What to do with a Peter Pan generation

GenY has spent more time in school than their predecessors, but have different ideals and career prospects than their parents. Are they destined to become PhD-educated fast food workers, climbing into a bus everyday instead of driving SUVs to cushy jobs? (Cara Smith and Nathan Paton/AQ)
GenY has spent more time in school than their predecessors, but have different ideals and career prospects than their parents. Are they destined to become PhD-educated fast food workers, climbing into a bus everyday instead of driving SUVs to cushy jobs? (Cara Smith and Nathan Paton/AQ)


If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you are part of Generation Y. We are the group born after Generation X and generally known as a cohort of Peter Pans who never want to grow up. Born roughly between the 1980’s and early 2000’s – though no one really knows for sure – we’ve also been subject to more media coverage lately than all the Kardashian baby bumps combined. Even the way we consume media has been subject to much speculation.

“If you’re a Canadian under the age of 30, odds are you’re not reading a physical newspaper every morning or sitting down each night to watch the six o’clock news — but that doesn’t mean you’re not paying attention to the world around you,” says CBC’s website. They’ve launched a new weekly digest created solely for millenials, by millenials, in order to keep us informed and connected.

So what’s the big deal about Generation Y, and more importantly, what are we doing with our lives? We’re redefining how media is created and consumed, but the world is having a hard time taking us seriously.

Kyla Tanner is a typical millenial. She’s the captain of her varsity running team, head of Students for Sustainability at St Thomas University, and she was shortlisted for a Rhodes scholarship with a 4.0 GPA.

We met at Second Cup on her lunch break earlier this year. Every Monday and Wednesday, she interned at the New Brunswick Conservation Council as part of her environment and society and communications major.

“I’m proud,” she said after we’d compiled a list of all her accomplishments.

“At the end of the day, though, if there was no recognition I’d probably still be doing it all you know what I mean? I get involved with things I believe in.”

It’s a familiar sentiment. The millenial generation is a group of highly educated young people who are motivated to change the world but don’t really know how.

Other generations have obstacles and hardships to define them. My grandparents lived through WWII. My parents were part of the hippy generation and my mother benefitted directly from women’s lib.

So where does that leave us? We are too young to be yuppies, but too old to claim we grew up with an iPad in our hands. We know how to use all the technology, but now we need to harness this defining feature of our generation to leave a mark.

It’s a big question, and I’ve been unable to wrap my head around it. So I did what most people my age have learned to do in times of minor crisis. I asked my professor to help me.

Matthew Hayes is an associate professor sociology at St Thomas University and was willing to entertain my questions.

Going back to the middle ages, there’s a very long history of ‘you belong to this community and you are a worthy member of humanity because of the job that you do and if you do a prestigious job, you are more worthy than other people,’” he said.

“But at this moment in history, the ability to feel self-worth through work is greatly diminished.”

I’ve always been taught a good job equals self-worth. When I realized I had a proficiency for math and science, my parents hoped upon hope I would find my way into the medical profession. Obviously, I got lost along the way and began to question the hell out of the world, and got sucked into journalism.

So how can we actually find jobs that make us feel worthy – even if our parents are judging us?

Tanner seems to be on the right track. She’s into the environment, she’s spearheading initiatives, and she’s passionate about what she does. There’s just one problem – she doesn’t have a job, and instead will be headed to grad school next fall.

What we need is social change, but it’s going to fall on generation Y to do the changing. We’ve already started.

“People in generation Y are living very different lives than their parents did,” says Hayes.

“In the next 10 years, you have the continuation of this economic crisis. What questions will emerge from that and who will be the people drawing attention the some of the problems that young people face?”

The generation no one can take seriously is the generation that has to change the world. I’m not sold. It’s nice to talk about how my generation could spearhead a movement of minimalism, or call for a return to a simpler life. But who would listen to us? My own parents think my desire to eat organic is some kind of weird throwback they just won’t be part of. But it’s the way of the future – or at least the future of our generation.

We don’t want to live in the suburbs with 2.5 kids. We’re moving to the city, spending our money on travel, and taking the bus – children optional.

The only leg up we have on our parents is technology. Basically, we know how to send an email attachment and upload their digital photos to the computer for them. Fortunately, this could bode well for us in the workforce.

“It’s quite satisfying because I’m part of this generation and the youngest person in the office by ten or fifteen years, I’m the only person that knows this stuff. There’s an instant value to you as an employee,” says typical GenY-er Alex Solak.

Solak has made a job of knowing more than his senior counterparts. He works as a social media officer for New Brunswick and keeps the government in the loop about social media conversation on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs.

“If our generation can take advantage of that , research the new tech, and keep in front of this wave and keep it from breaking over us and being pushed behind by the newer generation coming along, it could be beneficial to all of us.”

Solak met with me at The Snooty Fox, a popular bar downtown. He picked it as our meeting spot specifically because it’s built like a fortress- meaning that it has no cell phone reception, and meaning our interview wouldn’t be interrupted. The guy has tech on the brain at all times. But then again, most people my age have tech on the brain.

Maybe we should just stick with what we know and embrace this digital world we live in. We need to get a job somehow, and using the new tech may just be our way in. Even with my STU liberal arts degree, I’ve been exposed to editing and research equipment my parents never dreamed of. After all, someone needs to teach the old dogs new tricks.


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