It seems like everyone makes fun of millenials – me included. They are often stereotyped as unemployed whiners living in their mother’s basement and so emotionally fragile that they cannot be in the same room as someone – including a television program – that may disagree with them. They whither in the face of criticism and their teachers demand that they not only be immunized from criticism but that they be immunized from “trigger words” that may lead to real or imagined criticism.
Their apologists blame the crippling college educational debt they have incurred. Approximately half of millenials have college degrees and Harvard University’s Kennedy Institute of Politics indicates that about forty-eight percent had some level of college debt. The average college debt of millenials graduating in 2018 was about $30,000. The unemployment rate of millenials is about 12.5 percent while the national average of all adults in about 3.7 percent. That despite the fact that there are more jobs than available workers in the United States and have been for at least a year. ($30,000 in debt is not insignificant but it is hardly crippling unless, of course, you won’t work or haven’t been prepared to work.)
People like me blame their teachers and permissive parents who think “self-esteem” is more important than effort and accomplishment. Who think that teachers are sacrificing academic progress for a social agenda. And who think the teachers unions are primarily to blame for the continuing decline in test scores and the stilted discourse on history, literature and civics.
The preceding generation – Generation X – bore some of the same criticism as they were stereotyped. They were referred to as “slackers” – more interested in rap music, grunge bands and video games than life itself. The self-proclaimed elites wondered what would become of America given the faults of Generation X. But a funny thing happened on the way to the present. Generation X turned forty and like generations before them they have married, had children, advanced in their jobs, started businesses – in summary they matured and have become strong contributors to their communities and country.
In one of the multitude of executive training seminars that I attended a psychologist described the shortcoming of stereotyping. He acknowledged that there was some validity to some of the descriptions of a stereotyped group but that it seldom applied universally to the individuals in the group. In essence he concluded you could point to some members of the group that fit the stereotype but it seldom applied to the majority of the members. More importantly, if you acted as if the stereotype was fact you would be categorically wrong.
And the truth of that was on display this Christmas season as we attended a number of social gatherings. In particular, there were two brothers who gave the lie to the stereotype of Generation X. The two of them started a brewery over a decade ago, built several brew pubs to support their product and attracted a sufficient following to become a financial success. As is the case for many in the craft beer industry, success attracts offers from international brewers (e.g. Anheuser-Bush, Molson-Coors, ABInBev, etc.) who find it more economical to acquire than to invent. These brothers sold their business for a handsome profit and a good management contract. A slacker may have taken the money and retired to ski, surf and play golf or build a game room in their mother’s basement, but not these guys. They used the profits from their first business to go right back into business and have now opened two new restaurants and are working on plans for an additional two – this isn’t a chain and each one represents a disparate segment of the restaurant market. What they share in common is to be the best in their market and having sampled the food at their first two enterprises, they are accomplishing their goal.
What they share in common with previous generations is a willingness to work hard, to take risks and praise those with whom they work. Most importantly they love the work they are doing. And it isn’t just these two brothers. We kept bumping into others who have success stories – large and small – that make you proud to know them. And it doesn’t end there. It appears that this generation comes to maturity without racial animus and with a heightened sense of charity – they give, they participate, they see it as a responsibility to their communities.
I recognize that not every member of Generation X fits the description above. I’m sure that there are some members who haven’t made the jump from slacker to adult just like there are some members of the baby boomers who never made it from hippy to maturity. (It is simply further proof that stereotyping is seldom accurate.) However, the people described above are likely to become the leaders of their communities. I don’t mean the political leaders for they seldom accomplish anything other than getting re-elected. What I mean is that these are the type of people who solve problems, create businesses, create jobs, fund community needs and, by example, set the tone for the community. These are the people we should admire. So if you are wondering whether the country is in good hands as we pass the torch, rest assured that it is.
And before you give up on the millenials – give them the same amount of time to mature and prosper before you pass judgment.