Because Easy Answers are Boring.

 “What should I be when I grow up?” she asked, crossing her ankles and looking at me hopefully.

I smiled at the question.  She smiled back.

“I dun’no, mom. What do you want to be?”

My mother asks this question every now and then, in different forms. I always like when she does. It’s sweet, and it’s vulnerable, and it makes me feel like we really aren’t so different.

We are different, of course. She’s an employed, secure, middle aged woman; I’m brand new to the big girl scene. She’s rocking the house/husband/kids/dog combo while I bounce between internships, roommates, and take out in the fridge.  Maybe that’s why it’s nice to have something so simple and juvenile in common: Neither of us can see the future. Neither of us “know” what we want to “be” when we “grow up.”

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I remember the first time she shared this. I was young, still under the impression that “my parents have everything together all the time!” (even if I liked to disagree with them some).  I was sitting on my mother’s office floor with a Fisher Price boom box, interviewing her onto a blank tape. “When you were a kid,” I asked, putting on my best TV voice. “What did you want to be when you growed up?”

She laughed. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

Wait–what. What?

At first, this terrified me. What do you mean you don’t know yet? Will you ever know? Will anybody ever know?

Answer: Probably not.

[Insert prepubescent panic here.]

As I get older, however, that answer feels less and less scary. At this point, it’s practically comforting.  “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  Of course you don’t. Of course I don’t. Look at those loaded words, momma, look: “know,” “want,” “be,” and *shudder* “grow up.”

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A few days after the conversation with my mother, I turned the “want” “be” “grow up” question loose on a 7 year old friend of mine, a bubbly little girl who had stayed late to help me clean up the Sunday school classroom.

“I dun’no what I wanna be,” She responded, then shot me a goofy smile. “Something where I can sit in a hot tub and relax with my friends sometimes.”

I briefly thought about responding with something moralistic; ‘Oh honey, it shouldn’t be about material things.’ Maybe I should bring Jesus into it somehow, because that’s what a Sunday school teacher is supposed to do, right? But honestly, Jesus didn’t say much about 7 year olds who think hot tubs are kinda cool (which they are).  So I just smiled back at her. “Maybe you could sell hot tubs for a living, huh?”

“Hey, yeah! Lots of people buy hot tubs. My mom has one.”

“You wanna be like your mom when you grow up?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, she has a hot tub.”

“Awesome. In that case, I want to be like your mom when I grow up, too.”

It wasn’t the deepest conversation, but it made me think back to my own mother; beside me on the couch, half watching TV, crossing her ankles and asking me what she should be when she grows up. We all have little moments like that, I think–whether we’re 7 years old kids, 20 something college students, middle aged mommas, maybe even as we trek through the much later years.  Wondering what comes next. Working through what we do, but optimistically unsure of where we are going.

Maybe we never “know.” Maybe the process of figuring “it” out can take a whole lifetime or longer.

But maybe, that’s the best part.

Big thanks once again to image master Samantha Polzin for her fabulous photography!
Big thanks once to my image master Samantha Polzin for her fabulous photography!
 
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Kids. These. Days.

First, a short list of things that I have no control over:

My gender
My sexuality
My race
My parents
My blood type
Where I was born
When I was born

Now, a list of things that do not directly affect my employability or job performance:

My gender
My sexuality
My race
My parents
My blood type
Where I was born
When I was born

I’m new to adultland, so correct me if I’m wrong: I was taught that character, skills, competence and experience are what make or break a new employee.  I was taught that the factors I listed above are not all that important. At least, they shouldn’t be.

Thankfully, I live in a time and place that reflects these values. Being a woman hasn’t stopped me from getting a job.  I have worked alongside folks of many races and backgrounds, all of whom seemed to be treated fairly. Diversity in the workplace, in my experience, has been regarded as a good thing.

I’m lucky.

And I’m lucky that the media, bless it, is hesitant to blame any behaviour, good or bad, on such superficial factors.

…well, except one.

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For some reason, it’s totally fair game to pick on an entire generation.

In fact, it’s fashionable.

On a weekly basis, I am pummeled with articles about how  the attitude of Generation-Y, meaning anyone born between 1980 and 2000, is all but a signal of the end times.  We’re the worst employees to have. We’re the take-take-takers.  The entitled ones.

