I Am Not an Entitled Millennial, You're Buying the Hype

Commencement speakers are a bunch of liars.

My commencement speaker was Will Shortz, New York Times crossword editor, and as is the custom with all graduation speeches, he told us we could do anything we wanted. Turns out, it was a prophetic choice to have a guy known for puzzling people send us into a world on the verge of completely stumping itself.

I graduated in May 2008, smack dab into the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Unlike college graduates before my class, the world was not ours for the taking—the world had little left to give. Like many of my fellow Millennials, it took me a while to find a job, and I had to move back in with my parents—not because I couldn’t handle the big bad world, but because I had no other option.

Popular opinion is that Millennials are entitled, ungrateful brats. But popular opinion is not just uninformed; it doesn’t even care why it’s wrong.

Generation after generation, Americans have expected and seen more for their kids. We Millennials were instilled with the belief that a college degree would guarantee opportunity—because, historically, it did. We grew up with soaring views, but we graduated into rubble.

The greed and recklessness that initiated the economic downturn created the world Millennials are now wary of. No longer do we ask, “What do I need to do to be successful?” Now it’s, “Why do I need to do it?” It’s not entitlement resulting from too much privilege. It’s inquisition resulting from too little skepticism before us.

The entitled stereotype is just that: a stereotype. Because from my experience and from just about every study I’ve seen, there is nothing to support that our work days are getting shorter, our productivity any less, or our ingenuity any staler. But still we are branded as entitled, lazy, and unwilling to work hard. And the energy we spend working to correct that misconception has led us to become a generation of workaholics.

When I found a job, I held on tight. I worried about how submitting vacation requests would look. I feared that I would be perceived as less valuable if I took my time off. Here’s what happened instead: I burned out. I stopped caring. I was there without being present.

It's not surprising that Millennials are the generation most likely to be work martyrs. We think it’s a good thing to be seen that way by our boss and coworkers. We consider our manager a more powerful influence than our own family, by a pretty big margin. We forfeit the most vacation time, even though we earn the least.

“We” will not include me any more. I’m taking my vacation time. And when I’m refreshed and have energy and good ideas, my fellow Millennials can take note of what I do differently—because there’s no participation trophy for passing on vacation.

August 22, 2016