Growing up during millennial African times is hard. Amidst fighting to beat the career odds, there’s so many people to make proud and, unsurprisingly, even more people to prove wrong. Our parents, who ideally should be on the make-proud list, more than often end up on the prove-wrong list.
When the Generation X (that would be our parents) were our age, the range of profession for African scholars was pretty limited; doctor, lawyer, engineer, professor. Anyone that dared to dream differently will tell you it was because their parents were more globally exposed and had “travelled-ko to outside countries”.
Our parents were by predefinition entirely submissive to their parents and had no right to opinion, nor the audacity to question “the elders”.
In came Generation us, the millennials; very high-spirited and aggressively impatient broad-minded “spoilt brats”. The kids of the smartphone and Mark Zuckerberg era. The generation gap created a predicament in which parents worldwide do not understand their children anymore.
It’s worse in Africa; in a social media age that opened doors for a broader spectrum of jobs to choose from and posed way bigger challenges to the youth, it became hard for an African GenX parent to comprehend their millennial son’s desire to pursue anything beyond the four careers that they know “have the money”. Even worse, they are baffled by their daughter’s audacity to defy who they want her to be for who SHE wants to become.
Our crippled education system only aggravates matters. The system is far from career-oriented. Regardless of your career goals, you have to bare Biology, Chemistry, Literature and Art all the same for a good portion of your education. The parents of a child struggling in subject X but excelling in subject Y do more of paying for private coaching in X and a lot less of encouraging the child to harness their niche in Y, because he’s eventually going to be assessed on a grade point average; meaning he has to pass everything.
The saddest piece of this puzzle is that parents actually disregard the subject/talent the child is acing. “Where will your A in Fine Art take you? What value add is music making to your life?”
When the graduate leaves school and does a few months of freelance work to gain field experience, the insults come in: “I told you that field had no money; now you’re working for free!” And thus, the parents we’d ideally love to make proud become the people we fight everyday to prove wrong.
We keep looking at 21st Century issues from a 20th Century perspective, and we achieve so little. Less than ⅓ of today’s African parents actually understand their children’s jobs. They just know “he’s there in Kampala, working in ‘Computer-things'”.
It’s okay to not know what I really do for a living. It’s fine to refrain from supporting me down this road that you know so little about. What’s really not cool, is for you to be my father or mother and actually make effort to always point out to me how useless my interests are, or how my career goals fetch no money. It is absolutely demotivating, and disempowers our children of their self-esteem.
As the parents of millennials that are striving to survive the prevalent conditions, the least you could do is have some faith in us. You owe us that much. Regardless of how little we currently earn or how little our jobs make sense to you, just be there for us, is all. Your moral support is key here. Otherwise, I don’t know what you say to your children after they actually succeed in life and prove you wrong. After all, the richest men on the planet today are neither doctors nor lawyers!
In this light, a million thanks and love to my beautiful mother that never stops believing in my wild dreams. Love you, Ma! And also, may we as millennial parents know better than to force our children to fit into particular career shoes. Amen.