Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Generation Gap: Those Who Won't Work and Those Who Won't Quit

Do you recognize this man?

You probably do if you live in Fayetteville, Arkansas and often shop at the Wal-Mart on Joyce Street. This overly friendly, kid-loving, jokester is my Granddad, and he's turning 87 in two months. Born in 1929, Mr. Hubert "John" Day had the furthest thing from an easy life. A terrible home life and low job security pushed him to lie about his age and join the army. He fought in two wars, and yet, recalls it as being "the time of his life" because, and I quote, "I didn't have to worry about meals or clothes or what to do next. You were given an order, you did it, and everything else was provided for you."

He's worked ever since, and never very long at the same place. If he was laid off, he got a second job. If the business was closing, he was looking for his next job before he was even out of one. He didn't always have a "career" like you hear about today (though he did get a degree and work as an accountant for a period of time), but he was always either at his job or looking for one.

You don't hear of many people like this today.

Well, friends, after 10 years of pushing him to retire, my mother and I finally broke him last January. He retired from Wal-Mart and found all sorts of new projects. But now that it's October, all the yard work he could possibly do is done, all the books he wanted to read are read, and all his projects are completed. He liked the idea of taking history and political classes just for fun (now that they are free since he's over 65), but he didn't like the idea of going down to campus to take them (and he can't take them online because he doesn't believe in the internet). He walked every day at the mall and met friends for lunch and coffee, but that's not enough for him anymore. He got bored. So what does he do? Marches down to Wal-Mart and asks his old supervisor if she would hire him back. Her answer? After a chuckle and a shake of her head, "Why certainly, Mr. Hubert!"

So he's back at work. He didn't even last a year.

Now I don't know about you, but once I've retired, I'm done. I already have things I want to do. I want to learn to draw. I want to read my heart out. I want to craft and decorate my house and take classes in writing, in fashion, in everything I've always wanted to try but was afraid to pursue with the fear that I wouldn't be talented enough to support myself. I want to travel. I want to see every play that comes to my local theatre. I want to keep up with Broadway more than I do now, because I would have the time to do so. I've already got my retirement planned, and I'm not even out of college with my degree to work!

But that's the difference among his generation and mine: while we might have the same work ethic, our priorities are totally different.

He belongs to the "Traditional Generation", the "Veteran Generation" for lack of a better title. These members were born between 1925-1945, and pride themselves on being loyal to their organization, responding to direct leadership, and respecting authority. In my granddad's words, "You are given an order, and you do it." They always showed up early for their shift, dressed in formal attire for work (my granddad wears collared shirts and slacks to greet at Wal-Mart), they worked mostly in an office or factory setting, and are motivated by their self-pride. They don't just work to make money or to make a difference, they work hard so their employers will speak highly of them. They choose to represent their company the absolute best they can with everything they do. And with regards to technology, they don't even see the point. Not only do they prefer personal contact, but they email only if they have to, still do their research in an actual library with actual books, and hardly use the phone at all. This hard working, conservative, anti-risk generation is quite possibly the most stubborn and dedicated of all, as we see in my 87 year old Granddad who tried retirement and decided it didn't suit him.

I, on the other hand, belong to "Generation Y," often known as the "Millennial" generation due to our range of births: 1981-2000. I was born in 1995, not far from the turn of the century. We grew up in an age of diversity, with tech-savvy, enthusiastic teachers, raised by optimistic parents who often told us, "You can do anything you set your mind to." Young workers my age pride themselves on confidence, sociability, diversity, spirit, multi-tasking, and passion. We possess a level of "street smarts" in education and technology that the traditional generation never imagined the world would need. We like flexibility in our work: in tasks, in hours, and in pay. We are always looking for weird, extra jobs to make money that we can complete on our own time like blogging, selling old clothes, sewing, etc. The other day our apartment complex ran a special: if you renewed your lease for the next year on a certain day, they gave you a $300 check! Needless to say, we are living here again next year.

I love taking online classes because I can complete them on my own time. I don't have to actually show up at a classroom at a designated time. I love babysitting and writing and sewing for extra money because I can accept the jobs when I need the money and decline them when I don't have the time. And people in our generation don't see that as being unreliable. I've never once had a mother not call me to babysit again because I turned down a night due to previously made plans. They also agree that grades, studying, athletic practices, and previously made commitments are just as important as work, a line of thinking that would've never been accepted in the traditional generation.

