Millennials Were Told to Wait All Their Lives: Now We Bear the Cost
“Wait your turn” was a good platitude in kindergarten, not obstructing an entire generation after the turn of the millennium.
There’s much to be said about some of the more pernicious childrearing methods Millennials bore the brunt of from their Boomer parents. Having grown up in an unstable household with an abusive parent and an enabling parent who romanticized the past far too much, I thought that the fatalism imposed upon me — which centered around waiting — was just personal.
All my life, I was told to wait things out. To wait until I graduated high school to have any semblance of happiness and an end to the constant trauma I endured. To wait until I was a bill-paying adult who could vote. Wait until you graduate college and can find a good job (LOLSOB if you graduated in 2008 or later).
Imagine my shock when I found out this was actually structural and my entire generation was being told to keep waiting for things.
But it’s not just the hardships of school bullies, antagonizing teachers, and adult supremacy we’re conditioned to wait out. It’s also the good things in life, the little joys and the major accomplishments, that we were told to wait for. We weren’t encouraged to just go for what we wanted, all while the specter of that 30 Under 30 list hovered between the shitty clapboard walls of our apartments shared with five roommates. Our helicopter parents wondered why weren’t on it, just so they could go dick-wave like they did with those obnoxious bumper stickers.
Millennials weren’t just gaslit by the media and entire generation about how useless, lazy, and entitled we were. We spent our childhoods told we could be and do anything, then that went out the window once we turned 18 and became, “Your life is worthless unless you get a STEM degree and spend your life being an engineer for some billionaire.”
We were brainwashed to postpone any joy, happiness, and personal and entrepreneurial aspirations that didn’t fit neatly in the box of university schedules and office job chattel slavery where an HR department runs your life. (Author’s sidenote: seriously, how do youse do it? The thought of going back to a W-2 job makes me want to commit seppuku with a selfie stick.)
Yet somehow, we were told to wait until we were practically in our forties to have any attempt at upward mobility all while we were also drastic underachievers if we weren’t on those 30 Under 30 lists and selling millions of books or indie games at 26.
I’ve heard some variation of the following from 18 to present day, and judging by the visceral concurrence I’ve seen in real life and on social media? Apparently so have millions of other Millennials:
“Don’t have kids you can’t afford! Wait until you have a stable marriage and household income.”
“You should wait until you have a good job and save lots of money, SO much money, before you take the risks of starting a business.”
“Maybe you should wait until you get married before you [insert buy a home, move for a job, start a business, take an international trip, any damn thing]”
“Pay your dues and wait your turn before you run for office or start telling the CEO of your company how to do his job.”
On the surface, some of these sentiments sound well-meaning or even make sense. But it’s one thing to make a personal choice and parse how you were personally told something, no matter how inane it is. When a whole generation has structurally been told to wait for things? Well, it had consequences.
Raising children is hard and has grown increasingly expensive. So expensive, that only 3 in 10 Millennials live with a spouse and child compared to 40% of Gen X’ers. But you can’t whine about how you don’t have grandchildren and Millennials are skipping children in record numbers, when you spent their whole lives saying that they should wait until they could afford kids. That day never came for many of us.
Entrepreneurship is also difficult, and not for everyone. Speaking just for myself, I can’t imagine living life any other way and wish I hadn’t ascribed to trying to fit into the regular job mold every other American Millennial gets boxed into. Granted, it’s easier than ever to start a digital business today. It still takes money and skill, but not student loan or down payment kind of money like a brick-and-mortar shop would. Speaking from life experience here — you don’t need to wait until your life and finances are completely perfect to start a business. Hell, starting at rock bottom was my only option.
But if you keep waiting and waiting to act on your business ideas, no matter how small or grandiose? You might never get around to them if you’re in stasis, thinking you have to constantly strive for this “better time” that may never arrive.
Perhaps that’s the intent of systemically being told to wait.
Paying your dues. Now that one is just rich, no pun intended.
