Photo credit: Timmy Toucan,  Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: Timmy Toucan, Creative Commons/Flickr

When we talk about the generational divide in how we view and approach work, the conversation usually rests on the following difference: Millennials are in it for themselves, unafraid to job hop to find meaning and work they love, while boomers are loyal and recognize the importance and value of sticking around.

While there is some truth to this view, my regular interactions with boomers tell a different story. To start, this narrative of loyalty is rooted in a story of work that didn’t exist for everyone. Racism, sexism, and elitism in the work place (and the country in general, which severely limited opportunities) and the callous willingness to let employees go planted a healthy mistrust of how much someone should invest in their employer. Additionally, the emphasis on loyalty can be at odds with the larger, stronger narrative to be an entrepreneur.

To that end, many boomers are happy to see folks like me creating careers on our own terms, as it represents more freedom, control, and opportunity—things that, for many reasons, might not have existed for them. While they encourage deliberate action (i.e. don’t quit because someone made you mad; no job will “complete you” so be clear about your expectations), the one piece of advice that stands out the most is: It’s OK to put yourself first. 

No matter how wonderful an organization is, ultimately, you are responsible for your career, health, wealth, and happiness. It’s silly to not explore other opportunities that will help you move towards your goals; it’s suicidal to allow loyalty to only go one way. And if you have to leave, don’t feel guilty about doing so.

This doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a shift in how we work; it’s hard to ignore the changes in skills employers wantwhich sectors are growing or contracting and why, and how these changes affect the employer – employee relationship. However, in an attempt to tackle what’s new, we ignore some common threads in our country’s work history, namely that employees might always have had to look out for themselves.