A Letter to the Editor: Here’s to the Ambitious, Delusional Generation Y

gen y

It was much to my disappointment that I stumbled across yet another article bashing Generation Y.

This one came from the Huffington Post, and carried with it the usual stereotypes of my generation, that we are, among other things — unhappy Yuppies.  The article focuses on a fictional representation of our generation, Lucy – who has a grandiose sense of her own importance and absolutely none of the chutzpah that were paramount in the older generations.

The author goes so far as to label us: 

I have a term for yuppies in the Gen Y age group — I call them Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies, or GYPSYs. A GYPSY is a unique brand of yuppie, one who thinks they are the main character of a very special story.

I get it.  We are the generation who was spawned from helicopter parents — those who, in an attempt to undo their own latchkey upbringing, wanted to be involved in our lives from the get-go.  We are, largely, 80s and 90s children — education was pushed on us from the time we were born.  We were urged to develop our personalities and our dreams while also achieving great things in our scholastic and extra-curricular careers.

We were built up from the start.  We were told we could do anything, be anything — that we should follow our bliss and the rest would simply follow.  We are the overachievers who wanted to make our parents proud.  And we did, for the most part.

And then the world came crashing down.

Speaking from a purely personal point of view, I can tell you that the two arguably most catastrophic events to happen to the United States occurred at two pivotal points in my life:

When I began my senior year of high school, I was so excited.  Excited to embrace life in a way that I hadn’t been able to while attending an all-girls private school for the last seven years.  I wanted to be out on my own, to use all the skills I’d been building over decades of my scholastic education and really achieve something.

And then September 11th happened.

September 11

The world was put on hold — everyone was in mourning.  Everything had changed.  My world view transformed from something that was wide open — my oyster, if you will — to a small, restricted, and protected military city.

We were afraid.  

No one really asks Gen Y’ers how this event has shaped their initiation into the “adult world” if you will.  But I can tell you from my experience – we were scared, and afraid.  We were at the dawning of the Bush era — an era in which we were told that everything would be okay, that we would prevail, that we should continue living our lives, spending money, going to Disneyland, and seeing Broadway shows.  “Okay,” we thought.  So then why are we looked at now with a critical eye when other generations claim that we are living in a fantasy land?  Isn’t that what we were told to do?

I went to college, had an amazing and fulfilling experience, and went on to graduate school.  Because, unlike many of other generations may assume, I did plan for my life after graduation.  Yes, I majored in Literature, a degree which many might poo poo because of it’s short half-life after graduation.  But I went on to get my degree in Library Science, a field which was emerging as an amalgamation of technology and liberal arts — a degree in which I could use my humanities degree but also my interest in tech trends.

Then, in 2008, the greatest economic crisis in our nation occurred.

Richard Drew/Associated Press

Richard Drew/Associated Press

I was lucky enough to find a job a few months after I graduated, but I was one of the fortunate ones.  So many of my friends worked at jobs well below their education level just to pay off their student loans. Or, they worked almost 24/7 at the bottom of the totem pole, thinking that would earn them a leg up on their career paths.  It didn’t.  When they asked for more, they were told they were lucky to have a job and that they could be replaced by the thousands of unemployed twenty-somethings looking for work. More and more people lived at home rather than move out.

What happened?  We thought we did everything that was asked of us. 

So when I read articles like the one in the Huffington Post, I can’t help but feel a bit hurt that our entire generation is being lumped into a category that is illustrated by Microsoft Paint drawings.

gypsy career path

The author of this Huffington Post article points out that our generation just won’t accept that hard work is what it takes to get ahead:

Unfortunately, the funny thing about the world is that it turns out to not be that easy of a place, and the weird thing about careers is that they’re actually quite hard. Great careers take years of blood, sweat and tears to build — even the ones with no flowers or unicorns on them — and even the most successful people are rarely doing anything that great in their early or mid-20s.

But GYPSYs aren’t about to just accept that.

We know that the “real world” is hard.  But – crazy us – we assumed that like our parents, we’d be able to move out and start our lives at a paying salary — even work in jobs where we could use the fruits of our labor: our education.   I understand that my grandmother survived the Great Depression and World War II.

I get it.  

They had extremely tough times, and they might consider our plight to be a petty one.  But you know what my grandmother also had?  The opportunity to stay home and raise her three children without having to get a job or an education.  I for one, watched my grandfather (who had no college education) work two jobs his entire life to pay off his mortgage so that my grandmother didn’t have to work.  I watched my mother, as a single mom, get her Master’s degree and again, work two jobs so that I could go to private school and have a good life.  She worked at a hospital where she was unhappy for many years because the benefits and salary were great, and she was promised – like many of her coworkers, that upon retirement, she would be entitled to health benefits for life.

She was laid off four months before her 55th birthday, and that dream went down the porcelain throne.

I assumed, like many others, that if I also worked hard, I could have a decent life.  And here I am, living at home, with student loans whose interest rates rise and fall like the tides.

How is our generation supposed to get ahead?  How is it that my grandfather, a man who worked as a prison guard in Sing Sing, could afford to own a home and raise three children but me – a single woman with a Master’s degree, cannot?  I can tell you it has absolutely nothing to do with my work ethic.  I certainly don’t float into my job like Lena Dunham’s character on Girls and act like it’s my day job — my real job being my creativity or some other hidden talent that is too fabulous for words.

Not all of us think we are superior.

I can tell you that what most of us want is a) a job b) a livable salary and c) some sense of security.

Sure, we may go a little crazy on Facebook and Pinterest, pinning fabulous wedding dresses and home design schemes that would cost millions of dollars.  But we’re just having fun.  Technology has made so much more accessible to us, and has made the world a lot smaller.  We are the generation growing up amidst this, so it’s only natural that it become a part of our daily vernacular.

I know many people who have quit the rat race and pursued careers that gave them more personal fulfillment – writers, bloggers, yoga instructors, and the like.  My question is – why not?  Why not do something that makes you happy?  The American Dream of working up from an entry level position to someday becoming Vice President is no longer the norm.  Jobs and bosses that once promised to take care of you for the duration have skipped town.

If you ask me, our generation is creating the next American Dream.  We are the pursuit of happiness.  We understand, as hard as it is, that education, internships, and hard work aren’t always enough.  Education, in my opinion, is never a waste of time.  It builds character, it develops your brain, and it trains you for the next phase of your life, whether it be graduate school or the job market.  But it doesn’t guarantee a job anymore.

My takeaway?  Do what makes you happy.

I followed my bliss by pursuing an education and career that inspired and interested me.  And I’m happy, unlike the fictional Lucy of the article.  Are there things about my life that I would like to change?  Sure.  I’d love to move out, make more money, maybe have a better title.  But those are all extraneous in a way.  You can’t put a price on personal fulfillment.  Maybe Lucy should think about that.

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