If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a millennial. Now, I won’t state my age here because, really, what’s the point of that, but I’ll give you an idea: I was an 80’s kid. I grew up with Punky Brewster and Sesame Street, watched MacGyver with my mom and dad, loved The A-Team theme song but not the show, and loved The Wonder Years and Growing Pains, the latter mostly because of a young Leo DiCaprio.
Although I won’t post any incriminating photos with horrible hair and clothes (thanks, mom), I remember my childhood, pre-teen and early teenage years as a blissful time of totally awesome TV shows, catchy pop songs, and colorful Liza Frank trapper keepers.
Even though I can say that I’ve been “working” since I was six years old (I used to help my uncle with his crafts’ store organizing stuff and inventory), it wasn’t until I was 15 that my “future” began to become a reality. For some reason, my years in elementary, middle and junior high school were all carefree; the future was very far away.
But when you’re two years away from graduating high school, you panic and start thinking about what that future might bring. I’m sure this dawns differently on everyone, but for me, it was sudden.
Coming from a conservative family and being a woman meant that my life was pretty much planned from the beginning: ballet classes started when I was three to help with discipline and posture; I was enrolled in a very prestigious private school because my parents believe that education is the one thing that is essential and no one can take away from you; and I was one of the lucky kids to get an allowance without having too many chores because my focus was my studies.
And college, wow, was that the promised land! I was supposed to pick from one of the highest-paid professions like law or medicine. College is where I was supposed to find myself a husband, because how is a woman defined otherwise if she doesn’t have a man to take care of her (oh boy, I’ll get in trouble with ‘rents for this one!).
Just like my incredibly smart father, I was supposed to graduate in four years (or longer, depending on what I chose to study) and immediately have plenty of recruiters begging me to go work for them with a starting salary of $40,000. That’s how it happened to my dad: he was recruited as the best and brightest, not a second after he had his diploma.
I was supposed to be getting the highest honors in college, finding a husband, landing the job of my dreams and buying a car and house to settle down. However, the reality has been far from that.
And did you notice the buzzword here? “Supposed.” I was supposed to be, by now, better off financially than my parents. All of these things were supposed to happen a few years after college.
But none of it happened, except me getting high honors in college. You see, in some parts, the recession really started in 2005. People at different companies would mention the “before and after 2005” era. A lot of people got laid off due to the economic crisis and there was a generalized hiring freeze. Even KFC wasn’t hiring!
Add to that the many challenges I had, such as enduring the critics that had my life planned out. It wasn’t easy saying that I was going to be a journalist, which for some meant becoming a “starving artist/writer.” It wasn’t any easier seeing that men my age wanted to party and have no commitment (um, better alone than in bad company!). And it was difficult for me to understand that I couldn’t afford to buy a car or live by myself while enrolled in college, even though I worked part-time at a video store. I couldn’t claim my full independence.
It was heartbreaking when I graduated college and found that the only job available was a paid internship at the local newspaper; and I was lucky. I was thrilled because it was my dream job and there were lengthy talks about a full-time position becoming available. My full-time position never happened. My editor at the time let me know what was going on and told me that he could only keep me as an intern, by law, for one more month; the newspaper was having funding problems.
So, I decided to “abandon” my short-lived career, if only for a little while, and work as a part-time customer rep at a bank. I was employed “part-time,” but worked a full 30 hours weekly…without benefits. Now, if you’ve never worked at a call center, let me tell you that it will test the limits of your wits. And while I tend to see the silver lining in everything — like for example, I learned a lot about how the banking institutions work — I knew that being a call-rep wasn’t my true calling. So I kept hunting for another job related to my career.
In an interesting twist of fate, I ended up as a freelance reporter for the same newspaper that I had interned for. And in a weirder turn of fate, I also ended up working as a weekend reporter at a radio station. I was also nicknamed “rookie” by everyone in the local media outlets.
At this point, I was working four jobs, all part-time or freelance, for no benefits and meager pay. And it was exciting and exhausting to be working so much at such a young age. But hey, whatever I could do to further my experience in the journalism field, since that seemed to be the number one requirement for many employers.
Many of my peers and friends that went to my same university to study journalism had similar experiences. They started working in community newspapers or they adapted to related careers like copyediting, public relations and even public administration. Others opted for continuing their studies and went for their master’s degree.
I didn’t become a “full-time reporter/editor/wear-many-hats writer” at the newspaper until three years after I started as a freelancer. By then, I felt like I had to go back to school to become a translator (and I did, on a whim, you might say.)
And I’ll leave my story here… but not before debunking some millennial myths, IMHO:
- We are hard workers, at least where I come from. Your work represents who you are; it is your “business card.” I’ve known people who would sleep less than four hours a day to be able to pay their bills, eat, afford a car and rent an apartment.
- Yes, we had to live with our parents for a long while, but most of us paid the bills too! While I was living with my parents, I used to pay for Internet, electricity or water, or for my own and my family’s food. Or we would take care of the maintenance of the car or house; whatever needed to be fixed, we would help out. It wasn’t like we were freeloaders. Granted, I was able to help out because I had a job.
- Some of us would have worked anywhere or for free to gain experience and to get a foot in the door, even if that meant postponing buying a car or anything else that was superfluous. We would have loved to have mentors, to learn from the veterans and gurus, but most people were concerned with us taking their jobs.
- We care about our communities, we care about the environment, we care about the world or at least most of us, even if we didn’t grow up during the hippie movement. We are socially conscious and empathetic. It appalls me that some people think of us as a vapid, selfish and self-absorbed digi-neration. Just because the media calls us that and we take a ton of selfies on our social media profiles, doesn’t mean that one should generalize. Would it be fair if I started calling previous generations the “rock n’ roll rebels” or the “flower power” generations? No. Everyone is different. It never does anyone any good to generalize.
- The economy and job landscape after we graduated was terrible. And it is still for some people in this country. One shouldn’t compare one’s experiences in these areas to ours.
- Some of us were lucky to have employers who provided us with 401ks, even if we had to contribute crumbs or use it later to help ourselves or our families financially.
- We would love to have more financial education and advice from the experts because the Internet is overwhelming. Be honest about your intentions with us and don’t come to us with the salesman persona to sell, sell, sell. Maybe, try an indirect friendly approach and let us know that you are there and you are affordable or at least willing to work with our budgets.
- Don’t ignore us. We are here, at your doorstep, eager to learn and earger to officially start working on our legacy.