The Problem With Millennials

Geoff Smith Portrait

BY Geoff Smith


I think I’ve got this figured out. Apparently Baby Boomers are irritated by millennials and since I’m an aging Boomer, I figure my perspective must be particularly accurate. I’d suggest there are several key reasons for this resentment.

Millennials are very different from us, that alone is a big problem. Although it may seem obvious, they are just so much, you know, younger. They have this youthful energy and optimism and happiness that drives them along during their day – don’t’ they know how rough it is out there? Their energy alone is very offputting. My kids go in some excruciating marathon event called the Tough Mudder, then they go out partying all night. I have trouble climbing the steps to an elevated tee – and after golf I generally need a nap. So you can see that there is going to be some tension right off the bat.

The biggest area of problems seems to be at work. These millennials, these kids, seem to think that just because they worked really hard in school and are now in their twenties and thirties, they should have the opportunity to find decent paying jobs. We boomers find this presumptuous. Why aren’t they satisfied with unpaid internships, where they are at least getting experience if not an actual living wage? And then when they do get jobs, they want them to be meaningful, and they want opportunities for advancement! They say things like ‘How can I get the experience I need, if I’m constantly being held back because I don’t have the experience I need?’ As you can see, that’s just crazy talk. I think we baby boomers are being pretty generous when we say that once we have enough money and are ready to retire, then the millennials can have the good jobs. It’s just common sense.

But what really bugs so many boomers is that these young kids want ‘balance’ in their lives. We don’t think they work hard enough. They want to enjoy their work, and then they also think they should be able to have an enjoyable life outside of their careers! Come on. Of course, I do sort of vaguely remember that back in the sixties and seventies, most of us boomers were saying much the same thing. We protested against our parents and ‘the establishment’, and promised to create a very different, more generous and enjoyable world. But those were different times. We had time for that: It was easy for us to get into university, which was basically free, and we knew there were jobs waiting for us on graduation. So we could afford that kind of youthful idealism. But the millennials, well, surely they must know that the only path to happiness is to be just like us. So you can understand our frustration.

The millennials seemed pissed with us, which of course we resent. For example, they seem quite angry that we baby boomers have basically wrecked the planet, and seemed to be determined to finish the job before we depart. Don’t they know that we had to do this? That our jobs and the economy were of course more important than the actual future? Sheesh, you would think we had some actual moral choice before us and chose selfishness and shortsightedness.

Anyway, there are lots of other issues I could touch on, but you can get the drift.

So, here’s the truth of course. We baby boomers really have one assignment left: To get out of the way. Not to lecture, criticize or pontificate. Not to stall, prevaricate, or rationalize. We’ve had our chance, and as individuals we’ve either succeeded or failed, but either way it’s pretty much over. We need to provide support, we need to open up room to grow. We need to promote young people before they are ready – that’s the only way they will actually learn – and then we need to promote them again before they are ready for their next job.

Mostly we need to encourage and assist. I know some people my age don’t always agree with this, as they find many millennials already very too confident, even a bit cocky. I really do understand this, at least a bit. I’m sixty one years old, and still get quite nervous before important speeches. I am constantly blown away by the ability of so many young people to present, to speak in public, to confidently make their case. I don’t know how this happened, but it is marvelous. But even though they are so much better than we were at that age, we need to support them to be even better. They need to save the world, and that’s no mere platitude.

I’m a hypocrite, of course. I love my job and want to keep it a while longer. I think what I need to do, then, is to try to convince all those people so much younger than me that I can still help, that they still need me around. But I know that one day, a group of them will walk into my office and say something like “OK, Geoff, we got this. You’ll be fine, right?” And that will be that.

In the meantime, I plan to work hard and try to be nicer. I’m living on borrowed time.