At the time of writing, these are the top four search suggestions on Google pertaining to our subject:

“why is Gen Y so unhappy”
“why is Gen Y so stupid”
“why is Gen Y so selfish”
“why is Gen Y so lazy”

It doesn’t take Einstein to figure that the members of Generation Y do not enjoy a stellar reputation in general. But why is this so? Let’s get to the heart of the issue.

If you remember the digitalization of the world during your childhood, you’re likely part of Gen Y. You grew up to see the world shift from the space age to the information age in the wake of the Digital Revolution. You grew up around Walkmans and Gameboys and Playstations and later the internet. You remember your parents being really worried and stressed out in 1997 during the financial crisis, and you remember Malaysia hosting the Commonwealth Games in 1998.

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You’re Gen Y; what some would call “Millennials” or “the entitled generation”.

Gen Y has been entering the job market as early as the turn of the millennium, and if the articles written on Gen Y are any indication, the older generation has no idea what to do with these Gen Y workers with their weird approach to things, their lack of effective initiative and their disregard for authority. Who are these young people running all over the place, and more importantly, how do we handle them?

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To properly understand Gen Y, one needs to also understand their parents, the Baby Boomers. Born into a world right in the thick of the Cold War (no, not that HK movie; the actual one that spurred the US-Soviet arms race) and the rise of mass media, they were raised with the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over their heads – like the sword dangling over Damocles, held only by a single strand of hair. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Communist Threat and the 13 May Incident were all facts of life and as real to them as Facebook and Pokémon.

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When it became the Baby Boomers’ turn to be parents, the reactionary response was, of course, to raise their children differently. They studied and they fought and they killed for the notion of a nation that they would get to build, and when their children were born, they gave them everything they felt they never had: financial security; safety; peace.

And so Gen Y was born.

Video games; participation trophies; positive talk; the ever-present parent ready at a moment’s notice to give their child all the assistance they need from manual to mental labor… These are the hallmarks of Gen Y’s development. You are unique. You are special. You are smart even without studying. You are talented even without trying.
You see where this is going, don’t you? All throughout childhood, Gen Y was taught that they are God’s gift to the world – and suddenly hitting adulthood, they’re suddenly told they’re not and that they need to get over themselves.

Is it any surprise that Gen Y appears stupid or selfish or lazy when they’ve been brought up to believe they could get away with it?

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But I don’t want you to misunderstand me – this article isn’t written to tell you where to point the finger, far from it. I’m trying to bring us all to a place of understanding so that we may figure out where to go from here. We can’t change where we’ve come from, but we can decide where to go next.

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I’m talking to two groups of people here: both Gen Y and the older generation scratching their heads wondering what to do with Gen Y. I’ll start with the latter.

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Dear older generation:

Your young people are many things, but they are not stupid. They may be irrational and sluggish, but they are smarter than you think. Set boundaries and clear goals for them, but allow them to approach the goals in their own way. Lay down the law when it is necessary, but dole out the punishment from a place of compassion and understanding. And in the words of Dale Carnegie, “A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.”

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Dear Gen Y:

Don’t be sitting around waiting for the world to change to suit your wants and needs. An ancient advice to young people tells them to set an example for their elders in speech and action. Don’t just do enough in order not to be labeled “lazy” or “slow”, go above and beyond. You know what the world thinks of you – the onus is on you to prove them wrong. As Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

And as we all adjust our expectations by grounding them in reality with a good dose of optimism for the future, we may even find some measure of happiness for all of us involved.


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Posted by Joseph Ng