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Fellow Millennials, Shrug off Special Snowflake Syndrome and Get to Work

Millennials are a fun group to make fun of, rage at, and relish in their schadenfreude. There’s something ironic about group of kids who grew up being told they could be “anything” but are now living in Mom’s basement. Still, that’s not great for society, the economy, or them. Are millennials destined to be a complacent segment of society, or can they rise above their own questionable reputation?

Unemployed and Unemployable

Recently Forbes tweeted:


The first part should come as no surprise — their reputation precedes every news article, and they’re hardly known for being hard workers. Also, it seems like everybody is down on the economy so maybe that’s it.

But wait, twice the national average? Oops.

Sure enough, the unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9 percent, “the lowest in eight years,” according to CNN Money. So if millennials are unemployed at twice the rate of the national average, the problem lies with them. Forbes offered conjecture wrapped in advice and encouragement: “Millennials are doing lots right in the job hunt. We’re picky, purpose-driven and willing to take risks. But we also frequently make avoidable mistakes that waste our time and sabotage our career prospects.” “Picky” might be a larger part of the problem than it looks. Too picky, too perfect, and too precious.

The Pew Research Center reported in May that more 18- to 34-year-olds are living at home (with mom, dad, or both parents) than are “married or cohabiting and living in their own household.” According to Pew, the biggest reason for this was their inability to find jobs to support their independence. That is one sad, pathetic, and ultimately scary statistic, especially when you consider millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation.

So why are these mostly able-bodied, agile-minded millennials — who grew up in one of the greatest, most industrialized, advanced countries in the history of the universe, with opportunities abounding — living with Mom and Dad instead of making their mark on the world and contributing to society?

It’s impossible to speak for all of them and any attempt is certainly an estimated guess, but this was the generation of participation ribbons, of mothers charging into school to talk to teachers at the first sign of discord, and of the false encouragement, “You can be anything.” Might these factors relate to a job-seeking generation who just can’t seem to “find” any work? Of course, the latter is a common phrase parents use when they’re trying to be encouraging. However, as children enter their teens and their strengths and weaknesses and proclivities toward particular subjects and activities become obvious, direction is useful. A student who can’t pass calculus should not be told he can get into medical school, unless he plans on really working hard on math.

Hard Life Lessons

Millennials who grew up with parents shielding them from any disagreements in school, constantly telling them they were the “best” or “special” have come to discover the world does not view them that way and have thrown up their hands and returned home to roost. This graph, showing how veteran human resources professionals really feel about millennial job seekers — and how millennials feel about themselves — demonstrates this well.

“Snowflake” children who grew up protected within a sheltered bubble (think snow globe) have now reached adulthood, and instead of starting at the bottom of the proverbial vocational chain, they consider themselves too good, too pretty, too special, for real work. They have abandoned the prospect completely, thus rendering themselves useless, living up to their already-soiled reputation. Dirty, uncomfortable work provides more life lessons than a parent’s basement.

I know because at 34, I am (barely) a millennial who started working at age 13 (over summer and winter breaks) and have never stopped. I’ve been the only woman on a construction site, hanging wallpaper in new homes. Even after earning a B.A., I worked at a coffee shop for a few months, because I couldn’t find work in my field of study and needed the income. Uncomfortable? Of course. Lessons learned? Absolutely.

It’s time millennials shrugged off their reputation and got to work, whatever that might be and however “beneath” them in might feel. It will teach them valuable lessons while they contribute to society at the same time. As George Bernard Shaw said,

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

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