[Transcript] Lakewood Public Library Author Talk: The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation

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Hello readers! I recently recorded a Meet the Author talk at a local library. It was so much fun and I loved being able to add a little more about current events that obviously weren’t covered in the book that was published a little over a year ago.

You can watch the video here:

The audio is a little quiet, so it’s best watched with headphones (I got the best results watching on my phone), but I also wrote out a transcript in case you’re more of a reader than a viewer or if you miss any of the audio.

Check out the full transcript below, sans all my “um” noises as I checked my notes. (Ugh).

Title Card reads:
Caitlin Fisher
The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation: How to Succeed in a Society that Blames You for Everything Gone Wrong
Lakewood Public Library

Hi, I’m Caitlin Fisher, the author of The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation: How to Succeed in a Society that Blames You for Everything Gone Wrong.

I’m a local author, I live on the west side of Cleveland in West Park, and I have a bachelor’s in Psychology, a Master’s in Higher Education with a background in career counseling and marketing. We’ll talk about millennial job hopping later, it’s relevant. And I also write and teach about boundaries and emotional recovery after leaving an abusive marriage two years ago. So, a long and varied story like many millennials. 

About the book

I’m going to start off just by talking about how I got the idea for The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation. It actually started as a blog post I wrote in 2016. I had been doing some research into emotional abuse, recovery, and trauma work. And I kept coming across the idea of gaslighting, which is a manipulation tactic where essentially you make people doubt their own perceptions or reality. So, they tell you their experience of something and you essentially say, “What, that’s crazy, that can’t be right.” 

The more I learned about this concept, the more I realized that’s sort of how we’ve been treating young people entering the workforce. So we were raised being told, you know, “if you work hard, you can do anything.” And then we leave college, or maybe we don’t go to college, and we’re putting in the work and working very hard, and we’re not getting anywhere. And the more noise we make about this, the more we’re told “That’s not really how it works, you’re being entitled.” 

And this book came from that. So after the blog post I turned it into a full length book, it’s got 12 chapters, and each chapter is titled “Millennials are Killing…” something or other. Topics range from the American Dream to Relationships and Marriage to the Economy. Anything we can be accused of destroying as dirty, entitled millennials, I tried to hit the highlights of. 

Why this book?

What I wanted to do with the book is not only address this concept of gaslighting, I wanted to validate what millennials have been through. I wanted to have space for those experiences and let people know that they’re relatable, they’re not unique and they’re not doing it wrong and messing it up, they’re not alone. There’s a mix of reassurance, unpacking why we’re being accused of being so entitled when we want basic human necessities, and then each chapter ends with practical advice to make sure you’re killing it, since we’re killing everything.

I also want to acknowledge privilege. I am a well-educated white person. I am queer but can pass for cis and straight, and that affords me a lot of privilege in society. Society is set up for people who look like me. So, as much as possible throughout the book, when I talk about concepts I know that not everyone views their experience in our society through the same lens that I did. So I try as much as possible to talk about how racism, classism, and ableism might affect people’s experiences throughout the book. Because I don’t just want to be speaking about my experiences, I want it to be relatable to as many people as possible. 

I am a millennial with baby boomer parents, so those are the experiences that I talk about a lot. I’ve gotten a little bit of commentary about how I skipped Gen X in the middle (Gen X is kind of used to it, unfortunately), but that’s not my lived experience. I can’t really speak to Gen X because I’m a millennial with boomer parents, so that’s what I’m writing about.  

Overall what I want people to take away from this book is that, one, they’re not alone in their struggles. Two, I want millennials to keep standing up and speaking out when they see that things aren’t right and aren’t fair. I love that about us, I love that we are pointing to problems in society and saying, “Hey, let’s maybe do something about that.” And three, it’s also a call for the generational blame game to stop with us. I want us to pave the way for Generation Z to come through and be as amazing as they’re already showing us they are. And so, I don’t want us to argue about the kids these days on TikTok and the Tide Pods and everything, because that’s just more in-fighting and it’s not helping us get where we want to go. 

Also, this is not a book that’s just for millennials. Obviously I’ve been talking about Gen Z a lot, and I think it could be a really helpful primer for them, especially as they’re finishing high school and entering college. And I’ve also had Gen X and Baby Boomer readers say that they’ve really loved it and appreciated the perspective it gave them about the millennial experience. 

