An Open Letter to Millennials Like Talia…
Stefanie Williams

Let me start by saying I’m going to tear you down a bit for your argument. But I hope you (and everyone else) will read the whole post first.

I don’t doubt for a minute Talia embellished her story — the proof others have posted from her social media accounts bear out that facts like having not been grocery shopping since she started are just not true. But it’s too bad, because it steals from the reality of living and working in the Bay area (the real point of her story, from my perspective) and makes her an easy target for your disdain. Claiming to subsist on rice and water while posting photos to your Instagram of the prosciutto cupcakes you made instantly invalidates your argument in the minds of everyone who thinks all people under 30 are spoiled little brats. But that doesn’t change the reality of the Bay area being an incredibly difficult place to live, especially if you’re just starting out.

I lived there too. Not as a recent college grad, but just last year, on the eve of my 40th birthday. I had a cushy corporate job. My wife and I sold our house in a nice suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota and got a 2-bedroom apartment in the burbs in order to make a go of it in a location we’ve both loved for a long time. We thought we were smart with our decisions about location and living arrangements, but boy were we shocked by just how tough it is to live in one of the most congested and expensive areas of the country. The rent on our two-bedroom apartment there was 25% greater than the mortgage on our three-bedroom home in MN, with none of the equity or tax bonuses of home ownership. Like Talia, I lived ~30 miles from my work. Do you know what the drive from Hayward to Sunnyvale is like? If you’re lucky enough to have flexible work hours like me, and can stomach working from 6:30–2:30 every day, it’s about a 45-minute drive each way (the BART doesn’t connect the south of the Bay so public transport options for me were limited). That’s 45 minutes as a best case scenario. If I had to stay to the end of the day the commute was at least two hours. That would make for a 60-hour week including commute time if I worked normal hours. Kind of tough to find extra work when you’re already committing an extra 20 hours per week just to getting to your normal job.

We ultimately moved away because the cost of living out there truly is outrageous. We had planned to purchase a home once my wife had found a new career and we knew where putting down roots would make the most sense. You’re lucky if you can find a 700 sq. ft. fixer-upper for $450K. A house like the one we left back in MN would be at least $800K if not closer to $1M, depending on location. While we knew it would be foolish to expect a quarter-acre lot and two-car garage at anything close to what we were paying before, we were surprised by just how big the disparity was. Our fallback plan was to live farther out and deal with the commute but, as I mentioned above, that plan doesn’t leave much time to make extra cash with a side job.

So criticize Talia’s whining all you want, but my advice to anyone entering the workplace who’s attracted to the Silicon Valley experience is this: It’s going to suck. Probably more than in other parts of the country (and seriously, you should consider Denver instead — it’s awesome here). If you’re starting at the bottom, as Talia did, you better be prepared to have multiple jobs, roommates and inconveniences while you work your way up. And you will have to work your way up — even programmers starting at $60K are going to find that it’s a paycheck-to-paycheck situation in San Francisco. But if you love the scene and the work, you’ll find a way to make it work, and you’ll find that approach to be very rewarding in the long run. Making false arguments about how tough it is and how under-appreciated you are will fall on deaf ears, and likely backfire on you as this story has. If you choose to live out there, know what you’re getting yourself into and what you need to be prepared to do, and then shut up and do it. That’s how you’ll earn respect.

Now, Stefanie, let’s talk about why your argument is off-point:

  • Your first roommate was your mom. I assume that means you lived at home and weren’t splitting an apartment in the city with her. I assume that also means you had access to things like free rent, utilities, cable & internet, laundry, groceries and a car when you wanted one. If you did pay rent then I’m wrong, but you make a lot of assumptions about Talia (as a self-proclaimed writer you do know what happens when you assume, right?) so I’m going to do the same here.
  • As stated above, the act of getting anywhere in the Bay area is a challenge, which in turn makes having multiple jobs a challenge. More so if you’re relying on public transportation as a cost-savings measure since the BART almost never runs on time and is a frequent target for disruption by protesters. You had to spend 40 minutes commuting and an extra hour if you missed the train? You lose an hour on the BART when you make your train on time but someone in Pittsburgh (in the north bay, not Pennsylvania) decides to push someone onto the tracks. And disruptions like this happen with surprising regularity. So your own self-congratulatory pity-party isn’t really an apples-to-oranges comparison for multiple reasons. Even if you do take multiple jobs in the Bay area, it can be tough to hold them down, and for reasons completely outside of your control.
  • You’re writing your piece with the benefit of hindsight. I doubt you were silent in your suffering while you worked your way up. If you were, then congratulations, you’re better than most of us. If you do recall that on occasion you complained about life being tougher than you expected and maybe you lied to your friends about how much your life sucked, then at least acknowledge that needing to vent like Talia did, even if her venting is really whiny, is something all young people do. I did it. But I also grew and learned, just like you did. Hopefully Talia will too.
  • Lastly, as someone about to “turn the big 3–0” — and guess what, that might be big to you but to everyone else you still have a lot of growing up to do — you’re an entitled millenial too. You dressed up the entitlement in your story (living at home with your mom when you lost your job and regained your feet) as a challenge you had to overcome. I applaud the hard work you exhibited and the lessons you learned along the way. But you are hardly on the same level as an immigrant who shared an apartment with 15 family members while struggling to pay the bills working landscaping jobs 16 hours a day, 6–7 days a week. You were a hostess and bartender who lived at home, safe and secure. I’m not going to claim I had it rough, but I grew up on a working dairy farm, which meant I worked after school and on summer vacations when all my friends were doing things much more interesting to me at the time. It was the equivalent of an unpaid internship at age 12. My father worked the farm full-time while also putting in his 40 hours as a nurse anesthetist at the Mayo Clinic. THAT is hard work. Taking jobs you don’t like to pay the bills is admirable, and something I wish more people understood to be the reality of how the world works, but truthfully you and Talia are a lot more similar than you would probably care to admit.
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