Posted by: joha5 | July 28, 2010

The Millennial Generation’s Dilemma: Tempering Expectations at the Economy’s Crossroads

I had a chance encounter yesterday with a soon-to-be sophomore at Dickinson College – my alma mater.  The people who usually go to Dickinson are fairly down to earth, stable, interesting, and have extremely well thought out thought processes and opinions whether I agree with them or not.  However, the girl that I met yesterday didn’t impress me.  She didn’t impress me in the slightest.  It isn’t that I had a personal vendetta towards her or anything but I left the conversation with an extremely bitter taste in my mouth.

She was amicable, presentable, and well spoken and we were both excited to have a quick 10 minute conversation on Dickinson – she about getting a perspective on Dickinson from an alumnus and me about getting the perspective of a current student.  What initially threw me off was the fact that she recoiled when I said I was 28.  

“Whoa”, she said.

This is not a big deal but it is also not a good place to start either.  However, it only got worse when she started asking questions and I started providing answers.  I might be biased but I think that I have had a fascinating journey in my 6 years since graduating with my undergraduate degree from Dickinson.  It hasn’t been a normal route but I always enjoy telling the story thus far because it’s actually quite fun to tell.  Not everybody is going to think the journey that I have taken is fun or exceptional but few people ever act so disgusted in front of me as if they expect more or better things for themselves.  It’s so easy to be dismissive when all you have to do is live off of mommy and daddy’s money, attend class for 12 hours a week, have food served to you from the cafeteria and dining services, get ready to party on the weekend, and not worry about any bills.  It is so easy to have a heightened sense of self when you are at a prestigious academic institution and are constantly being challenged by academics and peers.  I do not begrudge her this experience.  After all, I did the same thing from the fall of 2000 to the spring of 2004.  I loved college and I had a great time and I genuinely hope that she will as well.  But I also know that there will be a day when she will be networking with many of the same people that I network with now, when I see her at local alumni events, and when life won’t seem so silver-spooned as it does now. 

Being born with a silver spoon must be nice...

It is a rude awakening when you leave college and enter the real world because nobody really tells you how to do it.  Nobody tells you how tough it can be to navigate.  I had to learn how to do it both here and in Europe and they are both vastly different from each other.  Of course, some people may find the transition easy.  They may leave college with a job and a great salary and be set for the rest of their lives.  While this was arguably the norm for the previous generation – stable job for their career – it is no longer this way for people in my generation. 

We are perhaps the best-educated generation ever, but we can’t find jobs. Many face staggering college loans and have moved back in with their parents. Even worse, their difficulty in getting careers launched could set us back financially for years.

The Millennials, broadly defined as those born in the 1980s and ’90s, are the first generation of American workers since World War II who have cloudier prospects than the generations that preceded them.  Millennials are generally well-educated, but they have been cast as everything from tech savants who will work cheap to entitled narcissists. The recession has pitted these younger workers against baby boomers trying to save for retirement and Gen Xers with homes and families.

Many Millennials have sought refuge back at school from the worst job market since at least the early 1980s. Yet that strategy, too, can backfire as students incur staggering amounts of debt to pay for advanced degrees that might not help them out much in the job market.  Competing against older workers with years of experience has put many Millennials on the losing end of job interviews. And while that’s typical of past recessions, the long-term unemployment characteristic of this cycle is forcing many older workers to seek jobs that would have gone to younger workers in the past.

Even if they do manage to get hired, younger employees are often the first to be fired in layoffs. And when Millennials do land a job, it probably won’t be as lucrative due to intense competition for jobs. That means that this generation’s potential earning power is likely to lag over the course of their careers.

If this is a representation of my generation then it's no wonder none of us can find any jobs.

I am not saying that I am done learning about the world around me or that I simply know everything there is to know about life – the pleasures, the hardships, the struggles – but I will certainly say that I know more about it than some 19 year-old who thinks that it will be a cake walk once she gets out of the ivory tower of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. 

As for her, I honestly hope it is that easy for her.  I hope that she leaves college at 21 or 22 and gets the job of her dreams with a mid to late career salary.  I hope she lives in a penthouse apartment in midtown Manhattan.  I hope she gets everything that she could possibly wish for.  Honestly.  Because judging by her reaction yesterday, I just can’t even fathom how she could possibly cope with what the real world is actually like.



  1. An extremely well written and insightful story. I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve had similar encounters so thanks for putting it out there. I am sure so many people will be able to relate to this.

    Nobody told us that adulthood would be this tough. There are so many things I wish I could have advised my younger self. The #1 thing being – don’t be so cocky, you feel on top of the world right now…but a day will come when the economy sucks and it will be almost impossible to get a decent job.

    • Hey stranger! I haven’t seen you around these parts in a while…welcome back! I always love your incredibly well thought out and insightful comments. There are a lot of things I wish I knew when I was younger. I guess it is all just part of life that you have to learn it on your own. I am working with a bunch of teenagers and young college kids now and they are so dismissive when I tell them I am 28 and that life isn’t always as easy or as fun as college. Oh well…they will learn soon enough! Thanks again for stopping by and I really hope you are doing well!

  2. people are stupid

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