Weekend? What weekend? Oh, you mean the last two days? The ones that normal people, with normal Monday to Friday jobs spend doing things like the weekly shopping, mowing the lawn, washing the car and getting drunk? THAT weekend? Oh, I spent those days doing stuff for the accountant, you know, updating spreadsheets, downloading data from the bank, checking and cross-checking everything, filling in gaps, making sure everything balances and adds up, that kind of thing. And I really don’t enjoy doing it. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the things in life that I truly loathe doing. I get a small satisfaction from seeing everything add up and reflect what’s on the bank statement, but that’s just the OCD side of me getting a hit of Dopamine and going on a restrained little gambol of joy around the living room. I spent my weekend doing the accounts so that I could have this week free and clear, happy in the knowledge that all of the detested bookkeeping work is completed for another year. Now THAT is cause for celebration. I felt so good when I finally not only sent off last year’s info to the accountant but I also updated the current year’s info to match how he’d suggested I do it. I am on top of my game! Watch me and turn green with envy. I am where everyone wants to be, I have it handled, it’s all done, sorted, completed and put away. I am Organised, the Queen of the Annual Accounts. I went to bed last night feeling incredibly smug and proud of my achievement.
Today started beautifully: a nice breakfast with John, a long chat about what we’re creating this year, some writing followed by a trip to the gym. I called into a café after my gym session to finish off my article (not this one), opened up my laptop and heard the DING of new mail arriving. It was from my accountant. Secure in the knowledge that I was about to receive high praise from him about how fabulously awesome my spreadsheets were and how meticulous and accurate I’d been with my calculations, I couldn’t wait to open up the email to receive my well-deserved adulation.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was not one word of acknowledgement. Instead, there was an unflatteringly long list containing SEVENTEEN changes he wants (needs) me to make to the spreadsheet that I thought was the height of perfection. Seventeen. My smugness lay shattered to smithereens in among the fragments of the towering pride in my work. It was a veritable trashing of all the hard work I’d put in over the weekend, pointing out that, in actual fact, I have bugger all to be smug about because I got the entire thing completely ***ing wrong. He’s not even convinced that I got the opening balances right.
My accountant is, I have to say, a lovely guy and he doesn’t deserve all the things I’ve said about him in the privacy of my own head or the nasty things that I’ve been fantasising will befall him over the next few days. He is a genuinely nice guy who’s only trying to help and whose OCD is quite obviously in a totally different league to mine.
All this means that the pleasure of putting fingers to keyboard and creating literary masterpieces is denied to me for probably another week or so. He sent me a second email not long after I closed the first and began inventing swear words to describe him. I haven’t had the courage to open that one yet. I need to get me a strong, sweet tea (and maybe a box of tissues) before I go anywhere near the damn thing.
I’m in this bizarre space where I’m flitting between pride, excitement, severe worry and sleepless nights. And we’re nowhere close to the time of The Event.
Last November, Keeley asked if she could go on exchange with school this year. “Sure!” says I, keen for her to spread her wings and experience the world in all its diverse glory, “Where do you want to go?”
“Somewhere warm,” says Keeley, who’s a cold-blooded creature like myself, “So I’m thinking maybe Fiji or… what about Colombia?”
Okay, Colombia is a bit left field, I didn’t expect that. Fiji I can understand, it’s close to Australia, she’s been there before and she likes it. England I’d expect, France definitely, possibly Canada, but Colombia? That's an interesting choice. Why Colombia?
“Don’t you remember?” she said, “My friend, Mariana, was on exchange from Colombia in Term 1. I really like her so maybe I could go there.”
I wasn’t entirely sure how to react to that. “Okay, so, liking someone from the country is one reason to decide to go there. I’m sure there are other reasons.”
I was a little hesitant about Colombia to be honest, but drug lords and the resulting media hype notwithstanding, I couldn’t think of any valid reason why Colombia was a bad choice. I mean, I’m sure most of the population of Colombia are law-abiding citizens who have nothing to do with any drug cartels nor are they involved with any other inhumane or illegal activity. Logic dictates that has to be the case, right? As an Australian with the majority of my family and many of my friends living on the other side of the world, I’m well used to people making vast assumptions about Australia and then coming to bizarre erroneous conclusions. “I’m never going to Australia,” says one niece, “There’s too many spiders and other creepy crawlies there. I might get bitten by something and die!” I mean, okay, yes, nine of the top ten most poisonous creatures in the world live here, and yes, 90% of the country is desert, and I’ll admit that a number of people get killed by Great White sharks every year, and yes, you do have to check under the toilet seat for red back spiders, and no, you can’t go into the very blue, warm and inviting waters round the entire top half of the country because of the jellyfish, stonefish, lionfish, sharks and crocodiles. But, you know, 25 million of us live here and most of us are okay. Darwin’s Law takes care of the stupid ones.