This phrase grates my nerves in a manner that could only be rivaled by being stuck in a room with screaming kids for eight hours while jackhammers and EDM playing at 2.5x speed are raging outside.
In 2014, I lost what I hadn’t yet known would be the very last salaried W-2 office job I’d work. Hey, that’s a rough thing for anyone to go through in a capitalist hellscape where you must work to have basic human rights. Even if you hated your job and were exploited, abused, and underpaid, you have a legitimate reason to be worried and upset in a job-worshipping society that is now threatening your basic sustenance.
Upon losing my job and being disqualified from unemployment due to owning said game studio, I applied for over 500 jobs despite lacking the incentive to tough another one out if I couldn’t even get unemployment for my suffering. I exhausted my network on LinkedIn, wore out my Indeed account, and my friends and their friends never had any leads as I scoured Craigslist like a pot with rice burnt at the bottom. The search yielded five interviews and zero offers.
My father called to check on me and ask how the job search was going. I expressed my frustration with how tax jobs were impossible to find and I’d probably have to wait until normal tax offices were hiring again in September. I was living the precarity I was told I needed an accounting degree so badly in order to avoid, precarity I was told I’d meet in entrepreneurship. (Spoiler alert: THIS IS A FUCKING LIE. Write that business plan, that book, make that game design doc.)
He said, “Maybe you haven’t paid your dues yet.”
I exploded with a volcanic fury that fueled at least five Morbid Angel albums pursuant to Formulas Fatal to the Flesh.
I was 29 years old with a B.S. in accounting and M.S.Acc degree focusing on taxation and public finance, plus an Enrolled Agent license. I worked in tax franchises, did a tax policy fellowship in grad school, had contract work and employment with boutique firms, and had my own clients as a self-employed accountant as I co-owned a game studio. I almost killed myself trying to get through grad school, where I suffered severe depression. I gave up having a hardcore band and buried my desire to make indie games under the impression that it was pointless since I had to make more sacrifices in the name of “stability” for this career I honestly didn’t even want.
Dad, as much as I love him, got a civil service job at 23 with a BA in music and didn’t get a master’s degree until age 50, which his job paid for. Meantime, this is what I was told on the brink of my thirties, after I’d spent my entire youth being told to just wait.
Tell me, dear reader. How the FUCK do you not call what I did “paying your dues”?
I’m far from the only one in my cohort with a story like this. We are the most educated and the shittiest paid. Even as I’ve thrived in entrepreneurship, and my values and personal needs don’t really prize making big bucks, I’m still making what my father made at a GS-13 pay grade in 1997. Which supported a family of four. I could’ve reached that point so much earlier and with greater velocity had I not listened, and decided not to wait.
At 29, I decided I was done with waiting.
At 34, I saw the obsession with dues-paying approach katamari damacy levels of bullshittery as my neighborhood organized to get AOC elected. The old guard blathered about how she had to “pay her dues” before joining any committees or proposing bills, when those were the precise reasons my district sent her to Washington.
It grated my nerves like a fine Stilton. But DAMN, did I feel seen. It turned out she then took this literally.
Say what you will about what AOC does in the House and on social media. But it was vindicating as fuck to finally see one of my own generation from an oft-forgotten part of NYC just stand up and basically say, “We’re tired of waiting. Your making us wait all our lives has cost society dearly.”
We weren’t told to wait on just careers, families, and politics. We were told to wait on action to mitigate climate change…and we might be too late because of once again, this obsession with paying dues and WAITING.
The longer we wait to address a completely unsustainable healthcare system, the more preventable deaths and bankruptcies we will end up with.
The more we wait to be heard, the more inaction and mewling about paying your dues comes from the old guard who really needs to get out of the way at this point.
Fuck waiting. We are DONE.
I hereby grant you the validation of your frustrations with being told to wait all your life. This contentious time has proven that telling us to wait only fostered barbarism and missed chances.
Take what’s yours and live, live, LIVE after we get that vaccine.
Live your life with no regrets.