Caught Between The Generations

I’ve always considered myself to be a person without a generation to identify with. Being born in 1981, I could have identified either as a Gen X’er or a Millennial and totally gotten away with either. But, since I was at the tail end of the MTV generation and was at the forefront of the Millennials and all their negative stereotypes, I preferred to not be associated with either. Looking back though, maybe I’ll change my mind.

Texting was harder on these

I’ve had a career in a technical field for more than 12 years, and when I first started, I was in the golden years of stereotyping…because there wasn’t any, or according to this article, nothing negative yet. No one knew what Millennials would become yet. We were still on AOL and Myspace. Twitter wasn’t even a thing. And, you’re lucky if you even had a few dozen text messages a month to go with your Motorola flip phone. So I consider myself in a highly fortunate situation. I have been able to see these technologies develop, and I’ve seen the world change before my eyes, yet I was still only in my 20’s, so I could totally appreciate it and get on board with it. I could live through it and become established in my career and become “the old guy” before anyone even defined the stereotypes.

One day, I was no longer the youngest guy in the office. Then, over the course of the last 12 years, I’ve watched as people got younger and younger. I watched as people adapted. I watched ambitious and passionate and successful Millennials and I’ve seen how they’ve integrated into their stereotype. One thing I need to mention, it wasn’t until I went back to college a few years ago that I was even aware of this stereotype problem. It might have been my industry, or it might have been the fact that I wasn’t paying attention, but it took a good bit of research to establish the common concerns. The list I really liked was from and can be found here. As I looked at this list, it started coming together for me. These things that people called negative stereotypes are things that I’ve seen as positive symptoms in colleagues and subordinates.

The big one that surprised me was that Millennials generally feel entitled. In the most successful Millennials that I’ve worked with, the symptom of this was passion. I saw that people no longer necessarily cared about certain of money, climbing the ladder, getting the corner office. People cared about what they loved doing and if they got paid well, then that was even better. This could come across as an air of arrogance and not wanting to follow the traditional system, but this is certainly not negative! The advice I can give here is to follow your passion and to be authentic.

Now, if your goal truly is to make as much as possible and retire when you’re 40, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s time to take a hard look at how you’re going to do that. If you’re going to start at a corporation and work your way up, unless your uncle is the CEO, you had better not expect that anything will be given to you. Of course, be aggressive, push for promotions and more responsibility, but never let anyone be able to challenge the notion that you’re further along than you really should be. Be passionate about what you’re doing and let others see that passion. As soon as that happens, you’ll move quicker than you think. Oh, and once you do start moving, don’t second guess. Own it and know that you deserve where you are.

Another one that bothered me is the concept that Millennials “job hop”. That is to say, they will have far more career type jobs in our lifetimes than any other generation. This as well is a good thing! In my mind, there are a few reasons for this. One is what I stated in the previous paragraph and that is that people are following their passions. Another is that the skills that we have now translate to so many different corporations. Technology has allowed the merging and necessity of so many different fields (an interesting article about this is here). My advice on how to counteract this stereotype: Follow your passion and be authentic! Sound familiar? If you’re in a job which you aren’t at your best, you aren’t going to produce at your best. Any worthwhile employer will know that. There is a natural season for things and if it’s time to go it’s time to go. Be invested 110% in where you are, but as soon as you cannot do that and remain authentic, time to go somewhere else.

So, I realize that I gave the same advice for serious and potentially limiting stereotypes. But I don’t do that to trivialize the situation. I have honestly seen that the best employees, colleagues, and people are the ones who are authentic and true to themselves. If that’s the case, then any negative stereotype suddenly won’t matter.


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Ben Posthuma

Just a guy who loves the Colorado life! Skiing, cycling, mountain biking, camping, climbing, triathalon, you name it and I'll be there. In addition, I'm a student at the University of Colorado - Boulder working on a degree in Business Management with a goal of a PhD in Telecommunications. Oh yeah, I have a job too. I'm a research director at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in South Boulder working to rebuild our nation's public safety communications networks.

6 thoughts on “Caught Between The Generations

  1. Ben,

    Saying how we don’t know exactly what the millennial generation will do or is made up of is something I really didn’t think of when doing this assignment but is very true. Yes there are a good amount of millennials in the workforce currently but there are also a lot still in school and will not be in the workforce for another 10 to 15 years or so. When you use the word passion with millennials I was able to make so many connections and thoughts about why that is true. Every millennial growing up was passionate and that may be true about any person born in anytime, but I feel that the millennial generation expresses passion more than anyone else and can be a great characteristic to have in the workforce. Showing passion and dedication in your work can easily help stop the stereotypes that millennials are receiving. Love the picture with this post by the way!

  2. Being born in 1981, you are very fortunate to see how technology has evolved. Although I have seen much change in the technological field in my lifetime I can only imagine what you have seen with an extra 15 years. I really liked how you mentioned you have seen stereotypes, which are obviously perceived as negative, being displayed in a positive manner within the workplace through passion and overlapping experience across jobs. Passion within the workplace is one of the most vital characteristics to possess in my opinion. If someone is passionate about their job they can use that to over come their flaws. They may not be the smartest or most talented, but someone with passion will use their drive to overcome the obstacles they face.

  3. Ben,
    I really liked your blog post. I think its extremely interesting to see someone write about the stereotypes from an “outside looking in” perspective. Also having experience working with millennials is interesting to see an outside opinion on our work ethics and habits. The human nature is incredibly interesting to read about. This post makes me feel better about myself and makes me think that maybe others perceive my generation in a much more different way than we do.

  4. Ben,
    I found it interesting the comments/critique you were able to associated within your paper as you have had working experience with Millennials in your professional life. I think it is very important for Millennials to read your comments and tips, as they give us a heads up for what to improve on and what we are doing right. Awesome post!

    -Aaron Berns

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