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Being a millennial is very cool and fun because you get to live in constant anticipation of someone writing a grumpy opinion piece disparaging the lifestyle of you and your peers. Every generation has at some point been labelled too self-obsessed and entitled and apathetic, yet also somehow too political and progressive and idealistic. But millennials get taken down a lot, possibly more than their parents were—maybe because it's even easier and more satisfying to make these assumptions about people who enjoy taking pictures of themselves on smartphones.
Luckily, there now exist professional Millennial Experts to demystify The Generation That Ruins Everything. New York-based entrepreneur (and twenty something) Emily Miethner is one of them, and I'm intrigued by the fact she's turned the world's obsession with selfie-taking young people into a viable business model.
Meithner engages with millennialism on two levels. She's hired by baby boomers and Gen Xers eager to understand the habits of The Youth, which sounds like a nightmare: "I don't want to say boomers ask me stupid questions, but it is often about getting them to realise we're not just these cruisy unicorns," she explains from her office in Manhattan. "I definitely have to defend millennials to older people, and argue that the focus needs to be on the context of generations, not their characteristics. [To] promote a healthy discussion and analysis of what different age groups are experiencing."
She also runs a business for young people, Findspark, to help them understand themselves and achieve their goals through, as her website puts it, "community, social media, and a little hustling—let's do this!"
Our conversation functions as a therapy session—because hey, guess what generation I am? Hints: I make competitively woke Facebook statuses, my career ambitions tend to outweigh my qualifications and skills, I keep smashing various screens and spending rent money fixing them. I'm highly self-absorbed, and my aesthetics are guided by a misplaced nostalgia for the 1990s. (If you're still having trouble, it begins with the letter "m" and rhymes with, uh… smashed avocado.)
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Like many people my age, I am confused and overwhelmed and stressed out. I'm filling up emotional voids with houseplants. Miethner attributes my anxieties to social media, and the internet in general. At New York's FIT, Miethner teaches her students ways to manage information overload. "With an emphasis on forging real relationships. Because it's so easy to get lost in the internet and not connect face-to-face."
"With millennials, a lot of communication is done en masse, in groups," she continues."You're posting to followers, Snapchat groups, you're texting in group chats. There aren't a lot of good, easy ways to share with specific people without it being overwhelming. It's a common struggle: you'll have a million messenger groups to manage and keep up with, with different groups of friends and family members."
What Miethner has noticed over time is that while millennials use social media a lot, they don't always enjoy doing so. "Older folks feel like the young people have it all figured out, but knowing how to use something technically is definitely different to understanding the complications of using or not using certain platforms, the pressures of using or not using them. Younger people act super confident with these platforms, but actually they're just as stressed about how to integrate it into their lives as everyone else."
Career progression and job-hunting are also made more complicated by the internet—another common anxiety Meithner sees all the time. "There are so many more jobs, so many more people to know … I think there are definitely added elements of stress into the process because you just know more than you used to know."
I can't help but think Meithner sounds a little boomerish in her assertions that young people are ruining their lives on the internet. But she lacks the pessimism of your parents. Millennials, she does argue, possess strengths that other generations do not—like wokeness. "I think we can be very overwhelmed by what to do and what to say, but for the most part people do feel more empowered to share their voice, especially online … We know that it's easier than ever."
Another one of our generational advantages is an ability to deal with change. We've seen a lot of it over our short lifespans, particularly when it comes to tech, and we know how to make it work for us. "We can complain about it, but we're able to adapt really quickly. And I hope that's something that will stay with us as we get older."
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Many an ageing boss has labelled their young employee "entitled", and Meithner has identified the reason why. There's great advantage to millennials being able to adapt so quickly, but with this comes "a desire to move really quickly and feel like you're not moving quickly enough," says Miethner. "Whereas older generations have more of patience; they're used to waiting for things a bit longer. We need to learn to be patient [with] our career progression, and not stress out about the fact you're not a VP by age 24."
Are millennials gonna be okay? Miethner thinks so, even though she's paid to deconstruct our flaws. "I do think we have to pay attention to the stuff going on around us. Not be lured into the ease and quickness of things, to our detriment. Make sure we're paying attention, that everybody shares their experiences. Think critically about what info we're giving out and how it's being used."
It may be a comfort to know that even a professional millennial ultimately thinks the differences between generations are exaggerated. "I don't think there's a generation that hasn't wanted good careers, that hasn't wanted positive change, to be able to live a comfortable life and that sort of thing," she says. "People have the same or similar struggles and issues.
"Although some things are different now—people in the past didn't have so much debt."
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