Word to the wise: if an acronym for an age group happens to be a term that’s widely considered a slur, it’s probably best to drop it. Ditto if your not-even-trend-piece on said age group amounts to baseless accusations of Special Snowflake Syndrome and useless advice like “it’ll work itself out.” But while we’re in the business of making staggering generalizations about millions of people, here’s my take: There’s nothing Gen Y loves less than having our generational failures comicsplained to us in pseudo-infographics thrown together in MS Paint. Or being called GYPSYs.The basic premise of “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy,” a post that appeared on the Huffington Post this Sunday and blew up on social media not too long after, is that Generation Y, a group that includes everyone between the ages of 20 and 35 and presumably a whole lot of non-yuppies, is… unhappy. It’s not clear how Wait But Why, the anonymous blogger behind recent listicles like “7 Asinine Things About Society” and “7 Ways to Be Insufferable on Facebook,” came to this conclusion; there’s nothing about depression rates or job satisfaction or any other indicator of general welfare. But WBW has determined “Protagonists & Special Yuppies” to be in a bad way, and therefore we just are.
So what’s the cause of all this angst that may or may not exist? After boiling down the nuanced, subjective concept of “happiness” to a simple formula of “reality minus expectations,” WBW tells us we’re expecting far too much for ourselves. The op-ed’s single piece of evidence to that effect is the ballooning popularity of the phrases “follow your passion” and “fulfilling career” over the past couple of decades. Of course, a quick search for terms like “financial stability” and “stable career” also shows a substantial, if not quite as dramatic, increase. And then there’s the strong possibility that all this dream job talk is coming from the supposedly “practical” and “secure” baby boomers — all Google Ngram tracks is what was said, not who said it. Which would mean it’s boomers who “want to be fulfilled by their career in a way their parents didn’t think about as much,” not their post-recession kids.
With that non-demonstration out of the way, WBW then calls out Kids These Days for thinking of themselves as, among other things, “unusually wonderful,” “a shiny unicorn,” and deserving of “a flowery career lawn.” No wonder Gen Y is so obviously — obviously! — at sea; we’ve somehow reached young adulthood without internalizing the idea that jobs are “actually quite hard” and it takes “blood, sweat, and tears” to be good at them. How one gets from “people want fulfilling jobs” to “people expect fulfilling jobs to fall into their laps,” we’ll never know. But WBW has a truth bomb for us deluded 20-somethings: they don’t! Thank goodness someone has the guts to tell us that professional success requires “working really hard for a long time.”
Needless to say, I’m not a fan of this line of reasoning, largely because Generation Y has plenty of reasons to be disappointed that have nothing to do with high expectations. Even if all a 20-something feels entitled to is a full-time job with a living wage, they’re increasingly likely to be SOL: as of June, only 44% of us had a full-time job, with 12% unemployed and 4% straight-up giving up. Over a third of 18-to-31-year-olds still live with their parents. We’re living through an insane employment market where we take unpaid internship after unpaid internship, only to have just 37% of them end in employment. Even rock-solid yuppie fields like law are looking shakier by the day. No wonder less than a third of young people “actually feel that their job is part of their long-term career plan.” We may be unhappy with our jobs, but it’s not because we expect to be CEOs by 30. It’s because at this rate, it’s nearly impossible to see ourselves becoming CEOs at all.
In other words, Gen Y’s plight isn’t just in our heads: it’s very real, and it’ll take more than empty platitudes and sad-faced stick figures to fix it. I’m not sure who WBW think they’re helping when they tell young people to “just dive in” to a job market that hasn’t made any room for them, but it’s certainly not the generation it advises with truisms like “you’re not special.” Like most articles about Gen Yers, millennials, and other synonyms for “people younger than the people who read and write trend pieces,” it comes off like an older generation reassuring itself that young people’s problems are either self-inflicted or all in their heads, not a good-faith attempt to understand another age group.
It’s easy for anonymous writers like Wait But Why to boil down a host of (completely justified) anxieties to a simple case of yuppie entitlement. But it’s also a lot of other things: irresponsible, condescending, and pointless all come to mind. As far as I know, no Gen Yer has ever compared their parents’ desire for steady employment to a unicorn vomiting rainbows. We’d appreciate it if our elders returned the favor.