Millennials are officially not children anymore, but they're often still infantilized by Baby Boomers. Millennials are the generation born between 1980 and 2000, and to the Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964. That makes Millennials between the ages of 18 and 38, and Baby Boomers between the ages of 54 and 72. Not only are Millennials no longer children, Baby Boomers are either geriatric or nearly so.
Much of the problems our society faces can be very easily explained by the cumulative effects of a generation that regarded itself as quintessentially youthful refusing to admit their increasing irrelevance and bewilderment in the modern world and refusing to let the younger generation come into its own. Doing so would mean recognizing the painful truth that they are no longer young. The Boomer generation defines itself by its youthful rebellion against ancient and oppressive power structures, and their desire to continue to view themselves in this role forces them to convince themselves that men and women in their 20s and 30s are children.
"I hope I die before I get old."
- The Who, My Generation
Millennials don't shop at the same retail stores; they don't eat at the same chain restaurants; they don't golf; they don't read newspapers; they don't buy enough houses; they don't have enough kids ... and it's always implied that it's some kind of inherent personality flaw in the generation that they don't behave like people 30 or 40 years older than they are. This narrative is repeated over and over in the mass media, which is not coincidentally owned and managed by Baby Boomers. Their pension funds and 401k accounts are invested in companies whose business models appealed to the older generation. As they diminish as a proportion of the population and the millenials ascend and don't find the same consumer spending habits appealing they rend their hair and nash their teeth that these darn kids are ruining everything! Let me state this a little louder for those who can't hear so well anymore ... we are not kids.
It's frustrating to struggle and watch my peers struggle in this state of generational warfare. I can't speak for everyone, but I can speak with a high degree of confidence based on thousands of conversations with people my age and younger that this feeling of frustration and futility is widespread amongst them. I am 38, I'm basically considered a big kid by my younger peers and still barely a man by my elders. I can somewhat sympathize with the sentiments and frustrations of the older generation ... although I do not identify with a 55 year-old nearly as much as I do a 21 year-old. I'm old enough that my body is starting to suffer the aches and pains of old age, yet to most of the decision making adults in my life so far I'm often dismissed as a child. I can only imagine this is much more frequent and enraging to a 25 year-old with a masters degree who doesn't yet have grey hairs in his beard.
While I do have friends and acquaintances who have achieved professional success, they are few and far between and most are chronically overqualified, underemployed, underpaid, and stagnant in their career advancement. Us older Millennials are a demographic of overeducated retail and service industry employees struggling to justify our existence to our elders, living with our parents, deferring marriage and having children. Younger Millennials, the demographic that represents more our younger siblings than our children, even though they're as much as 18 years our junior, see the issues we struggle with and are overwhelmed with anxiety and depression about their future. So much so that jokes about depression and suicide are nearly a constant theme in the memes they share on social media. Why should they go to college, rack up debt, and exit academia to the workforce only to have a useless degree in a vanishing industry and wind up like us big kids, working a dead-end job for minimum wage?
What saddens me most is that we aren't stupid, lazy, unintelligent, or uninspired. The Boomer generation simply refuses to show the slightest faith in us and our ideas. Like the overprotective helicopter parents they are, they know what's best for us and often undermine us rather than show support. They look at us and they see children, we are the age of their children, they had to change our diapers and tie our shoes ... handing over the reins of industry and society to us is terrifying to them. Our generation is full of big ideas, big dreams, business plans, and entrepreneurial drive. We are creative, adaptive, we are accustomed to living frugal lives and pouring our energies into these dreams...because for most of us we cannot see any other way to survive. The old roads to success and upward social mobility are closed, if we want to succeed we will need to build it ourselves.
Millennials have no other choice but to continue to struggle forward, chase our dreams while grinding away at menial jobs, hope for the best. Baby Boomers, however, do have a choice. They can fade away and die of old age one-by-one, clinging to power and control until they lie on their deathbeds...and cratering every organization they manage along the way as they stubbornly refuse to adapt to changing times or they can recognize that they have a role to play in empowering this new generation. Our generation needs mentors, they need investors, they need teachers who can impart perennial wisdom. Ultimately, the chances of their twilight years being fulfilling and prosperous without a healthy economy and society are slim as are the chances of millenials succeeding while institutions that form the very fabric of society collapse all around them.
To make this work we need each other, and their are very real and concrete steps that can be taken to formalize this process. The model that seems the best approach to me is staggeringly simple, secure funding to provide capital investment and support services to spin up millennial run businesses and nonprofit organizations at no cost. To a Baby Boomer with a $1.6 million retirement fund, the idea of providing "low cost" options may seem more sensible, but the older generation needs to understand we are a generation that is forever one bout of the flu away from not being able to pay rent. Many of the best and brightest young people cannot afford a day off once a week to work on their business plan led alone come up with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in capital to necessary to launch even the smallest of small businesses. Millennials have no shortage of ideas for businesses they want to start, as an experiment try asking one if he or she has an idea for a business. Most aspire to be chefs, artisans, or artists...often with creative twists on how their business would set itself apart. What they lack more than anything else is an understanding of the regulatory framework in which all businesses must operate, the basic administrative skillset necessary to run an organization successfully, and the connections necessary to get it all off the ground. All of this could be managed within the setting of small locally based business incubators at extremely low cost, which would be well worth the investment given the potential for local economic growth and job creation.
As a millennial speaking on behalf of our generation to the older generations, we need you ... you need us.