“You Sound Like a Spoiled, Whiny Millennial.”
A few months after my wedding, my father-in-law asked me what teachers did with all their free time. It always bugged him that we got summers off, he said. It just didn’t seem fair to him.
So I explained…
Teachers like me spend their “free time” at seasonal jobs to support ourselves, in addition to doing unpaid work like planning courses and doing research. Some of us even take on extra jobs during the school year. We tutor online. Others drive for Uber.
When I was done, my father-in-law sighed.
“It must be nice,” he said. “I never got summers off when I was your age. I had to work all year, six days a week.” This is how conversations go with a lot of my parents’ generation. (No, not everyone).
They don’t listen.
They stare off into space while you tell them how the world has changed since they entered adulthood, nearly half a century ago. They hear every third or fourth word you say. They call it “whining.”
Then they offer you advice.
“You’ll be eating out of the trash.”
One of my jobs used to be recruiting and training new teachers. Once a year, I visited classes and gave a little speech to drum up interest among college seniors and graduate students.
One time an older, returning student mocked me during my own graduate seminar for giving my recruitment pitch.
He was in his 60s, and he’d decided to audit some courses. As a senior citizen, he enjoyed a full tuition waiver.
So, he was there for free.
First he chuckled. Then he started whispering to people nearby how ridiculous I was. He told them he would never go into teaching because the pay was so low, and nobody showed them any respect. “If you go into teaching, you’ll be eating out of the trash.”
I ignored him.
Maybe I should’ve pointed out that he was getting a free education because my university paid for it with my tax money, then kicked him out. But I was raised to have respect for my elders, so I let it slide.
Maybe that was a mistake.
“Stop throwing your money away on that apartment.”
My friend was jogging laps on the indoor track, when an older man caught up with her. She slowed down. He started chatting with her, asking what she did for a living and where she lived, generally speaking. She thought he was trying to be friendly, in the way that some old white guys assume young women are always up for casual conversation.
Turns out, he was on a reconnaissance mission for his ego. After a few minutes, the questions got more invasive:
“Why aren’t you married?”
“When are you going to have kids?”
“Why are you wasting your life in grad school?”
“Why are you throwing money away on an apartment?”
And just like that, my friend found herself no longer enjoying her workout, but instead justifying every single life decision she’d ever made. My friend eventually gave up. She shifted the conversation his way, and spent the rest of her time listening to him talk about his finances.
“If you want my advice,” he concluded, “stop throwing your money away on that apartment. Quit grad school and get a real job. Buy a house.” And with that, he was off to the lockers.
My friend showered.
Then she got ready for her real job, which was running the gym. She spent the rest of that night wiping down machines, wondering what she’d done wrong and why she couldn’t afford the life her patron had just laid out for her. It was 2010, right in the middle of the recession.
“Stop spending all your money at Starbucks.”
This one’s my favorite.
Before having a kid, I used to have time to socialize. I met up with friends at Starbucks or a local cafe. We bought the cheapest drink out there, a medium black coffee, for a little less than three bucks. Sometimes we would vent about our jobs, or the general stress of millennial life.
Enter the boomer troll:
“Stop whining. You sound like a spoiled toddler. Your real problem is that you spend all your money at Starbucks. You spend it on iPhones and flat screen televisions. Learn some personal finance.”
I call this “The Starbucks Defense,” because it’s a cheap, intellectually lazy excuse to justify the economic hellscape millionaire boomers have spent the last three decades voting for. Sometimes they substitute different commodities, like mobile devices.
For the record:
The flat screen television I own is a Christmas present from ten years ago. I replace my phone every five to six years, when it literally stops functioning. In three years, I’ve been to Starbucks five times. Each time I spent less than five dollars. I don’t eat out. I don’t go on exotic vacations. Once a month, my family orders a pizza. That’s our major splurge.
You know who I see eating out a lot?
It’s my coworkers in their late 50s and 60s who always talk about going to bars and restaurants. It’s not me and my friends. We’re too exhausted from parenthood and second jobs. We don’t have the time or the energy to eat out, much less the disposable income.
“Build your own company like I did.”
This is another good one.
A lot of millionaire boomers tell me I was all wrong to go into education. They call my friends foolish for becoming social workers or public defenders, or (god forbid) librarians. They believe anyone who works these jobs has sealed their own fate. They don’t deserve financial stability. They deserve to sink into debt while working 14 hours a day, then die in poverty.
They weren’t industrious enough.
What we should really do is all quit our jobs in public service and start our own companies. We should take out loans, on top of our student debt, and start producing makeup kits or more plastic crap—or maybe cheap clothes manufactured overseas.
Never mind that if our company takes off, Amazon would immediately launch plans to steal our data and then release a competing product. To millionaire boomers, that’s not illegal. That’s just competition.
This is privileged boomer logic. The answer isn’t to fight back against the system. It’s to embrace it fully. Don’t resist Jeff Bezos. Become a little Jeff Bezos. Use his tactics to make as much money as you can, by exploiting everyone around you. That’s their answer to our problems. If we’re not willing to do that, it’s our fault.
It doesn’t matter what we say.
Millennials and zoomers understand our financial situation better than our parents do. Wealthy boomers live in denial, pretending they didn’t vote for politicians like Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush, who sacrificed our future on the altar of unregulated capitalism.
They founded companies and built wealth over the last decade using our underpaid labor. Now they tell us the only way we’ll make wealth is to do the same to our own children. They point at the little bit of wealth we’ve built, which could be wiped out in an instant by a medical emergency or climate disaster, and tell us to be grateful.
They don’t pay any attention to our charts and graphs. They don’t listen to our well-reasoned arguments. They don’t read the books we recommend. They tell the story of their success, like a broken record.
They ask us what we do with our free time. They ask when we’re going to get married and have kids, or buy a home. They stare off into space as we try to explain why most of us can’t, or don’t want to anymore.
They call us “lazy.” It used to hurt.
Now it’s just irritating.