This post was written by NU alumna Rebekah Gallacher. Bek majored in English and Communications and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2009.
I’ve always resented the notion that “the real world” doesn’t happen until after you graduate college. I find that this sentiment is typically coupled with the idea that our generation—Generation Y—doesn’t understand what the real world is. I don’t know about you, but five years at Northeastern, three co-ops (plus two freelancing gigs), zero summers, a weekend job slinging drinks to BC kids, a double overloaded final semester, and astounding student loans felt pretty real to me. Tack on graduating into The Great Recession—one of the worst job economies in recent history—and I thought I had this “real world” thing down.
Five years later though, I can admit through the clarity provided by hindsight that life is in fact realer. These last five years have been the most influential, the most tumultuous, the most real for me so far. Those of you entering “the real world” this spring will get plenty of advice. More than you’ll know what to do with most likely. So I’m going to tackle only one thing: that despite all of the effort we’ve expelled so far, we are actually a bunch of lazy, entitled, tech-obsessed selfie monsters.
You heard me. Needy. Coddled. Selfie monsters.
Now, I personally will stay confounded by this impression for as long as it persists. I don’t know a single one of these Gen Ys. (Who are these people!?) But this perception is pervasive, and try as we might, we’re not going to be able to get away from it. Not yet, anyway. So your challenge, and my best advice for your next five years, is to face it head on.
It is absolutely central to your success to understand and acknowledge the assumptions about Gen Ys. Once you do, you’ll be able to interact more effectively with your colleagues from other generations, including your boss. (Spoiler Alert: that’s kind of…well, everything.) The self-aware Gen Y is the smartest Gen Y and the Gen Y that will get ahead. A little self-awareness goes a long way.
And don’t stop there, you overachieving go-getter! Take some time to understand where other generations are coming from, what they value, why they might think you’re a whiny baby with wildly unrealistic expectations. (Their words, not mine!) The Gen Y that’s well versed in generational differences is the Gen Y that will be actively sought out for their opinions and expertise.
All of this being said, don’t be afraid to use your unique point-of-view to your advantage. Be confident that your age, your experiences (“real world” or not) are both personal and organizational strengths. We’re soon to be the largest cohort in the workforce and we have an opportunity to shape the world of work. We will undoubtedly influence expectations, flexibility, technology, compensation, the social consciousness of our organizations—just to name a few. As well we should; much of this needs changing and I know we’re up to the challenge.
Let’s take back the conversation around our generation and redefine our organizational value. Because the Generation Y I know is hard-working, collaborative, innovative, and ambitious.
Congratulations to the Class of 2014. I look forward to everything you’ll accomplish. Including making me feel old and technologically out of date.
Let’s do this thing!
Rebekah Gallacher is an Associate Editor of Web Content at Harvard Business Publishing. She received her dual BA in English/Communication Media Studues in 2009 and managed to turn it into a real job! Feel free to contact her at email@example.com or tweet her at @RCGallacher.