On top of that, as an Australian, I can’t point an accusing finger at any other country about their criminals, because here in Australia, we love our crims! We revere them, laud them, build statues to them and name landmarks after them. Every schoolkid in Australia learns all about Ned Kelly, for example. For any non-Aussies reading this, Ned Kelly was from a family of Irish immigrants. He and his brothers decided that stealing things from other people would make life a little easier for their family. Knowing that the authorities wouldn’t agree with them, not to mention the people they were stealing from, Ned came up with this great idea of sticking an iron bucket on his head to prevent himself from being shot in the inevitable final shoot-out with the police. He got caught (shot) and his final words before being hanged can be found on many a bogan’s car these days: “Such is life”.
Ned Kelly isn’t the only bushranger known to Australian schoolkids, by the way. Just to make sure anyone who isn’t from rural Victoria (Ned’s home) doesn’t feel left out, our Primary schoolchildren do projects on the most famous of the bushrangers from their local area, too (“bushranger” is an Australian euphemism for “19th century Australian criminal”). In Armidale, it’s a guy called Captain Thunderbolt, who has a road and various other landmarks named after him. In Perth, it was a guy called Moondyne Joe.
I come from a country whose main source of migrants for many years was criminals. While I may have understandable parental concerns about Keeley going to a place that I’ve never been to or experienced, I have zero moral grounds to object to the trip. I sighed. “Okay, yes, go for it.”
The original plan was for the Colombian student to come to Australia in Term 2 and for Keeley to visit Colombia in Term 3, however, the two girls got chatting and decided they didn’t want to wait that long. A couple of days before Christmas, they announced that they’d much prefer it if Isabella came over here in Term 1 and Keeley went to Colombia in Term 2. Isabella’s mum and I donned our capes and shiny shorts and went into full-on Supermum mode. Visas were gained, arrangements were made, flights were booked and before we could blink, it was time to go and pick Isa up from the airport.
Armidale airport. Not the Gold Coast airport, the one that's 20kms from our house. Armidale airport, the one that's 520kms from our house.
It slowly dawned on me that in all the rush to get everything sorted, I didn’t make it clear just how far away from school we live. Isabella’s mum knew Keeley was a boarder but she understandably assumed that we lived an hour or so from school, which would be the norm for most countries. But this is Australia, where there’s nothing for thousands of kilometres and it’s not unusual to drive for 6, 10 or 18 hours to get somewhere. So, Isabella was booked to fly into and out of Armidale and Expedia, being the kind of company that they are, wouldn’t allow any changes to be made to the flights. Gits.
The first weekend back at school involves a trip to the coast for the boarders. To meet new friends, help new students settle in, and allow everyone to catch up with their old friends after the summer holidays. It turns out that Isabella isn’t the only exchange student at TAS this term.
“Hi Mum! How are you?!!!” I know that when I get this kind of greeting in this tone of voice from Keeley, she has something to ask of me, something that I may not like very much, something that she’s very attached to getting and is prepared to put a lot of effort into ensuring that she gets it. Consequently, I was quite wary, even a little reserved in my response: “Yes, good. What is it? How’s the weekend going?”
“Oh, nothing, everything's great, really great!! We’re having an amazing time!! We’ve had so much fun!!!”
“Uh-huh.” I’m waiting for the punchline. I know it’s going to come, I’m just trying to figure out what it is. Whenever Keely puts that many exclamation marks into her sentences, I know that it’s likely to cost me a lot of money, a fair bit of time and probably hours of effort. Plus, there’s usually some persuading of her dad involved, too, because he’s generally reluctant to go along with these bright ideas of Keeley’s.
“You know how Isa is on exchange from Colombia?!!” she exclaimed, “Well, there’s another girl here from PERU!! Isn’t that AMAZING?!!”
I agreed, non-committally, that was pretty amazing that two girls from South America were both over on exchange at the same time. I was beginning to see where this might be heading and if it was going in that direction, John was not going to be happy at all.
“I know, right?!!! It’s so cool, isn’t it?!! But, it’s so sad because Peru (yes, Keeley did call her Peru) doesn’t have anyone to exchange with! The poor thing is coming over here and there’s no one to go and visit her! So, I was thinking…”
Oh, here we go, I thought to myself. I had a vague idea of where this was going, and I wasn’t going to ease it along the way.
There was a nervous little pause while Keeley cleared her throat before continuing, “So, I was thinking, right? Maybe, what if… I went to Peru as well as Colombia?!! Isn’t that a great idea?!! That means that I’ll have the same time in South America as Isa gets in Australia! It’s just split between two schools! And it’s not that far from Bogota to Lima, I can just hop on the plane!!! Wouldn’t that be cool?!!”