How to read “The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation”

So, just to get into the content of the book, I wrote it in such a way that you can read one chapter if that’s a certain topic that you’re interested in, or you can read through the whole book. It’s definitely a book you can take chapter by chapter, it doesn’t have an overall narrative that has to be read in order, but rather each chapter is its own unique section. 

Part 1: Millennials are Entitled, Disrespectful Punks

It’s divided into three parts. Part 1 is called “Millennials Are Entitled, Disrespectful Punks” and that section talks about the American Dream, difficult parent-child relationships once millennials enter adulthood and they’re starting to connect with their parents on that level, and the tension that can arise there, especially if we had difficult childhoods. There’s a chapter about the workforce and career path of millennials. Like I mentioned, there tends to be a little bit more job hopping and mix-and-match career building. And then there’s a chapter about the education system. 

I started the book off here because I think these are some of the biggest, most impactful claims that people make about millennials and about how we are up-ending the status quo, which I personally think is a good thing. 

The American Dream

The American Dream chapter really tackles that avocado toast headline, where it says “if millennials want to buy a house, they need to lay off the avocado toast.” So this chapter tackles the assumption that we can’t be home owners because we’re too busy spending frivolously on brunch. And I really address the structure of the “American Dream” — air quotes — and the fact that it’s really built on that idea that if you work hard you’ll achieve it. The American Dream being a stable career, retirement savings, a nice house, marriage and kids if you want that. But what’s sort of sinister about the American Dream is that if you tell everyone if you work hard you can achieve it, anybody who hasn’t achieved it, there’s this easy finger-pointing we can do to say that they’re obviously not working hard enough. 

And then millennials are coming in to ruin the day once again and they say, “How can we buy a home? It’s not the avocado toast, it’s student loans, it’s the fact that the minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009, it’s the fact that we can’t afford rent and retirement and healthcare.” So we’ve started to see the American Dream fall apart around the edges. 

And we really need to acknowledge that the original American Dream is only accessible to a privileged few. People who can afford to go to college without too much debt, or no debt. People who don’t need to work two or three jobs to make a living. There’s definitely a lot of privilege involved in the American Dream and I think that millennials on the whole are realizing that and pointing it out. And so that gaslighting effect comes in when they say “Hey, this seems kind of messed up, maybe we should change the way we’re doing things,” and the establishment says, “We don’t talk about that, just keep working hard and you’ll get there, I promise.” And we’re starting to see that that’s not necessarily the truth. 

Millennial career paths and company culture

So, related to the American Dream is the career trajectory of millennials. So I’m going to speak a little bit about that workplace chapter. As I mentioned earlier, I have a bachelor’s in Psychology and then I went to grad school to work in Higher Education. I ended up doing purchasing and was doing freelance marketing also, and now I do full time marketing. So none of what I studied in college is necessarily relevant to what I do as a career now. And you find that a lot, I think, with millennials. 

So your classic career path for, let’s say, a baby boomer, is you get an entry level job, you put in time, you get a promotion, you put in time, you get another promotion, you put in the time, and then you retire comfortably at 65. Obviously not everybody, and obviously there are barriers and struggles across generations, but that’s your typical ladder — they call it the corporate ladder for a reason. 

And millennials are coming in and they are leaving jobs without putting in all that time because they want a better work life balance, they want a better culture fit.  And this is really forcing companies when they’re hiring new talent to consider what millennials want. Millennials now are basically adults under 40, so people are hiring millennials, and millennials want flexible hours, they want flex time so they can go to a doctor’s appointment, we really like remote work, which is now especially relevant in the COVID pandemic because we found out pretty quickly that most office work can be done from home without losing any productivity. So I think what we’re going to see post-COVID is that there will be a lot more companies offering remote work as a flexible perk when they’re hiring people, and that’s going to attract the millennials because we like that flexibility and we like the work life balance. You know, when you don’t have to get up super early to get ready and commute, and then commute home before you make dinner, you get a lot of hours in your day back that you can spend on things that make you happy, such as sleeping or having a hobby.

And we also want better paid parental leave when we have kids, better vacation time, wages that are more in line with the cost of living, and even union protections. And once again we say, “Hey, what about these things, they do them in other countries, they’re working, people seem really happy over there in those other countries,” and we’re again told, “No no, don’t talk about that, don’t question it, just keep working, you’ll get there.” And again it’s this cultural gaslighting. 

