Lessons From Millennials to Midlifers And Back
Generational gaps are growing.
Every generation gains a neat little label from the others (“Boomer!” “Gen X!” Millennials!” “Gen Z”) and seems to pass judgment instead of knowledge.
It’s easy for millennials to think that the previous generation is racist because they don’t have the same painstaking attention to microaggressions. It’s equally easy for Gen X (Midlifers) to think that Millennials are entitled and lazy because they’re terrible at money management or only want to work in jobs that make them happy.
However, instead of shouting over each other without any kind of outcome, we should be listening to each other intently for clues on how to prosper as a species. There seems to be a culture war brewing under which both sides are stoking the fire. What if we just chilled the f*ck out for 5 seconds and heard the other party out?
Team Vippi looked over both the strengths and weaknesses of our own generation and the next to see what lessons we could take from each.
5 things Gen X-ers can learn from millennials
A clip from The Intern (2015), showing that millennials might be able to teach you a trick or two.
Millennials aren’t all skinny jeans and quinoa.
1. Millennials joining the workforce aren’t just candidates – they’re one-person companies. Be versatile.
Millennials have had the Internet at their disposal since they entered the workforce. But, over time, this has meant that more and more is expected of them before even getting their foot in the door.
As a millennial, you’re at once forced to be a PR machine through social media, an HR department having to protect their interests from all angles, a manufacturing department doing their job, and a marketing team having to upsell and nurture their unique selling point at all times.
Millennials see themselves as a personal brand. They’ll leverage different parts of their lives against each other to try and achieve the optimal outcome.
For example, maybe they put money from their 9 to 5 into a copywriting course, which they then use to fuel their writing ambitions. But they’ll also take on the company newsletter, Christmas Party email, or whatever they can to adapt completely unsuitable roles to their skillset.
They’ll work toward what they want – but they are, contrary to popular belief, used to sacrifice and compromise. Many will balance their obligations with their ambitions until they reach a point of genuine happiness.
This flexibility allows an easy transition to entrepreneurship and means that they often hop between companies to advance their salaries and positions. Perhaps they’ll align with a company that matches their values, vision, or ambition, but they’ll often jump from job to job until they find that institution.
The middle ground: Gen X-ers could implement personal branding to help us stay buoyant in a challenging and evolving job market. Company loyalty is great, but learning how to manage your image outside of a job role is becoming increasingly important.
2. Looking after mental health and wellness isn’t entitlement or pretention – it’s key to happiness.
Millennials are not a “pampered” generation. While, yes, their parents may be a lot better off than the boomer generation were when raising Gen X-ers, protecting mental health isn’t just a trait they want to reserve for their own generation.
They don’t want to erase all unhappiness and anxiety in their lives. Millennials understand that anxiety is what’s left over from our ancient ancestors’ survival instincts (except they’re not fleeing sabertooth tigers anymore but fretting over why their friends no longer respond to WhatsApp messages).
Instead, they want to observe and understand depression and anxiety, finding new ways to approach and reduce it.
They believe that everyone across every generation deserves a shot at contentment and peace of mind, and companies dominated by millennials tend to have great initiatives for preserving mental health, like treating bad mental health days as sick days.
Millennials believe it’s worth focusing on mental health difficulties like they’re physical health problems.
The middle ground: Gen X-ers might’ve spent a life under constant pressure without anything to call it – credit goes to us for grinning and bearing it. But they might gain something from learning how to recognize when they feel sh*tty and address it rather than ignoring it.
3. Millennials believe that your passions should be what you live for – “side hustles” are no longer a means to an end, but a route to fulfilment.
Gen X often learned the hard way about sacrifice, working jobs that maybe weren’t what we loved, but which kept us fed and watered. We found ways to love or at least tolerate our job over time. Millennials almost always want to monetize their passions.
Millennials will finish their job at 5 and start another centred around what they love until it’s their main source of income. They’re a generation of dreamers. And while dreaming isn’t particularly helpful, it certainly doesn’t hurt to dream sometimes.
