If you believe the news, Millennials (let’s say for our purposes people born between 1980 and 2000) are just about the worst. They are ruining America (Zuckerburg! Snowden!) and quite possibly the world (Kim Jong-un! Pussy Riot!) with their casual dress, outrage at injustice and despicable propensity to wait to, or worse, NEVER, get married, have babies and buy houses. Of course, for those of us whose births fall in that poisoned gap of the good times (I mean, what years were better than 1980 to 2000?), and we are many, the idea that we are destroying everything seems a bit silly. After all, we weren’t born yet when the first atomic bomb dropped and absolutely none of us invented reality television, the car, war, subprime mortgages, fracking, racism or the internet. But, like every generation before us, we have come to the point where we must assert our personhood. The Baby Boomers thought Generation X was a bunch of “angst-ridden slackers” for like, all of the ’90s and that was even after the Silent Generation told the Baby Boomers they were killing American values with their long hair and desire to not murder the Vietnamese. If there is one thing I hope for my generation, it is that when our kids get older, we let them do their thing without calling them worthless and lazy the second they challenge the idiotic stuff we’re bound to put them through. Lucky us, since we’re all having babies later we might be mature enough to actually make that happen.
Anyway, the scientific truth of the matter is that now age 32, the oldest Millennials are solidly adults. It is time we work together to help everyone older than us (from here on out called “the Olds”) deal with this life-shattering reality. We may not have babies, we may not have houses, but we’ve got experience and sooner rather than later we will be in charge of ushering the Olds into the sweet hereafter. Here’s some advice on helping them come to terms with it:
1. Don’t dress to impress them.
There is a common misunderstanding, mainly propagated by grandmas and middle-aged bosses, that it is everyone’s duty to dress in the exact way that pleases the eyes of these in-charge-types. It’s really not their fault; this oppressive regime of dress casual in the workplace and at family gatherings has kept Sears in business since 1893. But here’s the thing: as long as your clothes don’t have holes in them and don’t show off your private parts, there isn’t really any reason to wear icky pantsuits and horribly uncomfortable heels anymore. Steve Jobs (Baby Boomer slacker) didn’t do it and clothes are expensive, especially if you are trying to not buy things made in Gen X CEO-created sweatshops in Bangladesh. You have to be at work from 9 to 5 most of the days of your life so dress how you want. Express yourself. It doesn’t change anything about how well you do your job. The more of us who dress creatively while still doing an awesome job at our jobs, the shorter period of time it will take to disabuse the Olds of the idea that “the [ugly] clothes make the man” (typical old-timey sexism anyway).
2. Let people know you are good at your job.
We Millennials do things faster and in different ways than the Olds. This isn’t because we are better humans than them, it’s just because we are more fluent in computer and multitasking since most of us have been using tech since first grade games of Oregon Trail in the library on rainy-day lunches. Make sure people know that you aren’t just an unpaid intern stacking papers in a corner. Stand up for yourself and stick to your guns when people challenge your authority on something you actually know about. Ask for raises. Show your bosses what you are doing. They literally might not know.
3. Be honest with the Olds in your family about the choices you are making and why.
It is easy, when one of the older people in your family starts harassing you to have children or get a ring on your finger, to ignore them or change the subject. But educating others isn’t always easy and now is the time to take a step back and tell it to them straight. This weekend a friend of mine told me that when her mom said to her single, childless sister, “When I was your age I was married with two kids!” The sister replied: “And what age were you when you were divorced with two kids?”
It’s easy for the Olds to romanticize early adulthood, even though we all know, since the dawn of time it hasn’t exactly been a picnic. They struggled to raise us and buy houses for us but they also had better public schools to rely on, cheaper college tuitions and student loans and less environmental destruction happening around them. Not only that, when they were kids getting a divorce was almost unthinkable, not to mention the idea of getting an abortion or having a baby but not marrying the baby’s other parent. In the last few years divorce rates have actually gone down. Maybe that’s because all of us Youngs watched and learned and decided not to get married to the first person we slept with or that got us pregnant. Let them know you didn’t just default just not rush into big decisions because you were so lazy. And thank them for teaching us something and also for helping secure our rights to do what we want with our bodies and our lives.
4. Be kind to the Olds when they talk down to you, treat you like a baby, imply that you have no clue what you are doing or tell you your tattoos will make you unhireable.
Guys, here’s the real deal with everyone over 40, which, give it ten years, will be us: they are afraid of dying. We are all, to varying degrees after the age of say 23, a bit afraid of death but once you hit 40 it seems like the inevitable decline of your mind and flesh somehow becomes a lot more real. Their anxiety about us can mostly all be traced to this fear. The older and more responsible we get, the closer they get being irrelevant in the workplace or as parents, at least in their minds. These older generations, especially the ones right above us, wrapped a huge part of their identities up in what they do and the idea of losing that identity is really, really scary. We can help them by treating them with love and understanding and we can help ourselves by not identifying so closely with what we do. After all, in a few years we will be Olds ourselves.
Photo: Me with my favorite Olds/Martin McLemore