Millennials: An American Dream

A couple of weeks ago I left my full-time job as a violin technician’s apprentice for a large music company. A company that I had been under the employ of for about two years.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad job, but the corporate culture had become a bit much for me. After much deliberation and extended coffee meetings with friends; I concluded that this job had started to out weight its usefulness.

I’m an artist at heart. I love writing and music and staring at inspiring art pieces at my local museum for hours. It has always been my dream to work these passions as my job; not to live life by a 9 to 5. It was time to quit.

That Monday finally rolled around, and it was time to inform my boss of my decision, pack up and say goodbyes to my former coworkers.

My manager took the news relatively well, gave me a pat on the shoulder and ‘wished me luck out there.’ Co-workers were initially confused but understood. Then came time for me to swing by my mentor’s office, the man who had been teaching me for all this time, and tell him the news.

The smell of fresh cut wood and rabbit hide glue greeted my nose as I entered and found my old mentor polishing a big standing string bass on his bench. We greeted each other, and I asked if he had a minute.

“Sure,” he says “What’s on your mind?”

“Today is my last day, Jim. I’ve thought long and hard about it this weekend. You know I’ve been struggling here the past couple of weeks and, after much consideration, I think it would be best for everyone if I move on.” I informed him

That was putting it mildly. The job had become a near living hell for me at that point. With the turn of the turn of the new year, corporate wanted to make it a priority to get out a higher number of repairs by streamlining the process as much as possible.

They analyzed everything I did to see how I could do it faster and more ‘efficiently.’ Not only that, but they also wanted me to report every single thing I did that day.

Not just when I got to the workshop to work, but every pause from work, any bathroom breaks, any time I had to go to the water cooler. Every second I wasn’t at my bench was to be accounted for and logged.

For weeks I was needlessly scrutinized. There were morning meetings about what I had done wrong the day before and questions like ‘Why did you need to use the bathroom three times yesterday?’

I had all I could take. Not to mention I was already considering leaving before the whole fiasco. The company was shady and had been mistreating all it’s employees since it went corporate a few years ago.

“Is that right?” Jim asked me “You leavin?” Jim was born and raised North Carolinian and had a thick accent.

“Yes, sir.” I commented “But I wanted to come by and let you know how much I appreciated all that you’ve taught me and the time you took with me. I know that was a sacrifice on your end. I also wanted you to know that my leaving has nothing to do with you. You’ve been a good mentor, and I feel it is simply my time.”

“Well, I don’t have any problem with you either.” He shot back in a terse voice

Then he proceeded to tell me all about the things he didn’t like about me.

He mentioned how I was lazy and lacked commitment. He didn’t understand why I had such a hard time just doing what corporate was asking me to do.

Then he crescendoed his list with this classic: “You don’t know how lucky you are. Back in my day, you wouldn’t have gotten away with any of this.” You see, Jim was in his early 60’s and a part of the Baby Boomer generation, and things were different when he was my age.

‘Back in my day.’

Jim yelling this at me was not the first time I’ve heard the phrase. As long as I’ve been working its been a favored card by men typically twice, or even, three times my age. It didn’t matter what profession. When I was scrubbing the grout as a fry cook at a local fast food chain, or even when I was in middle management for a time. There was always an aged older man shouting over me about my lack of work ethic and how I didn’t know a hard day’s work if it bit me.

When in reality, I’m very familiar with the idea. Growing up my family often had to rely on food drives from local churches and didn’t always get to shop for new clothes when our old ones became too small for our growing bodies. Bargain bins and hand-me-downs were familiar friends come new school years.

I moved out when I was seventeen because of an abusive home life, and tried my best to graduate high school while maintaining a job to pay the rent of the room I was renting. Often not making that rent and doing odd jobs for the family of the house as compensation.

I tried going to college but dropped out because my scholarship ran out after a semester, and I didn’t see much of a reason to get a loan to merely be in debt for the rest of my life for a degree I wouldn’t even use.

So I joined the workforce full time and took any job I could from construction to food service, helping out at local churches to sales positions. A lot of long nights, worthless customer service jobs and eating beans out of cans. All while maintaining an insane family life trying to give an answer to my younger trans brother why our stepfather hated him.

It’s not my intention to proclaim how terrible my life has been in the past. In many ways, I’ve been lucky. These days I have a small community of friends who have been like family to me and made sure I was never without. Many have it much worse. All that to say, I knew the value of a dollar and what it meant to work hard.

I was not a lazy worker. I pushed out violins to the best of my ability and had even gotten a ‘good job’ from corporate a couple of times. Was even once asked to work a week down in Texas to help our branch down there to catch up on their repairs. With myself and the help of my mentor, we got them all done and then some. He saw first hand how capable I was.

All this got me asking: What happened here?

Why did I have a constant disconnect from my older coworkers/bosses? Even the ones who had a similar background to my own?

