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Why We Should Stop Telling Millennials to Get 'Real' Jobs

I spent years denying my millennial status. Even as I type this, it feels like an apology. Maybe this is because the only words that seemed to be associated with my generation for a long time were negative—“spoiled”, “entitled”, “lazy”, “co-dependent”, “naïve”—and my spoiled, naïve self couldn’t take the criticism.


I spent years denying my millennial status. Even as I type this, it feels like an apology. Maybe this is because the only words that seemed to be associated with my generation for a long time were negative—“spoiled”, “entitled”, “lazy”, “co-dependent”, “naïve”—and my spoiled, naïve self couldn’t take the criticism. Maybe it’s because the generational cut-off technically started in 1982, so the first millennials were appearing while I was in utero.

The ugly truth is, after countless hours studying, advising, and otherwise engaging with millennials as a college administrator, I have come to realize that I do have a lot of millennial qualities—and that’s okay. I am one of those unfortunate 45 percent of millennials who went out and got myself over-educated, only to end up living in my parents’ basement. I spent a year unemployed, and am still technically underemployed, because I couldn’t find a job in my field. Okay, maybe if I had been willing to move across the country to find an entry-level job, I could have, but I was unwilling to settle.

Our generation spent our entire childhoods listening to our elders tout the benefits of achieving “more”: making more money, buying more things, and gaining more education. On the same token, we heard how unhappy they were in their dead-end jobs, how money doesn’t buy happiness, about how we will be acquiring the debt of our parents--and our parents’ parents —because those generations went and spent themselves into a financial crisis. To us, “do as I say, not as I do” just doesn’t add up.

Yes, the Millennials are the most over-educated, underemployed set of folks to enter the workforce in 40 years (Pew Research, 2010). We are also the most idealistic, socially engaged, collaborative, and holistic-minded (Pew Research, 2010). That means that we have a very different view of the world and how it should work. We think our jobs should mean something, not just provide a steady paycheck (although those are still nice). Our “helicopter parents” spent our childhoods teaching us collaboration over competition, which may make us pretty bad at sports, but also makes us civic-minded and socially conscious. We think of our communities as extensions of our own families, and it is our responsibility to protect them.

Take this chart for example:

The first thing I notice is that Justin Bieber probably took this survey and threw off the results by one percent. The second thing I notice is that having money, status, etc., is nowhere near as important to us as our personal relationships. We want our nuclear families, and extended families, to be happy and whole. (Did you hear that, mom and dad? I am sleeping on your couch because I want to be closer to you).

This brings me to my main point: we don’t want your jobs. We don’t even want your economic system. It doesn’t work for us. Thank you, but we are going to invent our own. Our companies will be socially impactful, personally gratifying, environmentally sustainable and profitable (we did go to business school, remember?). We see ways of changing traditional careers so that they can support the community while supporting us. There are already seedlings being planted: Forage Kitchen, Kickstarter, Millennial Trains Project, and GOOD are all examples of where we’re going. These companies, all started or heavily staffed by Millennials, show us that businesses can make an impact and still make a profit.

We are idealistic and we are capable. We are willing to take risks because that’s what it takes to make change. We will not go out and get a ‘real’ job because, frankly, the ‘real’ jobs don’t exist yet. But don’t worry; we’re on it. More and more of us are creating innovative solutions for the world’s problems while doing what we love to do. We are finding links between trash and green energy; we are solving childhood hunger and planting gardens; we are supplying our neighborhoods with jobs and cupcakes at the same time. Does that sound lazy or selfish to you?

One piece of advice I should have followed earlier is "do what you love." I love food. I love eating it, I love learning about it, and I absolutely love preparing it. It took me two degrees and a few years down the wrong career path to realize that I needed to take a risk on my first love. And thus, Plume Bake Shop was born. Plume is a small bakery that focuses on the use of local, seasonal ingredients. My ultimate goal with Plume is to develop a completely farm-driven, closed-loop food system so that we are being good to our growers, our customers, and our environment. My immediate goal is to turn my kitchen into a community space. I fully believe that it is my responsibility as a business owner to take care of my community. Therefore, I want to create a collaborative place where small businesses can support each other, and our neighborhood, while I can reconcile my passion for baking with my community’s need for employment and a more sustainable food system.

To learn more about this project, please visit our Kickstarter.

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