen our sense of distrust in their motives.
We know that they feel threatened by our individualistic sense of entitlement (call it “chutzpa,” if you will); they created a monster, and now that monster has boomeranged back to haunt them. We don’t respect our elders as they may have respected theirs, and we don’t particularly mind being labeled unfavorably by our professional predecessors. They had their turn to run the show; now it’s ours. If only they’d let go of the baton, if only they’d pass it on gracefully, we’d be less insistent on forcefully grabbing if from them. But if they choose to hold on to it for longer than their fair share, we will have no choice but to either take it directly, or simply disregard it completely by creating a new baton of our own.
An overwhelming majority of senior managers see our generation in a negative light, and an overwhelming majority of Millenials feel a growing sense of distrust in the ‘system as usual’ mentality.
They don’t trust us, and we don’t trust them.
They think we’re defiant, and we think they’re defensive.
They think we’re self-seeking, and we think they’re power-preserving.
Who’s right? We both are.
And over the next decade, an awkward yet unavoidable power struggle will presumably unfold – for better, or for worse – as we Millenials gradually infiltrate the organizational infrastructure across the professional spectrum.
How smoothly this shift unfolds remains to be seen.
Undoubtably, we will need to prove ourselves if we wish to pass the test of time and legitimize ourselves as more than a bunch of spoiled brats with no sense of vision. But I think we’ll pleasantly surprise some of our most skeptical predecessors. We may be restless, but we’re creative, energetic, and annoyingly inspired. We want to do big things, and once we’re willing to take the little steps to make them happen, something tells me our generation will have an unexpectedly positive influence on the world.
Of course, the true test will come 20-30 years from now, when our turn comes to pass on the baton.
Will we be as eager to let go of it as we now are to grab hold of it?
Time will tell.
But until then, we have some serious work ahead of us.
And for those of you who may not be ready for a Millennial invaded workforce…ready, or not, here we come.