Just some stats out of the book, a 2014 study from Bentley University reported that millennials would take a pay cut of $7600 a year to take a job with a better work-life balance, better company culture, or that they felt was more purposeful. So, we don’t like work that just feels like droning along for somebody else’s dollar. We like work that makes us feel good about ourselves and the work that we do as well as what the company as the whole is doing. So we want to do work that we feel matters. And I think we’re going to see this also with Gen Z as they enter the workforce. 

So I think that companies are going to have to adapt as we continue. Because if you can’t lure in the talent with money when you have a bad company culture, you’re going to have to adapt your company culture. Which I think is a good thing! 

I do resume and cover letter writing and help people find jobs as a side business (because millennials have to have four businesses, I guess), and I’ve noticed that job descriptions that are being posted by companies now have a really big focus on what it’s like to work there and what the culture is like. So we’re seeing a lot of “one Friday a month we do a team outing,” and they’re really trying to showcase the ways that they value their workers, and so that’s going to attract the millennials that want that sort of more fun, more purposeful, team oriented work. Which I think is exciting! 

The education system – do we need college?

And then, on your way to those jobs we need to talk about education. And the education chapter not only talks about college but starts in preschool. Your school experience can add a lot to your struggle or can add a lot to your privilege, which is important to recognize. 

So a big question that comes up is do you need to go to college to be successful? What does it mean to be successful? Does it mean having a degree, does it mean having a certain income, does it mean being debt free, does it mean the American Dream? Only you can decide what success means for you, which is good and also sometimes a struggle, because you look into the void and you don’t know what success means to you and there’s a little existential crisis sometimes, but I think that college is not always necessary. I think we put a lot of pressure on very young people to decide what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives, and at 18 if somebody’s not sure they want to go to college, I think it’s irresponsible to force them into debt because college is just part of the process. 

I think it’s completely valid if you want to take a couple years off to decide what you want to do, or if you want to go to trade school instead, or if you want to go to school part time, or you end up in your 40s and decide you’re ready to get a degree now. So however you want to do it, whenever you decide you want to go to college, I think it’s really important that we don’t put so much pressure on “the way you’re supposed to do it.” Which I think is pretty important. And you’ll even have people making their own businesses, whether or not they went to college. There’s all sorts of lists of “careers you can get without a college degree” and that’s super valid. And that’s what I explore in the education chapter. 

Part 2: Millennials are Destroying Society

Next up in Part 2, Millennials Are Destroying Society, there’s a few chapters but what I really want to talk about is the chapter about the economy. Because there’s headlines like “Why aren’t millennials buying diamonds?” and “Millennials aren’t saving for retirement” and “Millennials have killed the mall” and I once again think, that’s a little unfair to blame all of that on the millennials. 

We don’t need malls because all those stores are online, and we don’t buy diamonds because we have found out that diamonds can be very unethical. And also, we have to pay rent and healthcare, so we don’t have a lot of diamond money laying around. So we can’t afford those luxury items — it goes back to the minimum wage issue, goes back to housing costs, goes back to wealth in general. 

The latest numbers from the Federal Reserve say that baby boomers have 56.8% of the wealth in the US, and millennials have 3.4%. So, were not buying diamonds or (insert industry) because we don’t have the funds to be doing that. We’re basically just trying to survive. Especially during COVID right now. 

Living paycheck to paycheck

This chapter also tackles poverty and the poverty line. Millennials are the most impoverished generation, as of 2016 data from the Pew Research Center. I could not find more recent data, I tried, but that was the last big report that came out. So in 2016, we had 5.3 million millennial households under the poverty line in the US. Obviously this affects other generations as well, there were 5 million baby boomer households and 4.2 million Gen X households under the poverty line also. 

And it’s important to talk about this in relation to that American Dream, in relation to the economy and the workforce, because while we do have security measures in place to help people under the poverty line, like food stamps, housing assistance, daycare assistance, things like that so that people can go to work and work hard for that American Dream, you can get a 25 cent pay raise that loses you eligibility for your benefits and then you’re worse off than before you got a raise. So our systems are set up to keep poor people poor. And the more we point that out the more everybody says “Hey we don’t talk about that, be quiet, you’re starting to sound a little crazy and entitled” — gaslighting. 

