How you can overcome the Gen Y stereotype

Fair or not, the ‘typical millennial’ label can be hard to shed. It takes work and time. So, put down the smartphone and get to it.

I’m a millennial. I’m also a recent graduate (two years out) and in the comunications field.

I hear and read a lot about how terrible and frustrating millennials are as they enter and contribute to the working world. I hear: pretentious, entitled, annoying, lazy.

We have (rightfully or wrongfully) garnered the reputation as a generation of kids who don’t really deserve what we think we deserve.

It’s a stereotype I don’t think we deserve, but before you can overcome a stereotype, you first have to understand why it exists. Where did it come from? What caused it? What perpetuates it?

The environment

The workforce today is a hodgepodge of Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y (millennials). What happens when you juxtapose these generations? You get stereotypes.

The loudest and most flamboyant of the sets tend to create the voice for the generation, even if there are serious variations within them.

The generations

Baby Boomers are considered hardworking, serious, fiscally responsible, and technology averse. That makes sense. The Boomers were the product of World War II and had parents who survived the Great Depression. They had to work for what they wanted. Very little was given to them, and they learned to navigate life through that lens. That kind of upbringing normally sets you in your ways and teaches you to value every penny you earn—and every moment you spend earning it.

Gen Xers are considered a little more self-absorbed, but still financially responsible and very hardworking. These are the people who work 14-hour days without batting an eye, but who want to be rewarded for their efforts. They were brought up by Baby Boomers, so that financial stability and work ethic carried over into their psyche.

That brings us to Gen Y. The Millennial generation is an interesting social experiment. It seems that when the latest of the Baby Boomers and the Gen X group starting having children, they starting rebelling against the child-rearing ways of their parents. They decided they would be more present, more aware, more in tune with what their children wanted; over-protecting, over-negotiating, and over-worrying were common.

The by-product

Millennials were brought up being told we can do anything, be anyone, try and fail, because we have the safety net of family. We can move back in when we lose our jobs. We can quit a job just because we don’t like a particular thing about the situation. We can use credit cards because we shouldn’t have to go without.

That mentality is what created the Millennial Monster.

What can we do to overcome this thinking?

1. Do the work, even if you don’t like it. Everyone has aspects of their life and job they don’t like. You aren’t going to get a job in that corner office when you’re 22. You have to work for it, and sometimes it sucks. Sometimes you have to do administrative work. Sometimes you have to deal with a rude co-worker. Sometimes you have to put up with a project no one else wants. You’re a millennial, so you’re ambitious. Prove it.

2. You’re not entitled to life as you knew it. Our parents worked really, really hard to give us the life we grew up experiencing. They didn’t fall into it by accident. They worked long days at jobs they didn’t like so by the time our adorable faces showed up, they could provide what they didn’t have. Work hard, and in 10 years you’ll have the life you want. Ten years isn’t that long when you think about how long you were in school.

3. Be OK with hearing “no.” This is a word you might not have heard much while you were growing up. Believe me—in the real world people aren’t afraid to tell you it. It’s a big presence in the business world. Not every idea you come up with will be heralded as the best thing they’ve ever heard. You might be the brightest person they hired, but you’re not the best-informed at the company. Not yet. You’ve got a lot to learn, so speak up but be prepared to be shot down—and learn from it.

Millennials have the potential to turn the business world on its head, but you have to think of it more as a democratic win and less of a hostile takeover. Work with the generations in power, not against them.

Liz Settle is a freelance writer and communications professional working in the consumer finance industry. She’s also a millennial and enjoys the opportunity to disprove the stereotype that follows Gen Y around. Follow her on Twitter @liz_settle.

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