With so many problems created by past generations that need tending, it seems ironic to me that there is a huge, cultural preoccupation with complaining about those of you born between 1980 and 2000. I have seen with my own eyes the glee with which Gen Xers and Baby Boomers label this generation as entitled, participation-trophy-carrying, lazy, entitled, tech-addicted, over-confident, entitled, needy, avocado-toast-devouring, entitled, narcissistic, overly-sensitive snowflakes. Oh, and did I mention entitled? Our evolving social lexicon hasn’t landed on an official term that describes this phenomenon yet, so I decided just to make one up: Anti-Millennial Sentiment or AMS. Sounds pretty legit, right?
Whataboutism and Generational Conflict
AMS is the beast that cannot be killed. I’m not even a Millennial and I’m sick of hearing about how Millennials are ruining everything. Mostly because you’re lazy. Or broke. Which is probably because you’re lazy … I digress. Apparently, you’re too lazy for cereal, running, relationships, or even vacations.
Not too long ago, I learned that I’m actually an Xennial—a micro-generation between Millennials and Generation X. To me, the Millennials’ greatest flaw is that they don’t get my pop culture references. Every time I make a Friends reference that falls on deaf ears, a little piece of my soul dies. But mostly I sit in bewildered solidarity with you.
AMS and Confirmation Bias
Have you ever heard of a thing called “confirmation bias?” According to Wikipedia, confirmation bias is “the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.” As I searched through the eleventy-million articles online that talked about “Millennials in the workplace,” most of what I found is that people are already filtering out any information about you that doesn’t support what they already believe to be true. And mostly what our world believes to be true about Millennials isn’t that great. Sadly, my online search echoed what I hear almost every day: in my office, at church, and in conversations with family, friends and co-workers. This, my brunch-addicted friends, is the toxic stew of confirmation bias + AMS.
Confronting the E-Word
Of all the Millennial complaints I hear, it always seems to circle back to ENTITLEMENT. I have seen good, decent, mild-mannered people fall prey to AMS and suddenly lose their absolute minds about ya’ll being entitled. (And Lord save me from one more conversation about those evil, evil participation trophies!) However, science tells us that somewhere in a stereotype is always a kernel of truth: a truth that gets distorted over time, but a kernel of truth just the same.
I have heard real stories from real people I associate with about how a Millennial co-worker or employee felt “entitled” to higher pay, the corner office, a promotion, or more control/influence/responsibility than what they had earned. The research backs up that Millennial workers DO want a seat at the proverbial table, and they want to make an impact.
Honestly, I’m not so sure this whole “you don’t want to pay your dues!” perception is as much about actual entitlement as it is a HURRY UP AND BE AWESOME mindset that sometimes comes off as entitlement. Furthermore, I’m guessing that this reaction probably occurs any time a new generation enters the workforce. But, hey! It’s entirely possible you do carry some of those expectations; it’s not a bad idea to explore why that might be.
I see two clear ways of confronting the entitlement aspect of AMS: the first is simply to BRING. IT. If you want to to be in a position to make the changes you believe in and you have the skills to pay the bills, by all means – Mark Zuckerberg your way into the sunset.
When faced with sincerity and humility, the generational bullies are defeated.
The second way – and probably the path most of us should be on – is to adopt a posture of listening and learning. Savvy Millennials entering the workforce know that the mindset to embrace is: I AM SO EXCITED TO START AT THE BOTTOM! (And the even savvier ones know enough to at least act like it.) Here’s a little secret: The experiences you have at the bottom (whatever that might look like for you) are the experiences that will give you the most information about yourself. Stay focused and engaged in the work before you, and good things will come. This will also be what sets you apart and leads to better opportunities down the road.
Using Your Leverage
The caveat, of course, is that once you have gained a little occupational equity, this mindset can and should start to change. The tricky thing to figure out is when … how long do you need to work at a job before you can start to push a bit for changes you would like to see happen? That answer is going to vary widely, but here’s my rule of thumb: Add six months to whatever number you have in your head. This imperfect world and these imperfect institutions we work for desperately need to embrace change, but to gain that equity you have to do the job you were hired to do EXCELLENTLY, FLAWLESSLY and REPEATEDLY before you look to shake up the status quo. Bottom line: if you want to avoid AMS and the quagmire of Millennial stereotypes, you will need to learn to read the room and approach career advancement with a heaping helping of humility.
When the going gets tough, you can always dance in a fountain.
Jobs early on in your career have the potential to frustrate even the most well-adjusted Millennial. You might have too much or too little responsibility in your position, you might not be doing what you hoped you would be, and you may feel stifled, under-utilized, overworked, or disillusioned. There are going to be days when you think: No one told me life was going to be this way! My job’s a joke, I’m broke, my love life’s DOA. It seems like I’m always stuck in second gear … it hasn’t been my day, my month, or even my year. (Whew! Had to work hard to fit that one in!)
Even though we can all agree that personal growth sucks, guess what? YOU CAN STILL BE SO EXCITED!! And why wouldn’t you be? Your journey is just beginning! Sitcoms are fun, but the plot twists of your own life make for the best stories and the most opportunities for growth. AMS or no AMS, good things develop over time; your lives, spirituality, relationships, and careers will meander down paths that will surprise and amaze you. So hold onto your avocado toast (metaphorically, of course – I know you can’t afford it) … it’s actually a lot of fun.
A version of this article also appears at