It might be the fact that music/art has been democratised through social media, or that businesses are simpler to get going. It could be that it’s easier to promote whatever you’re making through diversification of skills, such as starting a food blog. (Boom! You’re not just a cook, but a photographer and a writer now! Get crackin’!)
They’re not really about their job. They might sell credit card terminals by day, but it’s their occupation by night they really care about, whether they play in a band, review films, volunteer, or bake sourdough loaves. They won’t be trying to advance their 9-to-5 endeavor – they’ll be plugging their new song or art piece online.
On second thoughts, maybe that’s why that elusive mortgage keeps slipping through their grasp. But millennials find ways to stay content, or at least distracted.
The middle ground: Gen X-ers could learn that yes, compromise will always come into play but no, that doesn’t have to force our passions from our lives completely. Passions are central to happiness. And happiness is an okay thing to aim for.
4. Being ethical is not “virtue signalling” – they’re trying to build a future that includes everyone.
Veganism is on the rise, everything seems to be organic and sustainable, and Gen X is getting sick of being preached at, sure.
But every generation wants to improve on what they perceive to be the mistakes of the past. Millennials have grown with the internet in an age of mass information, and were teens at a time when older social media sites like MySpace allowed likeminded strangers to share ideas. So Gen X-ers should avoid shutting down the vegan talking at us and ask questions instead.
The millennial on a vegan rampage will likely soften their approach, and maybe you’ll adopt some ideas for healthy eating. At the very least, the preaching will stop. Not everything is a war on sensibilities. Sometimes, people have different ideas of the world.
It’s the same with talk about climate change or corporatism. You don’t have to agree. But millennials are trying to leave a better world for their own children in the same way that we wanted to leave a better world for them. And look how many latte flavors they have – we did alright!
We should try and meet them in the middle (even if there’s no meat in the middle of their burger). It might yield some surprising benefits.
The middle ground: Gen X might want to listen to the people raising our grandkids about what they want the world to look like. Adopting just a few healthy, sustainable practices makes a big difference. At the very least, it’ll shut up the millennial in your life.
5. Embrace uncertainty.
Many millennials can’t even contemplate the idea of a mortgage. They’ve often jumped from job to job, sh*tty rental situation to sh*tty rental situation, and scraped together whatever savings they can to get where they have.
(Yes, they’ll get Ubers from time to time and grab a takeout. They’re usually freelancing or trying to monetize literally all of their time to make rent.)
But with an improved focus on their passions and mental health over previous generations, they’ve found ways to carve out perfectly happy lives outside of property ownership, standard corporate ladder-climbing, and developing nuclear families.
Generally, they’ve worked on using their values, ideals, and ambitions as their North Star, while dancing around every obstacle and all instability that comes their way. They’re not entitled, and they’re certainly not lazy – just approaching the world with a different emphasis.
The average millennial, certainly during their twenties, didn’t mind slumming it to invest more time working on their ambitions (even though starting a family in their thirties then became more difficult).
Sudden changes can really throw Gen X-ers for a loop – that’s the millennial’s entire modus operandi. Maybe it’s time to start seeing uncertainty as an exciting factor of life rather than something to completely insulate yourself against.
The middle ground: Gen X has a far sturdier platform than millennials ever did – kudos to us. But change is healthy and uncertainty is ever-present, even in the most unassuming of circumstances. If we learn to embrace it, the idea of stability comes from inside, not from external factors like money.
7 lessons from Gen X-ers to millennials
1. Money management
Oh boy. Millennials can be really bad with money. Sure, rent’s higher and they might find it a slog to put away any savings – but they often also have a gym membership, subscriptions to every possible streaming service, and a latte in hand from their local barista every morning.
No wonder more people aged 25-35 years reported living at home with their parents in 2016 than any other generation at the same age – 15%. For comparison, in 2000, that figure was 10% for Gen X-ers.
Millennials are an outgoing generation. Everything seems to be a need rather than a want. Gen X was brought up in a world of homemade Big Macs, hand-me-down clothing, and strictly necessary purchases. That frugality – a word that seems to have eluded many millennials – has led to true wealth over the years for the Gen X-ers.
