Gen-Y In The Office: Not All Of Us Are Working At Starbucks Or Unpaid Internships

my generationI was born in 1985. I’m a 20-something. A Millennial. A Gen-Yer. And I have a career.

It’s not just a job that I do because it pays my bills. It’s not some fun hobby that I’m hoping will make money someday. No matter what you hear on Girls, not every young writer is sitting around with a 10-page manuscript assuming they’ll write the great American novel. Someday. Not every 20-something with a business degree is serving mocha frappes at the local coffee shop. Oh and we aren’t all personal assistants that get paid minimum wage to be treated like crap by high-powered bosses.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. Some recent graduates are baristas or interns.

But some of us are professionals and entrepreneurs. We’re writers and sales associates and teachers. And to be honest, some of us are really sick of the Gen-Y narrative that gets thrown around about lazy, entitled “emerging adults” who depend on their parents’ support and don’t understand the real world of employment.

Last week, Jenna Goudreau wrote a post for ForbesWoman called, “Why We Need To Take 20-Somethings Seriously.” You would think that the article focused on important contributions made by young people in the business world. You would be wrong. The post was actually about the importance of your 20s when it comes to establishing yourself and your career, Goudreau just wanted people to start pushing those lazy Gen-Yers more.”

There were some great responses around the internet from young people who are trying their hardest to establish their career during the worst recession any of us have ever seen. Emily Sicard from The Daily Muse was particularly thoughtful and inspiring. She spoke from the perspective of those part-time retail workers or interns who are working their butts off to have someone “take them seriously.”

But missing from the discussion seems to be the other end of the Millennial spectrum. What about professionals like me, who have worked for multiple companies, who pay their own bills without anyone’s help? Believe it or not we exist. And I have to admit that the general story of my generation seems to ignore our existence. Even worse, it makes it that much harder for us to be taken seriously.

When I brought up my frustration to another writer on the east coast, her agreement was immediate. As a young woman about the same age as me, she has seen this stereotype of our generation affect the way she’s treated at work. She explained,

“I definitely feel like some bosses believe they’re doing Millenials a huge favor by giving them grown-up jobs. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to earn it even after we’ve gotten hired. I resent the notion that I must suffer immensely to earn my keep. I understand that I’m lucky to be on a career track so soon after college, but am growing tired of ‘proving myself.’ And people wonder why so many women are burning out before 30! Sometimes I envy my waitress friends. They’re making more money than I am and constantly interacting with people whereas I have to put on a professional front at all times.”

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    • self help

      “There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. Some recent graduates are baristas or interns.”

      I’m not reading beyond that sentence because I really dislike how you’re assuming that college grads are choosing to be baristas and unpaid interns, as if this is what they asked for.

      • Rachel

        You really should have kept reading …

      • JJ

        I read past it and I still feel insulted. I get what she’s saying, but I would argue that that is also true for the baristas and interns out there. Just because we may not be working on the career we planned on doesn’t mean we aren’t “professional” or “constantly proving ourselves.” I just graduated with honors and a bunch of internships under my belt but after months of job futile job searching I took an unpaid internship and got a day job so I could a. being doing something productive and future career related, and b. help pay some of my own bills because I feel horrible I couldn’t support myself right out of college.

        You were lucky to get a job in your field and I’m sorry that you don’t think people take you seriously. But do you really need to put other hardworking people down to express that frustration?

    • Emily Sicard

      Thank you. (And not just for the shout out.) I think you’re right that all of us trying to build a career really have to work to distance ourselves from the stereotypes.

      I had an upsetting conversation with a peer recently in which he claimed that by 24 no one really knows who they are or what they want. I don’t buy that. Thank you for arguing against the generalizations and demanding respect.

    • Save1Star

      I recently attended a writer’s circle with women 20 years older than me. After reading a 1,200 word, extensively researched, piece on food policy and the USDA, the main comment I got was “wow, you’re just like that character on Girls!”

      Please stop trying to file me into some category because I was born in the 1980′s! I work a full time job while writing freelance articles and building a non-profit organization on weekends. I am far from the Williamsburg stereotype and refuse to give in to the assumption. Thanks for writing this!

    • B

      I completely agree. I almost feel that this is a form of discrimination against youth, in that we are expected to work harder than any other group as well as be rewarded the least for this work. I actively ensure that my employers don’t know my age, for fear that I will be passed over for funding. As a gen-Yer I believe my accomplishments should be rewarded in a timely manner, and that I should not have to wait until an arbitrary age of “maturity” to get recognition.

    • The truth

      I’m with “self help”, you need to get off your high horse and stop putting down the VAST majority of our generation who are taking maybe undesirable jobs because we have to pay bills. We don’t do it because we’re “too lazy” for a career or because “someone else is paying the bills”, we do it because we have to because there is a significant lack of options. Good for you that you’re doing what you want to be doing but I have never read such a self-patting-on-the-back, condescending pile of crap in all my time studying journalism.

      • Tobi

        Perhaps you should reread the article, or uh, actually read through it for the first time.

    • lalala

      I’m 21 and I don’t deal with this in my office as much as I do with people I work with at different companies. Everyone at my office knows I’m really driven professionally, but when I’m working with people who are older than 40 (the vast, vast majority of people I work with) at other companies, they don’t take me seriously. My bosses were legitimately getting angry because no one was CCing me on emails, like they thought I was just an intern – when really I was the person they needed to be emailing directly. It’s really difficult but I’m finding that if I just keep pushing and basically ‘grow a pair’, they eventually have no choice but to pay attention. I’m really young though, I haven’t even graduated yet…so we’ll see how it continues. I will say though, that I was an unpaid intern who was promoted to paid employee, then left and got this amazing job partially by luck and partially by working my ass off. If I can do that at 21, I see no reason why all of the people complaining in the comments can’t do it at 25. I don’t even have a degree…

    • Danielle

      Yes to all of this! I’m 24, and while I’m very happy with my current job, my former employer (my first job out of college) acted like he was doing me a favor by giving me a job while running me into the ground.

      Of course we’re lucky to have careers that excite us, but they’re lucky to have us, too :)

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    • Lisa M

      This is excellent.

      I turned 26 the other day, and someone commented that they were surprised I was so young, since I seemed to have my shit together. I was lucky that an internship turned into a professional job where I had the confidence to be as assertive as I needed to be (since I’d already worked with management for two summers, and the people who were working alongside/under me also knew the quality of my work). I’m no longer at that job, but it did teach me to be assertive, which I think also helps me seem older than I am.

      But that said… I shouldn’t have to seem like I’m in my early 30′s for entry-level positions or for people to take me seriously!

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