Millennials get a lot of flack. We’re called self-entitled, impatient, obsessed with instant gratification and irresponsible with money.
It’s kind of wearing.
Especially given the fact that all these are terms are hurled at us for one reason: we grew up and graduated when 2008 financial crash happened and the older generations assumed we’d just crack on and do what they did.
But we didn’t.
Instead of bracing ourselves against the financial earthquake and rebuilding the same, inflexible buildings that fell down, we stopped. We looked at the remnants and said, ‘huh…guess that doesn’t work anymore.’
And for every older generation who turned around and said, ‘get a job, get a salary, get a house, buy a new car, trust your boss,’ we said:
And heard a resounding silence.
Adapt or die
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. — unknown
When something fails, patching it up and carrying on invariably leads to the same failure. Hope alone cannot create stability and function.
We all know this. It’s how we grew from babies to adults. We tried things, failed often and adapted or changed our approach until we found success. It goes for walking as much as it goes for making the perfect pizza.
And as a society, we’ve done this too. Where once we made houses out of weak, weather-affected materials, we now build out of stone and brick. We learnt that certain drugs don’t work, so we changed them, improved them or started over and developed ones that do.
Trying, failing and improving is the process through which humanity has reached where it is today. It’s what’s made the aeronautical industry extremely safe and why your pizzas are better now than they were ten years ago.
Evolution through trying and failing is usually a gently progressing beast. New processes are tested, new flavours sampled and new ideas mulled over.
But when something monumental occurs, in time with huge changes within technology, there’s no time to umm and ahh. And that’s exactly where Millennials found themselves and where the Gen Z population have also found themselves.
And we had to adapt pretty bloody quickly.
Alchemy doesn’t work
Millennials get a lot of flack over our shift into remote work and self-employment.
Why can’t they just knuckle down in a Good Job and work their way up the ladder like we all did! — cry the older generations.
They only stick around for six months and then quit! No wonder they’re all broke! — they shout.
Why are they obsessed with health, fitness and avocados? Why can’t they just eat meat and two veg like us? — they bemoan.
You want to know why? Because we’ve been forced to become highly sensitive to Shit That Doesn’t Work.
It does not matter that it worked for you. It does not matter that working your way up in one organisation is the ‘traditional’ path (a tradition which hasn’t been around all that long). It does not matter that banks have always held the money before. It does not matter that alcohol has been around for hundreds of years.
The world has changed and if we do things the way they’ve ‘always’ been done then we won’t be able to adapt. We’ll be deliberately stagnating.
And here’s the thing.
The older generations didn’t follow traditions either. They didn’t stay in the towns they were born in and follow their parents in their industries. They didn’t make their own clothes and wear them for years. They didn’t have a larder and and preserve food for winter.
They invented supermarkets and global clothing brands. They fuelled vast demand in the car industry and created the internet. They built bigger televisions and invented fast food outlets. They changed and adapted.
And the generations before them bemoaned them for it.
And now they’re doing the same to us.
They saw things that didn’t work so changed and improved them. And we’re doing the same. It’s not an insult, it’s evolution.
The Millennial generation sticks out because we started changing things that have been set in stone for a long time.
The banks failed. And given that money is one of the most required resources, that stung a little. So new ways of managing money were required. Instead of just letting the banks carry on as usual, we started looking at how they worked.
And, as it turned out, they didn’t work all that well.
It was hard to tell, because banks are about as transparent as a pint of Guinness, but the harder everyone started looking, the more obvious it became. The system was broken.
And once it became obvious that we’d been trusting an opaque, self-serving financial system, we started looking at all the other systems. All the other industries.
Where exactly did our clothing come from? What’s the factory like in Bangladesh? Who made this? And while we were at it, we started asking where all this meat was coming from. What’s in it? Is it actually good for us? And..y’know…what the fuck is palm oil?
And then, why is it normal to spend forty years stressed out behind a desk for a corporation that doesn’t care about you, only to retire at 65 and realise your lack of health and fitness means you can’t do any of the things you wanted to do at 20?
And the only answer is resounding silence followed by, ‘….but…this is how it’s always been.’
But once you start asking, ‘why?’, the ball is already rolling. And you can see that half the time, it’s not how it’s always been. We didn’t always eat processed food and meat every single day. We didn’t always work chained to a desk, never using our bodies. We didn’t always buy clothes made in impoverished nations with horrendous human rights implications.
And the other half the time you can see that ‘how it’s always been’ is not a good reason to keep doing it. Hello smoking. Hello drinking. Hello handing money to institutions who hide what they do with it.
We started asking why.
The Second ‘Why?’
Children ask ‘why’ all the time. If it’s easy, they’ll get an answer. But children want to know more.
Sometimes we don’t want to keep answering because the answers are lengthy and complex and we don’t really think they’ll understand the sky is blue because of Rayleigh Scattering.
But sometimes the second why has to be asked. And for many questions, it’s that second why that makes everyone very uncomfortable.
‘Why is my t-shirt made in Bangladesh?’
‘Because it’s cheaper to make it there than here.’
‘Because…well…they pay lower wages and have terrible working condi…oh.’
‘Why do you give your money to the bank?’
‘Because the bank looks after it for me.’
‘Because…umm…they use it to make more money…for…well…themselves.’
Millennials ask the second why. And when the answers make us uncomfortable, we start looking at how to change it into an answer that doesn’t.
The second why pokes the hornets nest. It raises questions that a lot of people don’t want to think about because it’s inconvenient.
But when you stop at the first why, the only answer you get is the one we’ve been fed by money-hungry corporations. And it turns out that they don’t have our best interests at heart. They only have theirs.
So Millennials are annoying, like the kid who keeps asking ‘yeah but whhhhy?’
But kids only ask those whys because they want to understand they world they live in and how to interact with it. And somewhere along the line we all give up on the whys and accept the answer, ‘because it just is’.
And it’s not good enough.
We always need to ask the second why.
Kitiara Pascoe is a ghostwriter and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon in the UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP and @TheLitLifeboat. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her journalism and blog at KitiaraPascoe.com or her ghostwriting at TheLiteraryLifeboat.co.uk