Gen X learned how to save, invest, and look after our money – which means that, in turn, we can look after our older parents and our older kids. What are millennials going to do once they hit the same age? Research has found that 60% of millennials will buy a cup of coffee costing more than $4, compared to 40% of Gen X-ers.
The middle ground: Millennials should learn to save and get clever with finances. That way, millennials can maybe drop their second job and live the “life of fulfillment” they keep talking about. Oh, and they should cut their expenses.
2. Not every job can fix the world – but they can support you while you live out your values.
Most jobs are there for one reason and one reason only – make your boss money so he can make his boss money, and everyone can keep taking home a salary.
A lot of millennials add needless anxiety to their day by expecting their boss to bend to their every whim on sustainability, employee comfort, and social issues. Gen X sees and appreciates the good intentions – there’s no-one who’d disagree with you that racism is bad or that we shouldn’t pollute the world.
But if millennials get on their soapbox about every imaginable issue while sitting pretty low in the company hierarchy, it can act as a barrier to their own progress and credibility. They’ll then get surprised when they aren’t advancing up the corporate ladder as quickly as they’d hoped and can’t afford a mortgage.
Perhaps when millennials have worked up to a certain level, they can start implementing these ideas. Or they can focus on their job while they’re being paid to and concentrate on actualizing their values outside of work.
Gen X aren’t bad people. It’s just that we don’t expect the world to bend to our values as a priority. As a result, we don’t suffer from a lack of confidence or anxiety when an environment or job doesn’t align with our values.
The middle ground: Your personal values are important. You should use your job to support those outside of work – but you shouldn’t bring those into the office and expect everyone else to adjust. That will make you look amateurish.
3. Entitlement vs. commitment
The millennial thirst for validation never quits. It happens on social media, with Facebook likes and Twitter retweets. It’s all throughout instant messages, with instant replies expected across the board (to the point of anxiety and resentment). And it’s on all the HR apps, too – each one offers companies instant feedback on their employees.
Companies seem to think that giving millennials what they ask for – instant and constant validation – is helpful. But it’s led to short-termism as far as career prospects are concerned. As they develop, millennials constantly search for the quickest fix to the last bit of feedback they received. They’re points-scoring, not growing.
Gen X was raised with reviews every 6–12 months. Our bosses would learn to trust us with tasks, set us benchmarks, and leave us to it. If we hadn’t hit our goals, we didn’t get the promotion, and we kept working at it. Sometimes it was fair, sometimes it wasn’t – but rising above it and developing a long-termist mentality helped us build a future anyway.
This is as much on companies as it is their millennial employees. Corporations will never earn trust, morale, and commitment if they micromanage their workers without letting them work at on-going problems. Guide them, sure. But don’t give them participation awards – it’s their job. The wage is the reward.
Millennials, on the other hand, need to stop getting high on validation. That “personal brand” mentality has made them think they’re a company hired by another company on a freelance basis, rather than a salaried employee. And companies, in turn, expect them to leave in a shorter time, so don’t invest much into their long-term growth.
Each role in a company has just become a functional spot to fill, rather than a full-fledged employee that gets nurtured. The millennial does the job, then leaves for somewhere else. The manager fills the job, then gets someone else to do the same thing. No one commits.
The middle ground: Everyone should outgrow their role. When millennials outgrow theirs, they should show the resilience to move up, not away.
4. You can’t do everything everywhere.
“Yes, it puts food on my family’s table, but what does my job really mean to the world?” A Gen X-er wouldn’t be able to describe in words the slap we’d’ve received from our own parents for making that suggestion.
Gen X-ers actually agree with millennials – if everyone did a job they loved that made a difference, the world would absolutely become a happier place.
Unfortunately, bringing emotion into every aspect of life is just not a realistic way to live. Every piece of work – even beautiful art or professional sport – has a process that can’t be meaningful in and of itself. This is because there are routine components to everything. Routine involves repetition. And repetition saps meaning, whatever you’re doing.
Millennials see themselves as visionaries trying to create a new world order, but progress is a process. They need to understand that. It seems they’re more focused on the issues than the institution – we were the reverse. Life’s not about searching for meaning – it’s about finding meaning where you are.
