When I first started working as the marketing and communications person at this Quaker elementary school (which has the good sense to still teach cursive handwriting), I was happy to be putting to good use almost a decade of skills in writing, research, social media, advertising and graphic design. At twenty-six, I felt like I’d found my first “real job,” after a series of jobs-just-to-fend-off-my-staggering-college-loans. Once, my boss, the head of school and I attended a late-night meeting with the committee charged with tackling development and marketing issues. We discussed ways to advance our mission and I offered some vaguely technological solution, to which one committee member retorted, “That’s easy for you to do, because you’re so young.” I fired back, “No, it’s easy for me because I have ten years of experience doing it.”
I dwell on that story not because some old white man tried to bring me down but because it was the first time I fought back against the negative perception of millennials. By the time I got the elementary school job I’d already spent years working with Baby Boomers, in a variety of jobs and on a host of boards and committees—anything that would add value to my resume. I was almost always the youngest person at the table, and I was almost always treated like the youngest. Don’t get me wrong: I love old people. I don’t love being pegged as useful only because of my youth.
Lately, in preparation for my thirtieth birthday, I’ve been thinking about intergenerational dialogue and ageism and growing up—writing about it, talking about it with anyone who will listen, complaining about it when necessary.
Recently I attended a professional development program that included a workshop about engaging millennials in fundraising efforts. The presenter was my age and she started her workshop by listing some general characteristics of our generation: we’re risk averse and financially conservative because we graduated from school at the height of the Great Recession, with more college debt than any previous generation; we’re quick to act when inspired; we want engagement with respect—meaning we don’t want to be at the kids table; we value connections and leadership development opportunities and feedback. We’re the ones, she said, who will demand a three-month review at work. (I have only done this once…) It was enough to make this stoic Presbyterian want to stand up and shout AMEN.
She also shared the most recent Millennial Impact Report, which studied millennials in the workplace. The report, and others from recent years, are worth reading.