When I read these articles, I am tempted to write an article to shout back. To cite statistics and stories on the other side: NO YOU’RE WRONG! LOOK AT US!  LOOK AT ME! WE’RE WORKING HARD! IT’S YOUR GENERATION THAT RUINED THINGS! LEAVE US ALONE!  I could make a case for it. I could.  Most millenials I know are working multiple jobs, some of which are unpaid, often heavily supporting the very function of the government or helping advance the world of technology, while dealing with a hugely changing economy and paying off record-high tuition.

Whew.

Yeah.  I won’t write that article.

I won’t write it because all that seems self-evident to me.  And I won’t write it because the positives that I see are also an oversimplification. I don’t want to contribute to a totally contrived “debate” about what it means to be born between 1980 and 2000.  Because honestly? We’re insulting our own intelligence with this mainstream conversation about KidsThese. Days.

When we talk about the Generation-Y, we’re talking about a massive group of people with different capacities, backgrounds and relationships with reality. Admittedly, as with any cultural group, the Generation has some shared experiences and perspectives.  But the conversation we’re having is about jobs, about standard of living, about a person’s individual worth. Before we all flutter to the comment sections with our personal stories and claims of “I work harder than you work,” let’s get real:  You should really hire some of us.  You should really not hire others. Everyone born in this twenty-year period is not meant for the same job, nor are they bound to infect workplaces with the same “sins.” 

While headlines damning the upcoming generation may be a good way to sell papers (all together now: Kids. These. Days.), it’s lazy, self-indulgent, and stereotype-pushing “journalism.”  And it breeds attitudes which hurt. A lot.

Obvious stereotyping.  Gets a positive score of 5 on the Globe and Mail online.
Obvious stereotyping. Totally out of line. Gets a positive score of 5 on the Globe and Mail online.
tim hortons
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free education
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To be fair, the 9-year Arts party has left many young people able to spell words like "Like".

(Thankfully, the alleged 9-year Arts party has also created a generation of people able to spell the word “like.”)

Now, if these comments were tough love from someone with a right to give me tough love, I could take it.  If my client or employer thought I was acting lazy, entitled, or selfish, I would really want to know.  I appreciate, deeply, any constructive conversations that I’ve had in my short career. I love to work; I love to improve at work; I love to learn from people who have been there awhile.  Specific jobs require specific skills and behaviour, and figuring those things out is important.

But those conversations would be about me. They wouldn’t be about a Generation spanning twenty years.  In practice, it would be ridiculous for anyone to make it about that.

“Well, I’m a millennial and have an Arts degree…what did you expect?”

(said no one ever).

Once again, a list of things that no one can cite as an excuse for good or bad workplace performance:

My gender
My sexuality
My race
My parents
My blood type
Where I was born
When I was born

The reality is that it’s not only insulting for someone to use those things to categorize one’s competence: It’s dangerous.

Like any stereotyping, this “debate” distracts from real problems, solutions, and cooperation. It breeds fear and hate. It welcomes barriers based in bullshit.

If you don’t believe me, you should check out the backlash.  The “Generation” conversation has created unnecessary hostility between different age groups. As someone with a lotta love for older Generations, this backlash really, really upsets me.

NO YOU’RE WRONG! LOOK AT US!  LOOK AT ME! WE’RE WORKING HARD! IT’S YOUR GENERATION THAT RUINED THINGS! LEAVE US ALONE.

Remember this? That all may be true, but it’s about to get ugly.  A division has been created, and now there is no stopping it.

boomers

boomers2

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Look at what we started.

Not productive. Not helping. But when slurs are being thrown at the younger generation from high-ranking news media, is this defensiveness all that surprising?

Charlotte Whitton’s popular quote reads “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

That was said a long time ago, but if you replace “women” with “Millenials,” it is somewhat of a reality for me today.  In some ways, I’m okay with that: To be perceived as “worthy” members of the workforce, we have to pay our dues, show up on time, and earn it.

But no one should have to “earn it” while faced with discrimination, lowered bars, and prejudice from so-called Generational differences.

If we need to work harder, and be smarter, then okay. Okay.

Let’s do it together.

Let’s start by being smarter about how we categorize people.