The middle ground: You can’t do everything everywhere. Everything has its time and place. Millennials look at going into work that has meaning. We give work a meaning – and that’s the key difference. Gen X tolerates routine because we know that routine will eventually yield results.
5. Leadership shouldn’t always be the goal – and not everyone should be a leader.
Do you want to be a leader because you actually want to lead? Or because you think it’s what you’re entitled to be?
Millennials need to realise that leadership is earned – and only by a few. Not everyone can or should be a leader. Companies do nothing to discourage this mindset, offering “leadership training” to massage the egos of their entire team. Wannabe leaders work hard and make money, even if that leadership is never coming.
How can you have a whole company full of leaders? Not even the Justice League or the Avengers get out of having leaders. Companies have no interest in cultivating genuine leadership – but every interest in incentivizing millennials with ego stroking. (Only Team Vippi are going to point this out to you.)
But why do millennials buy into it? The “I don’t have enough leadership” mentality comes from the fact that many millennials are raised to believe they’re special. It may be why they job-hop as they do. They feel entitled to a leadership role their last company never handed them. It might also be part of the personal branding mindset.
Many millennials create a confusing world for themselves by taking this approach. Gen X was more balanced – being the leader didn’t have to be the end goal. We found purpose in the effort, not the sense of achievement. Yet Gen X progresses further because we’re happy regarding it as a means to end.
The middle ground: The better Gen X are at work, the more supported their family, home, and hobbies are. And that’s mega-fulfilling for them.
Millennials don’t have to be leaders or even particularly important on an individual level, whatever their Twitter following says. They just have to be competent enough to build a future for their family. Find contentment in that.
6. Labels hurt happiness.
Gen X and millennials agree on the importance of mental and emotional health. Many Gen X-ers weren’t given the tools to cope while growing up – it made a lot of therapists a lot of money further down the line.
However, Gen X doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the idea of constant happiness, peace, and contentment. It doesn’t balance with our caregiving responsibilities to older and younger family members. Unhappiness, boredom, and anxiety are all natural parts of being alive.
Millennials shouldn’t feel like every moment of being down or worried needs a treatment. It takes the focus away from those true moments of depression, chronic stress, or anxiety disorder that need medical attention.
The middle ground: Mental well-being is a key part of life – but resilience is the key to protecting it, rather than overprescribing health problems and solutions in pill form.
7. Removing something from history prevents it from serving as a lesson for the future.
Gen X-ers and millennials came through adult life during different times that called for different ways of communicating. But political correctness is exhausting for a generation that was raised on common sense, rather than preserving the feelings of others.
The respect is actually there for political correctness – Gen X actually sees the purpose. The one aspect they don’t believe in is the removal of certain things from history that don’t sit right in a modern context.
“Correctness” comes from accepting our previous mistakes and learning from them.
Dr. Seuss’ publisher has stopped printing 6 of his books due to potentially harmful presentations of stereotypes. Although they’re not completely cancelled, simply deleting works of literature from history is an insult to the next generation’s intelligence. Plus, it’ll stifle our children’s ability to develop their critical thinking skills.
Wait until millennials figure out that Frosty the Snowman is naked and smokes a pipe in front of children, or that Fred Flintstone caused mental anguish to Wilma. Gen X used common sense to work out our moral convictions. Millennials want to remove anything offensive from the room before thinking about it.
The middle ground: Leave mistakes in the past, and learn from them. Learn how to manage discomfort, and appreciate that discomfort is subjective, just as Gen X finds ways to work with change.
Generational differences don’t just exist for politicians and advertising think tanks to exploit. They’re a useful way to impart lessons across boundaries and build sustainable happiness and progress for humans.
Or, we could just sling lattes and mortgages back and forth at each other and see who gives up first.
Team Vippi calls a ceasefire! Let’s learn a thing or two from the strengths and mistakes of different generations.
Cautero, R. (2020). How millennial spending habits compare to other generations. https://www.thebalance.com/how-millennials-spending-habits-compare-to-other-generations-4240695
Share of 25-35 year olds living with parents in the U.S. 1964-2016 by generation. (2017). https://www.statista.com/statistics/879092/young-adults-living-with-parents-usa-by-generation/