I try to avoid generalizations, especially the gross kind, but sometimes you have to climb up on the mountain to get the big picture.
My wife and I were recently discussing the cover story in the May 20, 2013 Time magazine called “Millennials’ Moment”. The subtitle is “They’re narcissistic, lazy, entitled and coming to our rescue.” We agreed with most of what Stein wrote, but we’re part of the late Baby Boomer generation, and I wanted to hear from some Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, so I brought the topic up at the office, where there is some intergenerational mix. Here are my thoughts coming from that conversation.
The Baby Boomers like myself (born between 1946 and 1965) are between the Greatest Generation (lived through the Great Depression and World War II) and Generation X (born 1965—1979). In general, I think, the Boomers benefited from the relative stability and prosperity of the post-World War II years (although like in any historical era, it wasn’t like that for everyone), and the revolutionary spirit of the 60s, when young people were hungry for change and—for a lot of really good reasons—began to mistrust the institutions that before then most of us took for granted—primarily government, church, and big business. Having come of age in the late sixties (I was 9 years old in 1968), I grew up with a brother in Vietnam, the smell of dope, and my Dad yelling down to the basement, in an attempt to overcome Jimi Hendrix’s version of The Star Spangled Banner, “Turn down that g…. d…. noise!” But my father and the fathers in my neighborhood were mostly civil servants (I grew up in a suburb of Washington DC) who were home for dinner every day and didn’t work on the weekends, and most moms, for better or worse, didn’t work.
I don’t want to leave out the Gen Xers in my gross generalizations, but I think the early Gen Xers are a lot like the Boomers, and the later Gen Xers are closer to the Millennials.
I don’t have kids, but my friends who do seem to have raised their children, the Millennials, the way we wish we had been raised. You know, everybody gets to participate in every sport no matter what and everyone gets a trophy just for showing up. We raised kids with very high self-esteem.
Let me continue on this dangerous road of over simplification and say how I see this intergenerational drama being played out in the home performance community.
We have the Boomers. Some of us grew up seeing the limitations of the institutions we were born into, and decided to start our own. They founded new institutions like BPI, RESNET, ACI, BSC, SWA, DOE, Home Energy Magazine, and the Weatherization Assistance Program. Many of us work for corporations, or government or the military or educational institutions; we’re doctors and lawyers or we’ve started our own small businesses. We had good jobs in factories and made a decent living as plumbers, electricians, and general contractors, at least for while. Among my relatives were executives and union people.
Which brings us to the Millennials and how I think they fit in. They don’t care so much for institutions. Some would rather live at home with their parents, play video games, socially network, or work 80 hours a week for a start, than slave away in a corporation, hating their jobs but making a lot of money. They actually want to enjoy their work, and find meaning in it. I read somewhere that only 30% of adults actually care about the jobs they do. The rest just get by or hate their jobs so much they spend all their time trying to undermine the efforts of the people they work for. We need people in our community who like their jobs.
And we need people to join our community who know how to connect with others to get the job done—Millennials know how to start a flash mob, overturn a repressive government, or find the cheapest Tai restaurant in the neighborhood. We need them to help us figure out what hash tags are; and how to make energy efficient, healthy, and affordable housing for everyone look sexy. The Millenials with houses need to make room to take care of us when we’re old, and the ones without houses (most of them) need us to finish our basements, where they can live until they get enough saved for a down payment on a house—in other words, forever.
Nowadays we all expect that to make a good living in life, you have to go to college and get a job where you don’t sweat or get dirty. That has to change. There is plenty of work to do by people who are artists with hammers and concrete, and who blow insulation like the best jazz trumpeters blow their horns. We need to help others realize that a good roofer and plumber, good HVAC and Home Performance contractors, and a good remodeler are as important to our overall health and well being as a good family doctor—maybe more so. That’s a task that the Boomers and the Millennials will have to do together.
I’m feeling pretty optimistic. I work with a Millennial and she is the best. She came to Home Energy with a strong work ethic, she is fun to work with, a team player sometimes, and an independent operator at others; she is smart as can be. She is helping Home Energy take advantage of all that social marketing, Twitter, and Facebook can offer. If she is the future of the home performance community, I think we’re going to be just fine.