In his New York Times opinion piece yesterday, William Deresiewicz calls the Millennial generation, those born roughly between the the end of the 70s and the mid-90s, a generation of salesmen. Emotionless, aspiring to be liked by all, because that is what will attract the most customers. “No anger, no edge, no ego.”
He got some things right. We have a distrust of large organizations. We don’t look down on people creating small businesses. But we’re not emotionless, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We have anger, which flares up to become the Arab Spring and OccupyWallStreet movements. We have ego, which I see in every entrepreneur who thinks their tech startup is the best thing since sliced bread. We have passion, and an intense drive to follow our passions through, immediately.
Our generation is autonomous. It is impatient. We refuse to pay our dues; if we start an entry level job then 6 months later we want to be running the department. We hop from job to job; the average tenure at any job for an American 25 to 34 is just 3 years. We think we can do anything we can imagine, whether it is rise to fame like Deadmau5 for our music or launch a new product on Kickstarter, and hate the idea that we should ever be beholden to someone else.
We do this because we have been abandoned by the institutions that should have embraced us. The past decade has shown us a massively inefficient government that has spent millions in foreign wars, incapacitated by partisan dogma. Politics are controlled by the old, people who don’t understand technology, a situation which seems immutable. Corporations have turned their backs on us: many of us came to age in the 2008 financial crisis, and even though we were promised that a college education was the key to a blessed life we couldn’t find a job post graduation.
So we’re making our own way and making our own jobs. We create our own tech startups, we’re making a living producing videos on Youtube. We’re starting our own non-profits instead of joining stagnant, bureaucratic NGOs. We’re growing and selling our own organic food. We don’t need your jobs, your advice, your instruction. Pretty soon we won’t need your music labels or publishing houses; we’ll be doing it ourselves on iTunes and Amazon. We don’t need you at all, except perhaps as a customer.
We’re not salesmen, as Deresiewicz states. Selling is just one part of running a functional enterprise, and not the most important part at that. Our hero Steve Jobs knew that without a great product selling is useless, and that’s why he cared about the products above all else, and his showmanship around them was just a reflection of his passion. Before we’re ever selling anything, we have an idea for it, and that is where our love and emotion is revealed. Unlike previous generations, if we’re on the web or at a store and something we want doesn’t exist, our first thought is not "why?" but simply that maybe we should create it ourselves.
This isn’t the first time the Millennial generation has been criticized for what is perceived as shallowness, a lack of connection with others, or just a materialistic nature. David Fincher spent an entire 121 minutes trying to pillory Mark Zuckerberg with a made up fable, and all he did was inspire another generation of would-be entrepreneurs.
We are a generation of makers. A generation of creators. Maybe we don’t have the global idealism of the hippies. Our idealism is more individual: that every person should be able to live their own life, working on what they choose, creating what they choose. If you want to build a company to change the world, go for it. If you want to be an independent knife maker, what is stopping you?
We follow our passions. If we do it as a business, then we can create the ability to support ourselves doing what we love, and with some measure of security and autonomy that no institution is going to grant us. The Millenial path to self-actualization is the individual path, each man to create it for himself.
Is that selling out? We’re just doing what you regret not having the balls to do.