How will Gen Y adapt to the times?

Reflections on “The millennial generation test,” LA Times

This week, LA Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez wonders  how Gen Y workers will confront the challenges of the economic recession that may very well be, as he says, the Vietnam of our generation. Will it shape Gen Y into bitter pessimists, as layoffs brutally impact those with the least experience first? Challenges confronting the “arrogance” or “confidence” Gen Y’ers are often alternately decried and praised for, may make or break us.

Words like confidence, entitlement, hyper-individualism, coddled and cocky are often used to describe millenials. But just as frequently, we are “resillient,” “tech-savvy,” and “eager to learn,” all of which bodes well for our survival skills in today’s connected global business environment.

There are so many reasons we, the kids of “career parents” from the baby boom era, want more input, guidance and mentorship: We’re not afraid to ask for criticism (though many could be better at taking it), and we want to improve. Really, we do. We know times change so quickly, and it’s a survival skill to ask for the information you need instead of waiting for it to appear. How else would we sift through the millions of messages we’re exposed to every day with a high degree of accuracy discerning truth from fiction, fact from hype?

The column quotes Morley Winograd, coauthor of “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube and the Future of American Politics.” Winograd hits the crux of the matter:

 “This is not an embittered and cynical generation,” he said. “Although they did tend to be protected as children, they were also taught to compete and to perform. This will only make them more determined.”

Competing and performing. Gen Y’s standardized test scores and grades are well above historical averages. Many elementary school children begin competing in travelling club team sports, or have private coaches for individual sports.  Intensely specialized education (in public schools and privately) in music, debate, drama, sciences and more, create mini-experts coming straight out of high school. It’s common for Gen Y’ers to have focused  in high school on their desired areas of expertise, just to compete for scholarships and admission to top colleges and universities. We’re smart, and adaptable. Success just means you found the right formula, and we’re not afraid to make a few mistakes for ourselves.

This isn’t necessarily the norm. Some Gen Y’ers just “get it.” Some haven’t quite matured and are stuck in la-la land between coddled adolescent and autonomous adult. But as an employer, wouldn’t you rather find employees who have competed, adapted, and won? Who can take the pressures of the high stakes you put on them, and are willing to run with a project, possibly fail, but always learn from it?

These are key skill of Gen Y.  Take the rapid pace of the last five months, add fractured teams struggling through economic rubble, and multiply that by exponentially increased pressures on bottom-line performance…it’s not safe out there, nor is it anything Gen X or Boomers have seen before. The intense, make-or-break attitude permeating our national situation is a breeding ground for Gen Y advancement.

Gen Y is uniquely poised to emerge stronger, more mature and ultimately better positioned for success — because that’s what we’ve always done: adapt and compete, fast.

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