Generation X can take care of themselves, but Gen Y thinks they are so special, it’s okay to be taken care of

March 7, 2010

A new study released recently in the U.S. illustrates just how special Generation Y, or the millennials, really think they are. And yes, I am a bitter Generation X-er, but I normally save my contempt for the baby boomers. This study may show the optimism — in the face of a bad economy — by the current bunch of 20-somethings, but I can’t help being reminded of how coddled their generation was by their boomer parents.

The “Generation Next” study, released February 24 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, says 18-to-29-year-olds — “millennials” — remain optimistic, despite a job-killing recession, two wars and the threat of terrorism.

According to the study, while Generation X says, ‘I can take care of myself,’ millennials have no problem with shelter. They say, ‘I get it, I’m special. You want to shelter me.’

I am again reminded of an episode of American Idol, where a girl was auditioning, and not very well. The judges told her to stop, that she couldn’t sing well and should give up any hope of a singing career. She exited the room and told the camera that the judges were stupid. She knew she was terrific, she knew she could sing, and nothing they say could change her mind.

And why should it? Her parents likely told her for her entire life how special she was. Building children’s self esteem was what boomer parents were all about. My parents, and now in turn me to my kids, taught me that I can be great, if I work at it. That failure is a part of life, and it teaches you how to better yourself.

I worked my way through university, I paid my own rent as a young adult, and I made decisions for myself. I want my kids to do the same, and not just because I am too cheap to pay for their university, although I probably am. All that taught me how to stand on my own two feet, a key skill in this century.

It’s the same in the workplace. I don’t expect an employer to take care of my future — I have to do that myself. I have RRSPs, not a company pension. I pay my own way for professional development, and take advantage of every opportunity to build my skills and expertise. My dad worked for the same company his entire career. I’ve moved around so much it’s hard to list every employer or client I’ve had. This is the modern workplace, and if Gen Y expects to be sheltered, will they be able to succeed in the same way Gen X might?

And whither Generation Z, as my kids’ generation will likely get named? Will they learn self-sufficiency, or will the boomer hangover make them also reliant on shelter from above?