Gen Y Millennials: Meet Hard Times

How will the entitlement generation weather an economic crisis and global competition?

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An adaptation of Ron Alsop's new book on generation Y millennials (those born between 1980 and 2001), The Trophy Kids Grow Up , ran recently in the pages of the Wall Street Journal . In response to Alsop's portrayal of the generation as entitled and fairly swollen with a sense of superiority, millennial Whitney Seaman Watson wrote this letter to the editor. From the WSJ:

I take offense at Ron Alsop's patronizing profile of the millennial generation in " The 'Trophy Kids' Go to Work" (Personal Journal, Oct. 21). The so-called "negative" traits he describes are the very traits that will help millennials succeed. I was born in 1981, and I happily acknowledge that I possess many of the traits. The desire to "know how [I'm] doing weekly, even daily." Check. Placing "a high premium on success, filling resumes with not only academic accolades but also sports and other extracurricular activities." Check. The confidence to "brashly fire off emails to everyone from the CEO on down, trying to get an inside track to a job." Check. Don't those sound like good traits in this economy?

We embody these traits not because we believe we are better than others but because of lessons learned from our times and because of the failures of the baby boomers and Generation X.

We understand better than any generation since the Great Depression that security isn't guaranteed. We watched 9/11. We are watching the economy collapse. When we seek higher pay or promotions, it's because we know that, as the youngest employees, we are the easiest to let go. When we appear "disloyal" to a company it's because companies are no longer loyal to employees, which is a development that happened on the boomers' watch. We also understand the impact work has on family life. When we want flexible work schedules and vacation, it's because we are unwilling to make the same mistakes as our boomer parents. Our mothers sought professional fulfillment, and we became latch-key kids. Many of our parents got divorced.

Note to boomers: Not everything we learn from you is something you tell us.

Watson's characterizations of her achievements are similar to the way many millennials perceive their résumé advantage—but are they enough?

In his " Ask the Coach" column for Harvard Business Online, leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith suggests that younger workers are not merely squaring off against baby boomers in today's workplace but also facing steep global competition from workers who are better educated and do not feel entitled:

We in the West are just beginning to understand what globalization really means. It means that people across the planet are: competing to buy our products; producing products that we can buy for less money; and competing for our jobs. We are just beginning to understand the impact of a world competing for food, oil, cement, wood, and natural resources.

As millions of hard-working young people graduate from colleges around the world, many of them not only speak fluent English, they have no expectations of anyone "giving" them anything. They expect to make it through their own motivation and ability.

Young workers cannot afford to self-adulate nor take anything for granted, Goldsmith says: "Here's an interesting definition of global competition: when your classmates at the top engineering and science programs speak English as fluently as you do, and it is their second language!"

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