“Millennials” and “Snowflakes”
I don’t often post personal musings, as this is Evidence Based Education’s blog, rather than my own soapbox. However, given the fact that we work with schools, and that our mission is to help improve outcomes for pupils, I feel this unpublished letter I wrote to The Times in response to an article back in November is totally relevant, because “the youth” can’t all be tarred with the same brush.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mr Coren’s article, Snowflakes will melt in the world of work, published Saturday 11th November 2017. I found it a witty piece, littered with well-placed irony, and ultimately founded on very sensible points.
There is, indeed, a very real danger that young people today are over-protected right up to the day of graduation, whereupon they enter “the real world” and experience a sense of shock and aimlessness. I would know, being a 25-year-old who fairly recently graduated and who saw this among my peer group.
However, what I worry about is this false dichotomy, perpetuated by the media, where everyone under 30 years of age is either a “millennial” or a “snowflake”.
Firstly, the dichotomy is arbitrary and extremely vague. One article, found through a cursory online search, pins millennials as “those with a birthdate between 1980 and 2000”. This is a huge range, encompassing two decades of massive technological and economic change. What’s more, the term is rarely used in a positive sense, much like “snowflake”, which is generally used to describe a generation of post-millennials, and which refers to hypersensitivity or fragility among young people who haven’t truly experienced adversity. However, I find the widespread and lazy labelling of all young people using these two terms potentially very damaging indeed. Worse than that, their use seems to be becoming increasingly frequent and increasingly prominent in major media channels.
Personally, when I completed my undergraduate degree two summers ago, I had already been working as a freelance proofreader and copyeditor for five years, in order to pay my way through university, and now, barely 24 months on, I have co-founded and subsequently grown a business to the point where we are now employing a team of staff and are building our reputation in the field of education.
Now, I understand that we remain – and will do so for some time – a very small business. In another two years, who knows? We may not even be operational. I’m under no illusions about that – it’s the way of the world. But what this labelling of young people does is to isolate what is actually quite a reasonable proportion of those in the age range it covers. I am lucky enough to work with and know a decent number of like-minded, ambitious young people who, granted, probably haven’t gone through serious adversity, but who certainly have the resilience to succeed and thrive in an increasingly volatile world of work and business.
I would hazard a guess that there always has been, and always will be, a generational divide, to some extent, and I would also venture to say it’s never been wider than in the present day. But to tar a whole age range with the same brush can isolate those who don’t share the traits of that label. It risks leaving the more entrepreneurial, more resilient (yes, perhaps even more “old-fashioned”) minority feeling alone, and like they don’t fit in.
Even if it is a prominent majority of “the youth of today”, to coin another horrible phrase, which perhaps does warrant to some degree the term “Generation Snowflake”, there remains a large number of us who don’t.
Of course, not being a snowflake myself, I’ll get over it and continue ploughing my own furrow. I’ll encounter more uncertainty, and more important battles to fight, as will we all. What I’ll rely on to get through those tough times is forethought, intuition and resilience – traits which don’t fit the labels. And, more importantly, I’ll lean on the support of my peers who share those traits.
So, a final word to the less brittle “snowflakes” among us: you’re not alone. We’ll keep innovating and keep breaking the mould until, one day, the stereotype itself will eventually melt away.