Never Leaving Home: The New Workplace of Millennials
BY RACHEL WALLACE
During the months leading up to college graduation, it was not unusual for me to be asked about my post-grad plans multiple times a day. My answer pretty much changed with the wind, depending on whether or not I wanted to dive into my every hope and fear for the future or needed to make a quick exit. Giving the short version of my life plan never felt like a lie, because the life plan was (and still is) subject to change at a moment’s notice.
I didn’t keep a scientifically valid record of people’s reactions, but I would estimate that roughly three quarters of people felt the need to warn me that it would be all downhill after graduation. I refused to believe them. I thought of myself as someone who was just enough of a free spirit to make the most of life after college, even if I didn’t find immediate career success or know exactly what I wanted out of life.
Soon though, the warnings of acquaintances everywhere started to get into my head. I began asking them what exactly they meant by downhill? Were they predicting the lack of jobs? Did they mean the fact that I would no longer have friends in the constant close proximity of the next room over? What were they talking about?
As much as I hated their warnings, I started asking them to elaborate, and I found that everyone had a different reason for being unhappy in their first few years out of college. For some it was the loss of the college campus community feeling, for some it was the demoralizing struggle to find a job taking a toll on their self esteem, for others it was the shock of entering the real-life world of bills and loans, the list could go on forever. I started to see the picture these older and wiser college grads were painting for me.
College graduation is now almost a year behind me, and just as each person had a different warning, each of my peers has had a different experience in the past year, and everyone has had it rough somehow.
Is this struggle to find our way unique to this generation? Probably not, but there are factors that are, in fact, new and unique to millennials. Social media and the pressure to brand yourself online exist for almost everyone, and for many, submitting freelance work over email, being expected to work with people you’ve never met, or being expected to be glued to your computer and ready to answer your boss even when you are not in the office is the norm.
In a way, these are the things that have allowed startups to explode and have made it possible for people to connect globally. If leveraged correctly, technology can allow you to do business without having to follow a traditional schedule, and it can lead to opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.
However, in my experience so far, these new ways of interacting are also the things that cause the anxiety, loneliness, and uncertainty that seems to dominate our conversations. Meeting some like-minded people my age would be a nice thing, but when I work from home, I hardly ever have to go anywhere where that would happen. I’d be thankful to find a true mentor in the journalism industry, but pitching stories and getting edits over email sometimes seems incredibly to the point, short, and cold. I can only judge my performance by the number of edits made, or the number of pitches accepted, not by the kind of real detailed feedback that leads to growth.
Living with my parents is an absolute necessity right now, due to the lack of jobs that actually pay a living wage. I’m happy and thankful that startup publications exist, so that I can get experience writing about things that I believe in for websites that I would actually read myself, but the number of people my age who are working for less than enough money to live on is absurd. There are tons of Millennials who aren’t making much money at all, and while we are sometimes portrayed as clingy and unwilling to leave the nest, it is often more out of necessity than choice.
The first time I grumbled to my mom about being at home, she replied with something along the lines of “you’ll be so busy, you’ll hardly even be home.” She was so wrong. Every good opportunity I’ve had has included at least some working from home, so there I am in the house or down the street at a coffee shop almost constantly.
I’m left to wonder if I’m the only one feeling this way. Is it strange that I work so much better in the office? If I get ridiculously distracted at home, is there something wrong with me? Should I just get a prescription for Adderall and stop complaining?
Millennials might be considered “digital natives” because we are young enough that when we pick up a smartphone, we know what to do instinctively. We are not all, however, comfortable with living completely behind computers. When we learned how to make friends, it was in person, when we learned how to write, it was on paper. I love technology most days, but I think I experienced just enough of life without it so that sometimes, I hate it. I think cutting back on the Internet would better me as a person, but I see it as the only way I can have a career. Above all, I don’t want that career to consist of me sitting at home and battling myself about why I can’t focus. I can’t focus because I’m not in a work setting.
Most people my age have heard our peers grumbling that they don’t know what they want out of life, that it’s hard to make friends after college, or that they are conflicted about the Internet from time to time. People my age have certainly heard what older generations think of us—the good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe we have to consider the idea that the new work world we are living in is part of our problem. For now at least, things don’t seem to be changing any time soon. Maybe the only thing we can do is take that creative startup attitude and apply it to our own social lives and happiness.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rachel Wallace is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, where she studied psychology, journalism, and warm weather. She recently moved back to her home state of New York to attend the Columbia Publishing Course and pursue a career in writing and editing. Some of her interests include poetry, hip-hip, yoga, and YouTube. She is adventurous when it comes to food and passionate about traveling. Her favorite places to be include London and the New York Renaissance Faire.
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