Before I venture too far into my career shift to integrative mental wellness, there is one task I need to take care of to wrap up my “professional” life. That is, to finally share my long overdue and heartfelt apology to Millennials.
I first heard that term to describe your generation from both my peers and colleagues while I was working in higher education. It was always used in a derogatory context to define you collectively as having a gross sense of entitlement, spoiled and lazy. If that were really true, it is we, not you who failed.
I had the privilege of working with young adults my entire career. When my students were classified as “Millennials” by administration at the career office where I worked, I temporarily bought into their belief that your behavior needed to be tamed in terms of seeking and keeping employment, based on maintaining the entry-level status quo. You were aiming high for upper-level positions and generous salaries, something we thought made you delusional. In the working world, you broke tradition by jumping from job to job, your new way of quickly ascending the corporate ladder. Employee loyalty was becoming a thing of the past, and we didn’t like that. It wasn’t our way.
I remember the first time I challenged the Millennial stereotype. I was at a staff meeting with about ten co-workers. Our director was giving us specific ideas on how to “manage” Millennials and tone down your ready-for-the-world attitude. Since I had come to see you as capable and confident individuals with fresh ideas and unprecedented technical skills, I felt compelled to speak up, so I did. “Have you had a conversation with any of these students?” I asked. “They’re smart and kind and have a desire to help, and they’re doing that in unique ways to give employers what they truly need.” I was met with silence and a room full of blank stares.
I continued to cherish my one-on-one appointments with my “Millennials.” I admired you for your confidence in working toward what you wanted and supported you in your quest for meaningful employment without limits. I applauded your innovation while listening to and appreciating your energetic enthusiasm, hoping to help you achieve your goals by offering whatever encouragement I could. I am sorry that this all had to be done behind closed doors, and that we couldn’t nurture your endeavors collectively because they were different from the mainstream.
Way before the pandemic, it was evident that many of you did indeed succeed in starting near the top instead of having to slowly rise there, earning those coveted salaries and titles straight after graduation. I am grateful that so many of you shared your progress on LinkedIn or have taken the time to seek me out to update me on your victories. Post pandemic, many of you are venturing out on your own in highly creative ways, with a common theme of making the planet a happier, more socially conscious and environmentally friendly place for all, something that seldom crossed my mind while I was busy in the rat race upholding bureaucracy. Keep it up, you are contributing and thriving…not out of a sense of entitlement, but because you are pioneers with purpose, blazing that trail through the woods. When I see and hear what you are doing, I feel confident that when it comes time for me to move on from this world, I will leave it in caring, capable hands. This “Baby Boomer” is proud of you.
It is my hope that future generations will not judge or label those who come after them as we have, but instead appreciate each other’s gifts and work together in harmony as human beings.
With sincere thanks and bright blessings, Mary Clista Dahl