Talking with others my age I found out I’m not alone in my experience. According to this Pew Research Center article, studies have shown that Generation Y, or Millennials, have become the majority of the working force in the U.S. Holding a third (35%) of the entire job market. While Baby-Boomers have steadily dropped down to roughly 25% of the workforce as more and more retire out with age.

With this passing of the torch between these two very different generations, there is bound to be a disconnect or at the very least communication right?

The Baby-Boomers, born between 1946 – 1964, have without a doubt have seen some of the most growth and the most significant changes in the world than any before it. Greeted by a Post WWII world, they have seen several wars including a cold war, massive social reform, enormous advances in medical care and even have seen a group of men leave the earth and land on the moon.

Millennials, born between 1981 – 1996, have gotten a bad rep. That we are supposedly “lazy” and that we lack “commitment.” Of course, I may have a biased opinion as a member of the millennial generation, but I would suggest that we are quite the opposite. We work very hard, to learn how to work smart.

When I joined my corporate technician job about two years ago, I never had the intention of staying long. I joined so that I could learn the trade and build up my resume. In exchange for that education, my job got some cheap labor for the duration of my stay. While researching for the article, I realized I’m not alone in this thinking. It seems that many of my fellow Millennials had the same thought.

As for commitment issues, fair. We don’t stay in one place for long and never really plan to. To quote that Deloitte article again: “Forty-three percent of millennials envision leaving their jobs within two years; only 28 percent seek to stay beyond five years.”

Why the fear of commitment? We haven’t seen the reason to.

A channel on YouTube called Jubilee does a great series called ‘Middle Ground.’ This series is all about tearing down the walls between two sides of an argument. They cover the ongoing debate behind gun control, vaccines and the disconnect between Millennials and Baby Boomers. They feel the best approach to settling issues is to get everyone in a room and talk it out.

In their video covering Millennials vs. Boomers, they do just that. Three people from both generations discuss how they feel about the other guided by specific statements or questions. A lot of good points are brought up and debated during the video, and I highly recommend giving it a watch. A particular statement made by one millennial, Steve, stood out to me: “We haven’t been set up for success’’.

I remember growing up being told that everything will be fine if I follow the path my parents have before me. The American Dream. College, job, house with a white picket fence and 2.5 kids.

We were promised certainty.

There is a general feeling of betrayal. We followed the plan to the letter. We have jumped through the correct hoops. Studied and got the grades. Now here we are. Up to our necks in college, debt working dead-end jobs in a world that often feels more divided and messed up than ever.

Many of my former bosses would brag how they got to where they are by “picking themselves up by their bootstraps.” I won’t discredit them from the hard work they have put in to keep the country running, but they were only capable of doing that because of their predecessors.

During the great depression and dust-bowl, America was facing a great crisis. Newly elected Franklin Delinor Roosevelt proposed the New Deal, and later Second New Deal, to help America out of its doom spiral. While these policies didn’t solve everything, it certainly cushioned the blow for the up and coming Baby Boomers.

We Millennials are inheriting a growing national debt, a global climate shift, and growing division in our country. When we were kids, we watched the twin towers collapse and were put into a war that seems to have no end in sight.

There is a lot on our plate. We didn’t have a New Deal to get us set on the right course. When we followed the established plan to achieve the American Dream, and it didn’t amount to anything, all we got was a shrug and a “good luck out there kid.”

Millennials are now required to think of new ways to achieve a better future for ourselves and our kids. We want to grow and overcome and are willing to work hard to do it but to accomplish anything, we need to re-invent the American Dream. We need to learn to work smart.

Boomers grew up with the idea that hard work alone will get you a good job and security. Usually by working hard for a corporation and earning a pension or 401k. In other words “Pay your dues,” and you will be taken care of. However, as many of these older men that I’ve worked with have been finding out, that hasn’t been the case for retirees. According to this article by Investopedia, 54% of older Americans lack sufficient funds to retire.

My former Mentor is in his early 60’s and works incredibly hard. Often he pulls a twelve-hour shift and works many weekends to get his work done. He predicted it could be as long as another ten years before he retires. He joking called his job “His retirement job” since he will probably still need to do it at least part-time even when he does “retire.”

Millennials have seen where working hard alone has gets you. You will still be working hard well past the age of retirement, and even if you are lucky enough to retire, you won’t be living very comfortably.

We don’t claim to know better. We merely want to figure out a better way. The American Dream template doesn’t work. To figure out that new way we will need to make mistakes. We will need to learn to work smarter not necessarily always harder.

When I left my office for the last time on that day, I walked out with an assortment of feelings. I didn’t have a ton of savings, and I just quit my secure full-time job. I was, still am, afraid, but at least I can take comfort that I’m not alone in trying to reinvent the wheel. There is at least 56 million other social media consultants, bloggers, YouTubers, podcasters, entrepreneurs and graphic designers walking alongside me.