When I graduated in 2004, our commencement speaker was a female Hewlett-Packard executive I had never heard of (no, it was not Carly Fiorina; she was otherwise occupied with giving the HP board a four-page list of reasons to fire her). She talked about the world we were inheriting from our parents and the difference we would make if we worked hard and shared our innovative ideas with the world (or was that the Saved by the Bell commencement speech? Same difference).
We sprang forth from our folding chairs, proudly collecting our diplomas and tossing our caps, ready to share our ideas with the world and max out our 401ks and decorate our cubicles with grown-up toys, like Rubik's cubes and business cardholders. We printed our GPAs on our resumes and pledged "I will work SO hard for you" in job interviews and begged professors who hardly remembered us to act as references for professions they had no concept of (in retrospect, asking the Colonial History professor to vouch for your graphic design prowess may not have been the best decision). We celebrated our first job offers with cases of Old Style and bought Target furniture and learned how to set our alarm clocks.
And 19 months later, we found new jobs. And 19 months after that, we found newer jobs. Because that is what "Millennials" (or Generation Y, Children of the Boomers, or what have you), do, according to a March 2008 study titled "Millennials at Work." Approximately every 1.6 years, perhaps thanks to a lackluster bonus, a stinky coworker, or an impossible boss, those of us born between 1977 and 1988 decide, "well I can certainly do better than this," and reactivate our Monster.com accounts.
Now, thanks to a host of issues beyond our control, we are stuck. Because in this crap economy, you'd have to be flat out, shave-your-head-bald bonkers to walk away from a steady paycheck, health insurance, and the ability to afford a bottle of wine to weep over while Jim Cramer sentences your retirement fund to death (cue toilet flushing sound effect, followed by emphatic "Boo-yah!").
Shouldn't people be applauding that 26 year olds even have retirement funds, when the average American has about $8,000 in credit card debt? The first lesson fiscally responsible Millennials are learning is, "sucks to be you!"
This morning, I overheard a conversation between two twenty-somethings on the fallout from Wall Street's meltdown. The first person mentioned that her 401k had lost about 75% of its worth. "I'll never be able to retire now," she groaned.
"Dude, that sucks," said the guy, nodding sympathetically. "I am so glad I don't have a 401k."
They call our grandparents generation the "Silent Generation"; as in "shut up, suck it up, and move to the back of the soup kitchen line." I'm sure they were ambitious and idealistic once upon a time, before they had to turn in their nylons so that paratroopers actually had parachutes to storm Normandy with. No wonder John McCain thinks the "fundamentals of our economy are strong"; no one's breaking into your bathroom to collect the Sunday sports section for a scrap paper drive--yet.
We Millennials harbor delusions of grandeur that lead us to believe, "I could be doing so much better! Making much more money! Saving the planet! I can do it all!" These beliefs, instilled by our overachieving Baby Boomer parents and reinforced by our disgruntled, pseudo-anarchist professors, have set us on a lifelong quest for betterment. "Settle" is not a word that is in our vocabulary. If it were, I probably would've enjoyed being a plain old college student instead of killing myself trying to be an honors student, T.G.I. Fridays waitress, college newspaper editor-in-chief, intramural soccer player, and double major with three minors.
Getting hired by the John Kerry campaign straight out of college didn't do much to diminish my delusions of grandeur; it just supported the fact that I thought I was destined for greatness. Who cares that on the two occasions I actually met Senator Kerry, he either called me "Brooke" or ignored me to discuss the concession party hors d'oeuvres with Terry McAuliffe? That's right, no one cares, because I got to eat hors d'oeuvres next to John Kerry.
Can the generation that mastered the text message, Facebook, camera phones, and YouTube really be expected to stay in one place for longer than 19 months or else sacrifice our high standards of living? As far as this Millennial is concerned, I don't have a choice. I mean, the day I got my first real paycheck, I climbed up on the milk crate that served as our kitchen table and declared to my roommates, "With God as my witness, I'll never eat Ramen again!" That is a promise I intend to keep. Something about the shiny silver packet with the words "shrimp flavor" printed on it truly frightens me.