So definitely my intention here is to let people know, again, that they’re not crazy for saying “This is my experience and I’m working hard and it’s not getting me anywhere.” You know, the expectation is that that should make you successful and if you’re not successful by American Dream standards, and you think you’re doing something wrong and other people think you’re doing something wrong. So we’re creating this us vs. them thing of “Well, people who don’t have these measures of success must not be working hard enough, and those things will never happen to me because I work hard.” 

But 40% of Americans are one missed paycheck away from the poverty line. We wouldn’t know what to do, we’re paycheck to paycheck in this culture. And we’re so much closer to being homeless or jobless than we are to becoming billionaires, but if the billionaires keep us arguing amongst ourselves then we don’t notice the billionaires telling us not to worry and that everything will be alright. 

So I am apparently slowly radicalizing people with this. Or just pointing out that there’s issues in society and it’s okay to talk about them, and we should talk about them and we should make change. 

Part 3: Millennials Are Just Making Stuff Up Now

So that’s my hard hitter from Part 2. And then in Part 3, Millennials Are Just Making Stuff Up Now, I talk about gender identity, the Me Too movement, the relationship escalator, how we’re killing marriage by not necessarily going dating-marriage-babies, we’re turning all that on its head. Millennial parenting, which I had to consult with millennial parents about to make sure I knew what I was talking about. And then just sort of a call to action, once again, to stop turning it around and blaming it on the next generation when they show up and they start making this noise too. 

Millennials and Gen Z activism

I want millennials to cheer on Gen Z, which so far we’ve really been doing a good job of. Transitioning out of talking about the book and coming into the world of 2020, there’s so much going on since I wrote this that I really want to talk about. And that’s especially the fact that millennials and Generation Z are so active politically and in activism and advocacy work. 

We’re seeing a demand for more transparency from brands and businesses. We’re seeing that millennials and Gen Z consumers expect brands to stand up for social justice issues. And we expect to see more about their business practices. 

Nike did an ad for Black Lives Matter that said, “Just this once, don’t do it,” as in, don’t turn your back on racism, don’t look away. And the millennials and Gen Z were like, “Cool, well we buy Nike now” and that got them a lot of brand affinity. It’s a good business move now for brands to be chasing that millennial and Gen Z approval because those are the fastest growing generations with buying power. 

We also are voting with our dollar, shopping locally and with small businesses, trying to keep local businesses afloat especially during COVID. I know a lot of my friends are not eating out as much because we’re tipping higher when we do eat out. So with that restaurant budget, we’re trying to keep restaurants that are locally owned afloat more because we don’t know what it’s going to look like by the time whatever’s happening with COVID is done happening. 

We’re also seeing millennials and Gen Z, and the older generations too, purchase from Black-owned companies and crafters, and queer-owned companies and crafters. We’re saying “I want to support these communities that are typically marginalized and held back from businesses” so we’re spending what money we do have in ways that align with our morals, which I love about us and Gen Z. 

I specifically want to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement, just because that is so important to discuss in 2020. We’ve seen protests happening since May and it is now August and they’re still happening daily, they’ve been happening across the world. And there was some data from Y Pulse that came out this June, that said 50% of Gen Z and millennials have participated in Black Lives Matter protests or awareness, and 69% think that brands and companies should be involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, going back to that Nike story. 

Business Insider also reported that 90% of Gen Z supports the Black Lives Matter movement, 77% of them have been to a protest, and 62% are willing to be arrested at a protest. So Generation Z is not holding back, they are showing up, and I love them for it, and I’m so excited and can’t wait to hear more about what they’re doing. 

But that really starts with us as the millennial generation. We’ve been recognizing and pointing out “this isn’t right, we need to change the way our society is set up” and everybody older than us is saying “No, just pipe down, just put your head down and work hard and you’ll get there.” We need to keep saying that we need change, and then we need to give Gen Z the space to show up and have that 90% of them supporting really important justice efforts. So we can work with them or we can turn around and be our crotchety elders and I’d really rather we be the awesome generation that I know we are. 

Get a copy!

Buy The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, Target, or anywhere else books are sold!

Or borrow from the Lakewood Public Library (or any local library) as a hard copy or virtually via Hoopla, Libby, or your favorite library app. 


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