On a quiet night, six months before we got married, my soon-to-be husband raised his eyebrow and said, “If I ask nicely, will you show me your private box?” I squirmed in my chair and avoided his gaze. I glanced at the wall and considered my options. I was embarrassed about what my private box contained. Could I really bare it all to him, show him my private embarrassment?
Slowly, I got up from the table and walked to our bedroom. I reached under the bed and retrieved the shoebox that held the secrets I’d never shared with another human. I sauntered back to the dining room, lifted the lid, and poured the contents onto the table. Hundreds of little white slips came tumbling out, spilling across the table in a white jumbled mess, and the loud thud of my checkbook broke the silence in the dining room.
I was 23 years old — an adult with a good paying job — and I had no idea how to actually manage my money. My idea of “banking” was to shove receipts and bills into a box, only to pay them when the ugly letters arrived in my mailbox, threatening the cessation of my electricity. I stopped spending money when the ATM told me I had insufficient funds. I also didn’t know how to cook, parallel park a car, or jump a car battery. I had graduated from college with a degree in nursing and could tell you how to run a cardiac code in my sleep, but I had no idea what how to balance a checkbook.
Basically, I had no business being a grown-up.
It was humiliating. Thankfully, though, my husband being the patient saint that he is, taught me money basics and we sat, long into the night, head to head, working on my checkbook until it “balanced,” a foreign term for my challenged money skills. I felt like a failure, but because I had a desire to learn and become more independent, I let myself off the hook. Eventually, I became better at budgeting, and these days, I put Martha Stewart to shame in the kitchen.
My point? I was born in the 1970s with my feet firmly planted in the Generation X playing field, and I wasn’t prepared to tackle adult problems. My generation wears it as a point of pride that we are independent, self-motivated, and more successful than our parents. We are the OG latchkey kids, the kids who dealt with a rising divorce rate, and a time in our history when the economy was in full swing. Ours was a generation filled with flashy ’80s fashions, conspicuous consumption, and the best music ever made.
Sure, we had a reputation for being cynical and unfocused, but on the whole, Gen Xers grew up to be successful and resourceful. And now we act like total assholes to millennials because we think we knew what we were doing when we hit the real world.
But Gen Xers seem to forget that we, too, were young and stupid, fresh-faced and just out of college without the faintest idea of how to actually be an adult. We need to stop giving millennials crap for being lazy or ill-prepared for the demands that come with adulthood when we were just as clueless.
Recently, two women from Maine sparked a controversy because they started The Adulting School, an institution aimed at millennials who are struggling with the tasks of adulthood. Students can enroll in courses to assist them with insurance claims, budgeting, even retirement concerns. And the classes are full of 20-somethings who want to be independent but don’t have the tools to do so.
Sure, the argument could be made that the parents of millennials didn’t prepare them for the real world, but I reject that wholeheartedly. Just because a millennial doesn’t know how to pay bills or manage debt doesn’t make them ill-equipped for the world. I’m 42 and still don’t understand Snapchat, for God’s sake. We are all learning and evolving every day. There’s no reason to call out an entire generation because they do things differently than we did during the Generation X heyday.
I am pretty sure I’d have given The Adulting School all of my money when I was in my 20s to help me learn the art of budgeting. Sure, you can make all the jokes you want about how millennials are looking for a quick fix to their problems or about how they don’t have the skills to make it in our current job market but, the fact is, becoming an adult is a scary time and having resources available for young adults to succeed is never a bad thing.
The thing is, though, millennials are smarter than we Gen Xers were — by a long shot. While we privately hid our adulting failures, millennials are open and honest about their needs and what will help them succeed. They aren’t hiding behind their embarrassment at not being able to manage their finances. Rather, they are seeking ways to become independent and better for it. I, for one, admire that the millennial generation has seemingly found a work-life balance that I didn’t have in my 20s, and I’m envious that they not only have technology that helps them be more efficient at their jobs, but they also have the guts to admit openly that they need help with problem-solving.
No disrespect to my Gen X peeps, but I would become a millennial in a heartbeat.
Millennials are doing just fine, Gen Xers. They don’t need us to disparage their generation, and we need to stop falling back on the “Well, in my day” mentality when we watch their generation grow and expand. Millennials have figured out how to raise children in the internet age, and they’ve taken on social issues and injustices with fierce indignation. Frankly, we Gen Xers could learn a thing or two from the millennial generation. Mostly, I’d love it if a millennial could show me how to use Snapchat. (I’m not proud.)