Words by Cindy Zhou
Illustration by Dian Mashita
We’ve been condemned as ungrateful and narcissistic, and for housing an overblown sense of entitlement. Adverse social commentary—on our Narcissistic Personality Disorder rates overhauling our older generational counterparts’ threefold, or admonition for living in an Age of Entitlement surrounded by an abundance of iProducts (we’re all about the “I”)—has tarred Generation Y with a tacky and odious brush, painting us as lazy, flaky and non-committal.
Our childhoods were filled with adulation and constantly battered by the ‘follow your passion’ tripe. Now we are characterised by unrealistic expectations that lead to chronic disappointment. Generation X was monikered as ‘latchkey kids’ as they were raised at a time when both parents worked and were forced to fend for themselves. In contrast, Gen Y is somewhat coddled and dependent on helicopter parents, leading to a higher stay-at-home spike. Embarrassingly low youth voter turnout in politics has led to pundits declaring Gen Y as ‘apathetic’ or ‘politically disengaged’.
The term Gen Y roughly refers to everyone born in the 1980s to the early 1990s—the last group of people attached to the twentieth century. It was still pre-internet and yet we have primarily grown up in a world surrounded by technology. The tail end of this generation is students: we are the millennials. But are we really as hopeless as our older counterparts claim?
The assumptions that become affixed to generations often lead to competition where there should be a conversation. The fact is that it is impossible to compare Gen Y with the Baby Boomers because the social context is starkly different. The quality of one generation is simply a barometer of seismic shifts in the competing social values of the time. Today, we face a range of changes and new difficulties: stagnating wages, unemployment, student debt, and soaring house prices. We are marred by an overall uncertainty of economies and labour markets. Millennials remain in a precarious position – we house high aspirations but dismal economic prospects, and this can leave us feeling a little lost.
We are sometimes called the ‘Trophy Generation’—there is a tendency for kids in this demographic to receive awards regardless of actual achievement (remember all of those ‘participation’ ribbons and certificates?). We are told constantly that we’re special individuals with unique potential, so we develop highly ambitious aspirations. To quote the Pussycat Dolls, When I grow up, I wanna be famous, I wanna be a star, I wanna be in movies. But in all seriousness, it’s not that we’re self-absorbed or egoistic, it’s that we’re self-important. We understand that we are special and independent, and with enough hard work, we can reach our dreams.
The rush of judgement and negativity aimed at Generation Y from older people can overlook our merits that arise in the face of the challenges of modern day society. We may be chastised as idealistic and naïve, but surely it is the hopefulness we nurture that will lead to a bright future. Gen Y is generally more tolerant and socially conscious of different opinions, sexualities, ethnicities, cultures, and more critical of authority. For example, the ever-widening acceptance of same-sex marriages and relationships is a civil movement inconceivable to Gen Y’s grandparents. Times change, and people do too. Call it social evolution.
Quite simply, we ‘work to live’ instead of ‘live to work’. We are naturally collaborative, talented, open-minded, flexible and are digitally enabled. Self-image is worthy of protection. Volunteering and advocacy forms an integral part of many young people’s lives – clubs such as Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, Oaktree, Oxfam Group and Youth Charity Society within Melbourne University offer a glimpse into the ways that Generation Y defy the scrutiny they receive for being acquiescent and detached. Community mindedness fosters a more inclusive society through service to others. We’re pro-life, bubbly, wide-eyed and enthusiastic. And that is a good thing.