Don’t Make Excuses For Your Generation, Take Personal Accountability

I’ve previously shared Gen Y observations from a personal perspective as someone part of the generation.  Continuing this dialog, a recent article by Rebekah Monson caught my eye sharing her observations on Gen Y.  It reacted to the recent long-winded NY Times and Slate articles on 20-somethings.

They’re sort of worth reading if you have some time.  Although to be honest, aside from hearing about people struggling to make it, I’m not sure what the NY Times proves.  Why focus on those coddled into a life of average instead of sharing success stories from those winning?

Anyway, I’d like to react to some of Rebekah’s points because I think she takes the wrong attitude (and is certainly not alone in that regard):

You must understand that we are not starting out with a positive attitude. In our short careers, we already have been laid off or at least afraid that we would be laid off. We have seen our parents downsized and left high and dry by companies that they helped to build. We have been unable to get work after doing “the right things” that we were told would make us successful — school, internships, volunteer work, mentorship, etc. We have gone into high-demand fields like IT only to see those jobs outsourced overseas for pennies on the dollar.

Rebekah starts here piece by making excuses for our generation.  And I don’t think excuses help anyone.

  • If you don’t have a positive attitude that’s a personal problem.  Attitude matters and affects performance – if you don’t have a positive one you’re obviously in the wrong field or wrong situation.  No one reading this has an excuse not to have a positive attitude, you could have things a lot worse.
  • If you’ve been laid off or afraid you’re going to be laid off this is your own fault.  If you build career security, not job security you don’t need to be worried about this.  Remember, fear only succeeds in destroying creative work.
  • If your parents have been downsized and left high and dry by companies they helped build, I’m sorry – but I’d still say you’re lucky.  At least you have two parents – many of us don’t.
  • If you have “done all the right things” that you were “told would make you successful” that’s not the best approach.  Following a path everyone else does is going to make you that much less relevant as you’re merely a clone of others and easily replaceable – you should be more like Jack Bauer instead.
  • If your job has been outsourced, you aren’t staying at the edge of your industry.  If you chose to do something low-level enough there is a path to automation or outsourcing of course you’re going to lose your job. That’s sort of how the business world works.

Instead of making excuses or harping on perceived problems – I’d challenge Rebekah to offer solutions.

The corporate leadership in this country has made it clear to us that no one in our generation is getting a gold watch. We don’t have any delusions about that. Hell, many of us can’t even get insurance or make a living wage now, and no one sees it getting any better. Why would we make a job anything close to a top priority in our lives, when we can have no realistic expectation of having a long-term career to begin with?

I’ll pose this question to readers from any generation:  has leadership — at any point in history — handed out “gold watches” to just anyone?  Further, if you can’t make a living in modern society what is complaining about it going to do?  I’d argue if you can’t find a job you’re not trying hard enough or taking the right approach.  Wake up Gen Y, it takes work, and if you can’t do it you have no one to blame but yourself.  Smart companies always have valued young, driven, creative and entrepreneurial types.  If you’re not perceived in this light you’re doing something wrong and not positioning yourself properly.  Take advantage of your age.

The second point — “having no realistic expectation of a long term career” — is bogus.  Too many people are successfully doing this to complain it’s not possible.

No one I know in Gen Y (or Gen X for that matter) has any faith whatsoever that any employer will ever give a crap about them as human beings. We accept that we are numbers on a spreadsheet in the current corporate landscape, but we don’t have to like it.  We check off your boxes, and we accomplish the goals you lay out. We play nice.

Welcome to the real world.  But not all companies are like this.  Here you have 3 options – find a company that will treat you well, work for a company that treats you as a number, so long as you’re still winning in the relationship, or start your own thing.  Also, if all you do is “check off boxes” and “accomplish goals others lay out” you deserve to be laid off.  If that’s what you do you’re easily dispensable.  I wouldn’t want you on my team, I want creative thinkers who are unafraid to tell it like it is.  People who passively play nice but in reality hate what they’re doing should quit their job anyway, they will never contribute to a team in a way an inspired, driven individual will.

Many of us live at home to help our parents as they struggle with their own low wages and financial trauma. We have no idea how we will ever afford a family or a house or anything on our own when we cannot attain jobs with basic benefits and full-time wages.

Again, welcome to the real world.  If you can’t attain a job with basic benefits or full-time wages, please explain to me how that isn’t being a part of workforce Darwinism.  I still think anyone in this position isn’t trying hard enough.  I had plenty of friends who grew up in situations without much financial stability or education that have become huge successes:  it comes down to motivation and overall drive to succeed.

We have a lot to be excited about, but less and less of that exists within the current corporate structure. We communicate constantly. We love to collaborate. We are data junkies. Many of us are imbued with entrepreneurial spirit. We strike out. We tinker. We play. None of this is particularly valued in the current corporate environment.  But, we value it in ourselves and in each other. We have interesting side projects. (And, we keep them from you so that you won’t fire us.)

If your corporate structure doesn’t provide inspiration and excitement, get out.  Seriously, why operate in such environments?  There are choices if you have built the necessarily networks and know how to market yourself.  Everyone can learn to do that.  Further, “tinkering and playing” is fine, and your company will value it so long as you make a case for it.  If you’re just messing around without reason no one is going to value that.  Also, if you have interesting side projects you are keeping from your employer — you’re not very smart.  Your employer will find out.  Before you start a job with anyone, tell them clearly what you do and what you plan to do in the future.  If they don’t support it — don’t work for that company, simple.  You shouldn’t have to hide things so people won’t fire you.

So, we work, and we wait. We are working and waiting for our side projects to become our main projects. We are working and waiting for  the right kinds of relationships to solidify in our personal and professional lives. We are working and waiting for you to retire so that there are funds and jobs available into which we can “grow up.” We are working and waiting for a chance to change the establishment to reflect our values.

If you are simply “working and waiting” you don’t understand the difference between living life and not.  Your time is ticking away and you’re squandering it.  If you have a side project you want to be your main project, you need a roadmap to bring it to reality.  “Working and waiting” is silly and without some sort of path to get there you’ll never achieve it.  Funds and jobs available?  Please, they are available right now to those brave enough to ask for them.  A chance to change the establishment?  Real change is a gradual process which happens bit by bit – if you want to change something, chip at it daily instead of waiting for some dramatic gesture that will be fast forgotten.  Those who act today, and act consistently will make change.  If you’re waiting you don’t deserve to achieve results.

Every generation goes through its turn in the news cycle. And, every generation thinks they’ll do it better.

Obviously this isn’t going to change anytime soon.  “Hoping” your generation will do better in the news cycle seems like a pretty big waste of time.  Instead of lamenting the inevitable generational bashing (which, by the way, ignores the law of averages – most generations when analyzed at the macro level don’t look good) perhaps focus on developing your own strategy about life and putting it into action.  Almost no one does this, yet it’s devastatingly effective for that exact reason.

Seems like the author of this article is making excuses, only reinforcing negative stereotypes about Gen Y.  The truth is it doesn’t matter what generation you are a part of, it matters if you want to live a remarkable life.  Either do so, or don’t, but realize your own success is independent of how others of like demographics act.  Besides, looking at the world through the lens of demographics is becoming far less meaningful.  Psychographics is fast replacing them.