I have a confession to make… I am special. It’s not my fault that I’m special, I’m just living up to the expectations that have been placed on me by the people who designed my generation. By designers, I don’t necessarily mean my parents as much as you all… the Boomers and the X-ers.
I was born in 1982. While some say that the Millennials started a few years prior (or after), I’ve most often seen 1982 as the start of Generation Y. This works for me… after all, we were also the first class of the “new millennium,” hoping that the world wouldn’t end just months before we graduated from high school. Contrary to many in my generation I didn’t have a cell phone until I went to college, the Facebook boom hit right as I started graduate school, I didn’t own a digital camera until I was 23, and I’m not even a toddler by twitterverse standards. My tech savyness comes from a willingness to play and a curiosity for the world encouraged by the possibilities created by Generation X.
As tends to happen in a given week I was sitting in a meeting discussing what we needed to do for “this generation” with some campus colleagues. Cut to a scene from “Mean Girls” in which Cady Heron, in an attempt to woo Aaron Samuels, is downplaying her mathematical prowess so that she can get some help. As Aaron begins to answer her questions we are privy to the conversation in Cady’s head that goes something like “Wrong,” “So Wrong,” “Wrong, wrong, wrong.” I guess that’s a pretty dramatic example but I can admit that I’ve had thought process myself once or twice.
If my math serves me correct, Millennials have been working in Student Affairs for about three or four years now. The majority of us probably serve as the Coordinators or Assistant Directors on your campuses. Some of my peers have already stepped into Director roles… we are ambitious after all. Or, we’ve just recently unleashed our first bit of research in the field through our Doctoral candidates, now graduates. All of this to lead up to my next confession: we’re already here!
There’s a fallacy out there that we crave structure. Structure can be good, but I think what we really crave is clear expectations and established boundaries. Within those boundaries, however, we seek the freedom to play. Just like with technology, we like to look at problems as an opportunity to find a new way of doing things. If we are given a task and then given steps 1 through 8 to complete it… that is what the product will be.
(A question I’ve often pondered: What if our contracts were designed to promote the actions that we hope to see from our students as opposed to a list of actions/activities that are off limits? Are the contracts really designed to help with student learning, or are they to make it easier on us that have the difficult conversations? Your thoughts?)
Trust is big for us. We need to feel like we’re trusted to do our jobs. That can be hard though, because sometimes we don’t look like we’re working – I get that. The thing is that many of us have made ourselves so available via emerging technologies that we’ve entered a world of being perpetually on-call. Maybe it’s because I was one of those students writing the 2:00am emails and asking for references due in two days that I extend a bit of patience (and an understanding smile) to the students I work with. Truth be told… I was the one checking my email at 2:00am to know they sent the message. Our attempt at development will be more warmly received if we’ve established trust.
There is one place we get ourselves into trouble… we do have a tendency to think that we’re always right. My “Mean Girls” moments are a testament to that. Be patient with us… more often than not we come back around. A lot of us learn best by making mistakes. As a professional I’ve recognized that we have moments at work that there is “no fail option.” It’s important that we learn that lesson too, but I can tell you that if I’m given a chance to mess up… that same mistake won’t happen again.
I have some other confessions to make:
-I didn’t proof this before I submitted it… that’s Microsoft Word’s job. Not to mention those little green wiggly lines don’t even make sense, no one actually talks like that.
-I called my mom before I sat down to write this. It’s the third time we’ve talked this week… oh, and there have been a few emails too. After all, my parents have been the ones who have believed in me from the beginning and told me that I can do, or be, anything.
-I’m also “gchatting” with a former student and tweeting simultaneously. That’s just an attention span issue…
-Oh, and I’ve watched all five of the” Bring It On” movies (yes, there are five). That actually has nothing to do with being a Millennial, I just felt the need to get that one off of my chest.
Now, I make no promises that what I have to say applies to every Millennial. After all, I’m not the only one that is special – we all are! I’m just saying that I think it’s time we change the conversation a little. “This generation” is in the room and if we have a chance to play, we all might be surprised.