Posted in Lessons Learned
07/15 2011

A look at Gen Y from the inside

I recently stumbled across a blog post about Generation Y. My guess is most of you have seen some commentary on our generation from time to time. How we 20-somethings are all self-absorbed, career-minded kids with entitlement issues. And though I’m not about to say that isn’t accurate (at least 50% of the time), it’s refreshing to see someone looking at our generation from a different angle.

In this article, Penelope Trunk dives into 5 characteristics that Gen Y “doesn’t know about themselves.” Though I think there’s so much accuracy to what she says here, I do have to argue the overall premise  for a sec, before I take a look at just how much this applies (well, to me anyway).

One theme of this article is that Gen Yers are generally self-absorbed to the point where they treat themselves and their online personas as if they were of the celebrity variety. But I’d like to argue that this type of attitude goes beyond just those who were born in the years that now categorize them as Generation Y.

As someone who spends a decent amount of time practicing a highly ego-centric sport, I see attitudes like this come from all walks of life. It’s not just the upper-middle class 20-somethings who think they’re hot shit because they have 1,000+ Twitter followers. No matter where you look, people of all ages are out there talking themselves up, becoming part of a group in hopes of setting a world record (my hand is raised here) or posting pictures of themselves doing something cool on Facebook. Hell, if you look the Facebook statistics these days, more Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are out there Lifebooking each and every day. So I’m not entirely sure it’s fair to stereotype Gen Y with having an ego complex, when it’s quite clear that this spans a number of generations.

That said, I’m all about self-awareness, and I love to read pieces like this that make me sit back and go, “ha, I’m TOTALLY like that!” After all, if you can’t acknowledge your flaws, how are you ever supposed to improve?

Which brings me to the last point I’d like to argue (I swear, I really do think her post was incredibly accurage, you’ll see), and it’s this: The title of  ”What Generation Y doesn’t know about themselves” strikes a bit of a nerve with me, mostly because of what you’re about to read below. Although many 20-somethings have these or other similar undesirable traits, how can one assume that means they must not know they have them? We’re all a work progress as human beings, and (hopefully anyway) most of us are working toward smoothing out the rough spots and picking up good habits along the way; none of which happens over night. So yes, I am flawed. And yes, I have a number of the flaws listed in her article, and so do thousands of other 20-somethings like me, but that certainly doesn’t mean we’re oblivious to ourselves. After all, self reflection must come before self improvement, no?

Off my soapbox now, and onto a little Gen Y bashing, shall we?

Okay, so not really, but I do want to dissect Ms. Trunk’s thoughts a bit and show, by personal example, how much of what she has to say is f-ing spot on. I’m going to paraphrase the content from her article, as I’m not here to regurgitate her thoughts and you’re all big boys and girls who are completely capable to reading it for yourself if you so choose. I’d like to examine a few specific mentions from the article now, rather than the overall premise – so here goes:

* The conservative nature of Gen Y often leads to a group that croudsources in order to make decision. YELL YES. As a blogger who talks about all kinds of things, including providing insight on positive and negative experiences with products and services (reviews, if you will) I’m a big believer in utilizing the knowledge of others in order to make the best decision for yourself. Learn from other’s mistakes, learn from their fortunes.

BUT, I do agree that this has a tendency, if you’re not careful, to lead to a need to get approval from others before making any decision at all. Until recently, I consulted my parents on just about every life decision I made. I even needed approval from them on choice of my next apartment to live in (if they didn’t love the layout like I did, forget about it).  A little independent thought can go a long way in realizing that you can make decisions for yourself that will result in a positive outcome, you just have to sack up and do it. To this day, I still struggle, but I truly believe this is one of those baby steps kinda deals where you just have to learn to do it over time. The more good decisions you make on your own, the more you’re able to decide without stewing on it for ages. Practice the art of decision-making, or whatever.

* So consumed with self-image they’d rather LOOK like winners more than BE winners. Hello Facebook photos that flatter, in whatever way you’re going for. Blogs that allow you to speak incessantly about yourself, to feel good about your thoughts and have your ego stroked by your followers (and allows you to moderate out negative comments from those who may not think you’re all that). I’m on board with all that! In fact, she even mentions not having the money for a wedding and eloping to save funds while spending what you do have on photography to make it look awesome. I’m so on board with eloping to save $$ – though I’m not sure how that has much to do with my self-image. Regardless, I do think our generation is lacking when it comes to risk taking. I know plenty of my peers who blame that on their parents for raising them to be conservative, career-minded individuals who are constantly striving to be financially independent and stable before they do anything with remote excitement, but c’mon folks, let’s go back to point 1 here – have some independent thought and just do it.

*Gen Y Misunderstand entrepreneurship. I couldn’t agree with this more! So many times I’ve seen friends quit their jobs after 1, 2 even 5 years of experience to go out on their own, only to come back to corporate America months later. With little to no leadership experience and no team around you to continue showing you the way day in and day out, I can’t imagine what it’s like to go out on your own at such an early age. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing here, not in the slightest, more power to you if you can do it and pull it off. What I’m saying here is that yes indeed, as Penelope indicates, I’m much more comfortable with the security that my company provides – that and the awesome team of people I get to share my work day with. I’m a lucky gal in that sense.

So those are my big three – I’m choosing to leave the last two alone because I go in swings from being uber practical to “hello dumbass, where was your head on that one,” and I don’t talk religion.

Let’s hear it out there guys, what do you think about Gen Y, this article by Penelope Trunk, or my response to it.

Cheers y’all!





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