We also wear whatever we want. My mom is a member of the Baby Boomer generation, and she wore slacks and nice shirts to high school. If anyone did that when I was in high school, they would've been the laughing stock of their class. In my high school, you were lucky if you even saw someone in a cute shirt and jeans. Most of the time, people wore sweatpants and hoodies.

Some of us might work in an office, or in my case, a classroom. But many people work from home through technology, or start their own businesses to ensure flexible schedules. Since we belong to a generation where often both parents work, the need to possess flexible jobs to be with children is a necessity. In the traditional generation, you either worked steadily or you didn't work at all, and while they were driven by self-pride, my generation is driven by change. We aren't just working to work or working to make money. We are working to make a difference, to be the best, to support ourselves in the life that we dream for ourselves. The days of women marrying rich to attain a certain standard are over. We now work to attain it ourselves, because what's the use in waiting on some man anyway? We require personal relationships with our co-workers and require constant feedback from our bosses to make sure we are being the best we can be. We create documents, use databases for research, email, text 24/7, and are always on the lookout for the next technological resource to use in our profession. I can't tell you how much of a better teacher I've become by stealing ideas from Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest, and business and medical professions are no different.

My generation has several jobs at the same time in hopes to build parallel careers. I am seeking to teach, blog, design lesson plans, and sew. I currently work at a daycare, at a high school coaching color guard, and babysitting. While the traditional generation looked for ways to enhance the effectiveness of one company, their company, the millennial generation is looking for a way to expand everything: their company, their life, their career, their salary, and their social network. We are always looking for the next challenge and seeking to conquer it. We want to be the hero of our field, the one you call for help, the one you always take your questions to. But most of all, we want the world in our hands, and we want it now. 

There are problems with both generations. For one, my Granddad is too stubborn to quit. But other than that, he placed such a high priority on work all his life, that he couldn't find enough hobbies to sustain his life when he finally quit. That's certainly no concern in my generation. The problem with my generation is that we have too many hobbies to truly flourish in our careers.

When asking each generation what their expectation of career development is, you're likely to get very different responses. Traditionalists are content: "I'm just happy to have a job." Baby Boomers (1946-1964) like reward: "I'd like my dedication to my company to be recognized." Generation X (1965-1980) gets impatient when things aren't moving quickly: "When am I going to get my raise? I've been working so hard!" but the millennial generation is entitled: "What on Earth do you mean you aren't promoting me? I'm so clearly the best one here!"

This is seen every day in young classrooms. Kids these days have "ADD" and "ADHD," disorders that were not only laughed at, but not even around in previous generations. These short attention spans are due to modern fiery passion, technology centered lessons, and the belief that we have to have information now. They require personal, customized approaches to learning because if they get bored, they'll find something else to do.

There is definite charm to our new generation of workers. We applaud their ability to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. We call them in when we want the next big idea because we know they've probably already thought of it. We live in a day and age where everyone is an innovator every time they have a new idea, and because of this, everyone thinks they are the best. So our respect for authority has gone out the window. Our patience is never good because it's rarely tested. We have plenty of hard-nosed, headstrong, confident and effective individuals. We need more respect. We need more patience. We need more people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty. We don't like to work with people who didn't have to climb their way to the top because they act like they're the best thing to happen to the world since Jesus himself came to save it. So while it's good to teach kids that "they can do anything," we also need to teach them that it might require a little work.

"Nothing worthwhile is ever easy." -Nicholas Sparks

And whether you like his books or not, this quote applies to everything.

I hated traditional Disney princesses growing up because they didn't do a single thing for themselves. I admired princesses like Jasmine, Ariel, and Belle. They did stand up for themselves and they did get what they dreamed of on their own. Jasmine snuck out without the help of a prince. Ariel was stupid to give up her voice, but she got to land on her own. Belle's heart and sacrifice was what gave her the adventure she'd been dreaming of, not the beast. But no one can deny that these princesses didn't have to work very hard. 

Today, little girls are being raised on princesses like Rapunzel, a teenager who escaped on an adventure and used her knowledge of experience to break free of her captivity. Girls are dressing up like Tiana for Halloween, a young Louisiana woman who dreamed of owning her own restaurant and took the time to climb her way to the top. If these princesses were real, I'd love to work for them. They know what it's like to rough it, which heightens our respect for them. We're all tired of entitled people.

I know there are elements of myself that I would want my children to have, but I also know there are elements of my Wal-Mart greeting Granddad that I would want them to have, too. So with our next generation, let's teach them to be a little less like us and a little more like their grandparents. Because there's a little of every generation inside all of us, and we've neglected our traditional work-ethic long enough.

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