Right. So, my fifteen-year old daughter not only wants my blessing to go to Colombia, she now also wants to travel from Colombia to Peru. By herself. I need to start on the Valium right now so that I’m fully prepared and supported well before it comes time for her to leave on this Grand Voyage of hers, and I’m definitely going to need them before I run this past her father. I’ll need to be really chilled before I speak to him about this one.
The thing was, the three girls had it all planned before Keeley even got on the phone to me. I swear, that child should head for a career as a defence barrister or maybe even a politician. Why she isn’t on the school debating team, I don’t know but they’re missing out on an incredibly resourceful raconteur. After getting my rather vague and bemused semi-approval, they went in to see the lady at school who’s responsible for organising exchanges, and in her words in the email she sent to the schools in South America, “The three girls have certainly hatched a plan”. By Monday afternoon, the whole thing was organised: In mid-April, Keeley will go to Colombia for 5 or 6 weeks, then head over to Peru for another 5 weeks or so.
The only problem was, John still didn’t know anything about it.
I filled him in on the details about the student having no one to exchange with and Keeley wanting to “hop on the plane” to Lima instead of coming back here. John chuckled indulgently, “She’s got some cheek! I don’t know where she gets these ideas from, honestly! Peru. I ask you.” Then he stopped laughing and turned to me, “You haven’t told her she can, have you?”
Ryan sent me a video to watch the other day by a guy called Simon Sinek, who’s talking about how Millennials are struggling with forming relationships, having rewarding careers and life in general. I shared the video (and I’ve put the link at the bottom of this post) with the intention of putting up this post to go with it. unfortunately, I got sidetracked. Several days later, I’m picking up where I left off. Well, kind of. I also had several conversations about the video with Ryan and my Uncle and I thought it would be an interesting exercise to get their views on the video, too: three generations of commentary.
At the start of the video, I was intrigued; Simon makes several great points. But I don’t agree with his ultimate point at all, because he’s saying that Millennials are the way they are and it’s not their fault, poor them; they’re victims of poor parenting and the narcissism of today’s technological lifestyle.
Excuse me? Millennials are the way they are and it’s up to them to take responsibility for it, look at how things are, take what works and move beyond what doesn’t work. That’s the way it is for all of us. That’s the way it has been since time immemorial. It’s called growth, development, maturity.
Simon points out that companies need to support their employees and bring out the best in them, and right now that’s not happening. The poor Millennials want to make a difference in the world and because they’ve grown up with this need for instant gratification, they’re getting disillusioned and moving from job to job. Employers need to change the way they do things to stop that. Employers definitely do need to change. Some of them have an appalling culture that affects not just the poor millennials but every other employee, too. We’re all human, we all want to make a difference in the world, but as time goes on and the world changes and grows, we’ve become more aware that making a difference is a basic human driver. We’ve moved away from mere survival to something more. This can be said about every company towards every employee. When a company’s main focus is the dollar, when it’s all about efficiency and profit and production, something needs to change. It’s no longer a sustainable business model. A successful business today needs to be about the people within the company, not the product. The people are the true resource, not the product.
Each generation has its own hurdles to overcome. If I look back at my grandmother’s parenting technique, “Bring me that brush so I can hit you with it” will never form a part of my child-rearing armoury. But my Granny was rearing her children to the best of her ability, in the way that she felt was appropriate at the time. She wanted her kids to do well, she wanted them to succeed, she did her best. Did my parents have crap to deal with as a result of that? They sure did? Do I have stuff that I need to deal with because of things that my parents did? I sure do. We all do. My parents did their best, my grandparents did their best, I did my best, AND WE’RE STILL GOING TO MAKE MISTAKES. It’s called growth, learning, development, maturity, wisdom. It’s called being human.
On the whole, parents ALWAYS try to do the best they can for their kids, it’s an inbuilt survival mechanism, it’s difficult to avoid. Parents are also people. They’re growing, learning, making mistakes. Parents are – shock, horror - fallible. They don’t know what the hell they’re doing most of the time, they make it up as they go along. There could never be a manual for parenting but we’re all so individual. Our personalities and unique experiences mean that each of us will deal with every situation in a slightly different way. We have to learn for ourselves. That’s called LIVING. That’s what being a human is all about: learning, growing, maturing, becoming wiser.
The Millennial generation has it no harder or easier than any other generation, their experiences are simply different. The outcome of that particular style of parenting is different to previous generations. Their lifestyle is different to any other generation. The expectations that they have from life are different. And conversely, every older generation since the year dot has commented that the younger generation don’t know how easy they’ve got it and that they don’t know how the world will survive when they younger generation take over.
