grow up

Why The Old Guy Is Right About Gen Y

Some people call us entitled. Others prefer spoiled and lazy. Others still like to blame the values of “kids today” for the workforce’s problems.

And while nothing gets this particular Millennial fired up more than someone taking shots at an entire generation, there is no denying that stereotypes exist for a reason.

What Gen X sees as lazy is really just too many young people wasting their time being average while “trying to find their passion.”

Before you write this off as generational treason, think of the last time your friend told you they could do better at their job, but it’s just not what they want to do. There is always some rationalization (read: excuse) about why they were late to work, their production is crap or their attitude sucks. They are searching for their next passion, and that equals a lackluster performance in their current job. Unfortunately, this mindset is exactly why the entitlement stereotype exists.

For better or worse, we live in a world of instant gratification

Gen Y wants what it wants and wants it now, or so the pundits say. Working one’s way up a corporate ladder doesn’t exactly invoke excitement these days. Fortunately, some companies are challenging the corporate structure. Innovative companies like Google and Zappos are taking stock of their human capital and investing in creating a work experience that’s enjoyable and productive.

But not everyone’s company is as innovative. Realistically, very few people get to start out their careers with their dream job. The rest of us have to spend long hours and precious energy developing early onset carpal tunnel and making coffee runs.

One day the rest of us will find our passion and pursue it to the fullest. Until then, it’s time for Gen Y to own up to the truth behind our stereotypes. It’s time to stop being average while searching for our passions.

Success is never an accident

Bill Gates didn’t become the richest man in the world by biding his time and not giving his best effort. He decided that college was getting in the way of his career and removed a distraction that was preventing his success. That’s different than wasting four years in college (amassing thousands in school debt) in the name of being average, and then complaining about not being able to find a job.

Bill Gates and even Mark Zuckerberg decided college wasn’t for them and got right down to business. Jeff Bezos was the valedictorian of his high school. Oprah was a radio host by the end of high school. Jim Skinner worked his way up from a local manager trainee to the CEO of McDonald’s.

The point is that no one becomes successful by doing a half-job. It’s okay to not have your final career path picked out by 25. You may not find your passion till you’ve been in the workforce for a decade or more. But that dream job, the one that’s fun and exciting and challenging, isn’t just going to fall in your lap, and being an average employee surely isn’t going to get you there, either.

What’s a Gen Y’er to do?

It starts with being great, now.

Call it pride in your work. Call it a success-driven mindset. There’s even a biochemistry explanation dubbed “the winner effect.” Either way, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.  Success means different things to different people. Find someone you deem successful and take a few pages from their book. Chances are your career idol was successful everywhere they’ve been, including that crappy entry-level job.

You may have the desire to run your own gourmet restaurant some day. Start down the path of success by being the best McDonald’s manager around. If you’re organizing the holiday office party, then plan the best damn party your office has ever seen. Not only will this save you and your coworkers from a boring evening, but you’ll set yourself up for success in the future.

Generation Y is truly Generation WHY. We want to know the upsides, downsides and justification for everything. It comes with being part of the information age. We aren’t sheep willing to slog away for 30 years in a single company looking for that mediocre pension plan. Our loyalty to a company is dependent upon their loyalty to us. We want to know, “What’s in it for us?“ This is what makes our generation special, and also what makes older generations angry.

Whether that’s right or wrong is not the point. The question is: what’s in it for you, busting your hump in a job that has little to do with what you’re truly passionate about?

The answer: success breeds success. It’s not a switch you can turn on once you finally get where you want to be. (And good luck getting there in the first place without hard work from day one.) Become successful now, even if you’re not doing exactly what you want to do with your life, and you’ll be successful later, too.

Ben Drake is an Air Force Officer, grad student and the Communications and Branding Lead @be_influential. Create your portfolio today and show the world what you have to offer.


  1. Cant say I concur with any of this, because I’ve never seen tangible (non-perceptive) differences in the generations. Take entitlement, I would argue the older generations suffer a bit of a complex here. “I’ve paid my taxes so I deserve a retirement pension” – if I had a nickel every time I heard that one. But that’s a perceptive argument in itself. Generally I always argue that the next generation will be more educated, ambitious and pedantic about everything than the previous generation. One thing that really grinds my gears is the “what’s your career plan question? like a career is somehow linear and very defined with set parameters. Careers are like a washing machine in modern times, you just have to recognise the opportunities to pivot and capture more skills, contacts and experiences and see where it all goes. Keep your eyes open and think critically about opportunities and try to eliminate emotion from decision making as emotion leads to irrational decisions.

    • That’s exactly the point. I bet the Romans had some saying in latin that went, “Kids these days. What’s Rome coming to?” I doubt there are differences between the people in different generations… but there are definitely differences in the circumstances that we grow up in. Leave food on the plate in front of my Grandmother and you’re liable to get smacked. She grew up on a farm in the depression.

      What I was trying to get at was it doesn’t matter if the stereotypes are truly accurate or not (perception is reality). What matters is trying to be the best you can be right now. Building the habit of working hard from the start gives us a better chance at success than gutting fish on top of our TPS reports.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>