The other day, everyone on Facebook and Twitter shared a HuffPo link about what’s wrong with Generation Y, the people born between the late ‘70s (too young for Gen X) and the late ‘80s (too old to be Millennials). The author of the piece posited that most of Gen Y could be referred to as GYPSYs, that is, “Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies.”
So already, I mean, come on, right?
I suppose that some of my generation are GYPSYs, although the author’s tone suggests that everyone in my generation fits this profile, because it’s somehow our generational birthright to be whatever this time’s version of a “yuppie” is. Which is of course insane, but so is applying a broad generalization to a large group of people. Thanks, HuffPo.
As I read the piece, I realized a few things. The first thing I realized was that the author seemed to care less about the actual Generation Y members than they cared about painting Generation Y members as a problem. Which is fine for the sake of blog “journalism,” except they cleverly (but failingly) tried to sidestep this by claiming that Generation Y isn’t truly a problem to anything but itself. According to the author, our biggest problem is that we’re not happy, and we’re not happy because of ourselves.
And again, come on, right?
The author alleges that GYPSYs are “wildly ambitious,” but that we possess an inherent flaw that causes us to believe that it is our ambition that makes us special. It’s probably because our parents told us we were special, the author says, but we still believed it, and we’re blind to variables such as talent, economy, or luck. It is our belief that we are unique snowflakes who matter that thwarts our ambition (or makes it disappointingly difficult to achieve), makes us strive for some weird ideal of spiritual and/or emotional fulfillment, and renders us a generation of mildly depressive failures.
The author closes their piece by suggesting ways for Generation Y to be happy. These suggestions include staying ambitious but realizing our mediocrity and also staying off of Facebook. Cool, yeah, that totally fixes our problems, and thanks for taking the time out of your (possibly?) mid-life schedule to become yet another figure to lecture all of us on what we’re doing wrong.
But if I could…
I certainly don’t consider myself a yuppie, at least not in the regular sense of the word (which was a Young Urban Professional, as in a young adult from the ‘80s whose personality typified the upwardly mobile characters in “St. Elmo’s Fire” and pretty much everyone in “Wall Street”). With maybe two exceptions, I don’t think anyone in my circle of friends could consider themselves a yuppie, either. I think this is because of our economic circumstances and/or backgrounds, factors which probably remove us from the GYPSY spectrum altogether.
This might also be why I don’t consider myself to be “wildly ambitious.” To me, a “wildly ambitious” person is someone who over-achieves for the sake of over-achieving and sees little difference between being wealthy and being successful. For myself and most of my friends and I’m guessing a lot of people who grew up like us, it is enough ambition to simply not live below the poverty line. I’m not sure if the appropriate adjective for that is “wildly,” but I have considered some pretty out-there shit when I’ve been skirting the line of broke (did you know that you have to go through intensive hormone therapy to sell your eggs, and that no one wants ginger babies?). And speaking of skirting the line of broke, when you’ve spent your entire life doing that, there aren’t many people telling you that you’re special. My parents certainly didn’t, in fact, I’m pretty sure the only time the word “special” came out of their mouths was when it was in a sentence like “what, do you think you’re special or something?”
Another one of the author’s points is that my generation is confused when their ambition clashes with their ideas of self-fulfillment, because obviously you have to choose one or the other. This is something that the Greatest Generation understood, as did their children (and our parents) the Baby Boomers. And while I agree that the achievements of these generations make anything my generation does look paltry and self-serving, we shouldn’t forget that it’s not necessarily a generational gap that causes the discrepancies, it’s the ENTIRE FUCKING WORLD.
The social, economical, and political climates of the world I live in are radically different from those of my grandparents and parents. The days when it was possible to get an education, a career, some property, and retire are over. Completely fucking over, and largely due to policies put in place by people elected by my grandparents’ and parents’ generations. Now, I don’t mean to sulk in the corner and whine “it’s their fault I’m poor,” but dammit, I’m sick of being told that my generation isn’t working hard enough or smart enough by the people who stacked the deck against us.
Do you know how impossible it is to achieve what previous generations considered to be a standard life path? To get a college degree, a job that pays a living wage and offers benefits, to purchase a home and live with a reasonable amount of stability without a crippling amount of predatory debt is not a way of life that exists anymore. I feel simultaneously enraged at and grateful for the idiotic guidance counselor who told me nothing about financial aid options when my parents refused to pay for college. I’m enraged because it meant I couldn’t go to college – I had no idea how loans even worked – but also it kept me free of incurring $50,000 worth of debt before the age of 25, debt I’d still be paying off at extortionist rates because some corporation convinced the government that people who get educations deserve to be punished.
Not going to college meant that I started working before I was out of high school, and had a full time job by the time I was 17 years old. Because of this experience, I was able to get fairly decent jobs (in the way of compensation, anyway, and that’s considering my worthless, degree-free pedigree) at an early age. If I had gone to college, I might have been swindled by HR departments everywhere into thinking that an unpaid internship was the only way into an industry, thus unsuccessfully attempting to defer my student loans while I learned the pointless “skills” of writing legible e-mails and swallowing my feelings of inadequacy (both of which I achieved without graduate school, thanks). I’d love to have a degree, but I’ve also spent a lot of time listening to friends tell me how theirs might have been a waste of time and money, especially since, in just the past several years, we’ve seen companies switch from hiring people with any degree at all to only hiring people with very specific graduate degrees. Kind of a kick in the nuts to the whole fulfillment thing, right?
Of course, now that I’m in my thirties I understand just how limited I am by not having a degree. My boss asked me to join a supervisor program the other day, but I had to decline because I don’t have the requisite number of college credit hours. I was rejected from several secretary jobs because I didn’t have an associates’ degree, a piece of paper which is even more useless to real employment than a felony conviction, as far as I’m concerned. Compared to the cost of living, jobs today pay far less and promise pretty much nothing in the way of post-employment benefits like a 401(k), pension, or retirement. I’m pretty much never going to be able to buy a decent house in a non-demilitarized neighborhood, there’s no way I could ever cut back on my work hours and afford school, and when only a few companies are only willing to reimburse less than half of your tuition for business school (and nothing else because it doesn’t benefit them) but also only promote people with an MBA, how long do I have to spend as an indentured servant to a corporation, either one that lends me money to go to school and hovers over me like a specter until I pay it off with over 10% interest, or an employing one that demands I sit there until I approach retirement age because that’s when they can finally get their money’s worth out of me?
How long do I have to wait to get what my grandparents considered to be just a way of life as an American? And why won’t people my parents’ age shut the fuck up about it? Yuppies and hipsters aside, people in my generation are working harder for less payoff, and we’re being derided for becoming skeptical of this system and also the decisions of our parents who we can see weren’t even all that satisfied to begin with. Yeah, they could start careers and buy decent homes right out of high school, but they also got divorced at alarming rates, invented Ritalin to make their kids shut the fuck up, voted into power politicians who allow corporations to steal from us, send us to war, and replace our food with plastic and poison, and now these Baby Boomers sneer at all of us young’uns who have it so easy.
Most of us don’t have it easy. Most of us don’t expect handouts. Most of us are only mildly ambitious, we question our parents’ version of “fulfillment,” and we are actually capable of not letting the Internet ruin our lives, okay?
Okay, HuffPo? Shut up now?
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You make several good points. It inspired me to write about the topic as well. http://captainraoul.com/?p=6490