This is all GREAT news, because it means that as a human race, we’re growing and developing. We tried something, maybe it didn’t work as well as we wanted it to and now it’s time to take whatever learnings we need to take from it, integrate them and grow.
But the overall feel of the video, intentional or not, was that of “oh, the poor millennials” like they’re somehow weak, powerless, victims who have zero control over what happens to them and how they’re so hard done by and how they’ve got so much to overcome. That is not my belief. My belief is that these generations are the strongest we’ve produced yet. They may have different problems to overcome, problems that haven’t been seen before in the history of mankind, but so has every generation before them. It’s all balanced: the size of the problems/experiences/expectations I believe is balanced out by the size of the opportunities and potential rewards.
This generation is far from powerless and they’re definitely not victims. Or at least, they can be if they want to be, the same as everyone else, and maybe they have the power to be far more victimised and powerless if they want to be. It’s a choice. My feeling is that they’re the best generation humanity has produced yet, and the following generations will continue to improve. Yes, they face different challenges to me or my ancestors, but they’re more than capable of dealing with them. And yes, the older generations need to change and grow and adapt in a way that gives the younger generations the best foundation they can have for the future. That’s how it’s supposed to go… in a perfect world. We’re becoming more and more aware of what we need to do to make things work best; we’ll get there.
Ryan’s commentary on the video:
There are, apparently, two schools of thought:
In the first, the idea is that, originally, humanity was at its peak, morally and emotionally. Since then, with the invention of more and more weapons and unnecessary technological clutter, we have come steadily further and further away from that basic state of human nature. People point to heroic eddas, or classical epics, and claim that because the people in those were unquestionably heroic, we have definitely come downhill from there. Now, instead of lying around being tragically moral, we just sit on our phones and ignore the more general problems facing our species.
In the second, however, the idea is that as we develop more and more advanced technology, moving further away from the necessity to spend the entirety of our days finding food or shelter or other such banal trivia, we come to a state in which we can develop our morality and emotion consciously. Being rid of the superficial, we can focus on what it really means to be human.
So: either we were better in the good old days, or we're getting better with every passing day. Sound familiar? Is the glass of cognitive understanding half empty, or half full? Do Millennials really contribute anything to the world, or were things better before the invention of the internet?
I saw a video a couple of days ago, and promptly sent it to my mum, who's generally interested in these kinds of things. In it, a speaker 'diagnoses' why Millennials have such different expectations in the workplace. His reasoning was to enable the older employers to understand why Millennials want standing desks, or to have their phones on them at all times, or to - and I'm not exaggerating - "make a difference in the world".
[Quick Point: I'm a Millennial, according to most measurements on the topic. I grew up when Facebook was in its infancy, I watched the internet grow into what it is today, and the changes that it made impacted on how I developed as a person. Just so you know: it might make my viewpoint different to yours.]
This speaker said that the differences between the newer generation and the older are caused by four distinct effects: bad parenting, changing technology, ingrained impatience and a communication-filled environment. And while, as he goes through the list, he makes a few good points about how we were raised differently and how technology has impacted on the way that we interact with the world, in the end I found that I didn't really agree with him. For two reasons.
Firstly: all of this assumes that our generation is different to the one before. "Millennials are so entitled." "Millennials are impatient." "Millennials don't know how good they've got it." Should I bring everyone's attention to the 60s? At what point do people think that the fact that technology has changed mean that the people who grew up with it are somehow worse for having different expectations about how life should be lived? Where does the change occur in a person, going from "technology is great" to "technology is ruining young people"? Because I will guarantee: the people who complain about iPhones and Apps are the same people who defended the rise of mobile phones.
Secondly: we shouldn't be tiptoeing around the fact that young people act differently to old people. Young people have their phones ringing, and if we don't like it, it's up to us to bring it up. It always takes a while for society to develop an etiquette about new technology, and in the last ten years we've gone from "don't speak to strangers on the internet" to "set up a date with a random person over an App based on nothing but a picture and a short paragraph". Sure, young people may be rude in the eyes of old people, but old people are behind the times to young people.
And that is the way that it has ALWAYS been.
My point is that, in the end, people are all the same. Every generation since the dawn of time has complained about being sandwiched between a generation that doesn't move with the times and a generation that moves too quickly.
We weren't any better before, and we won't be any better in the future. But maybe we can get rid of the idea that our generation is better than the others.
I’ll add my Uncle’s commentary as soon as I can.
Hi! I’m Karen O’Connor, hormonally-challenged, menopausal writer, blogger, self-confessed sarcasm enthusiast, mother of 4, wife of 30 years, destroyer of souls... no, wait, that's just in the mornings...