Is anyone else annoyed by the kerfuffle over the fired Yelp employee’s open letter to CEO Jeremy Stoppelman? In case you missed it, 25 year old Talia Jane, a former Yelp employee posted, a clearly frustrated letter detailing her experiences living on minimum wage in Silicon Valley. Within hours of posting the letter, she was fired from the company. She says she was told her letter violated Yelp’s code of conduct, but Stoppelman has since stated, via Tweet, that her firing had nothing to do with the letter.
Talia Jane’s critique of her employer was harsh…
“So here I am, 25-years old, balancing all sorts of debt and trying to pave a life for myself that doesn’t involve crying in the bathtub every week. One of (my coworkers) started a GoFundMe because she couldn’t pay her rent… (Another guy) brought a big bag with him and stocked up on all those snacks you make sure are on every floor… If you starve a pack of wolves and toss them a single steak, will they rip each other to shreds fighting over it? Definitely.”
Her letter was also a bit whiny and the tone, unfortunately, came across as more “Entitled Millennial” than “Let’s Have a Discussion about This Very Real Issue.” Talia Jane has been raked over the internet coals by many, but the response that seems to have gotten the most attention is one from Stefanie Williams, a 29-year-old (SO grown up!) college graduate who responded with her own open letter harshly criticizing Talia Jane for her whiny entitlement and lack of work ethic.
The main thrust of Williams’ letter is comparing Talia Jane’s situation to her own, far superior of course, handling of a similar situation WAY back when she was over-educated and under-employed in her early twenties and struggling to find a job in her field. Unlike Talia Jane, who wrote and posted a letter complaining about her situation, Williams swallowed her pride and got a job as a hostess in a restaurant. She then worked her way up to server and bartender, making enough money and sacrifices to finally establish a writing career more in line with her educational level and initial aspirations. Good for Stefanie Williams.
Williams lectures Talia Jane that “Work ethic is not something that develops from entitlement.” She’s not wrong about that, but is Talia Jane really Little Miss Entitlement or is she just frustrated and venting about a real issue. Without knowing Talia Jane, it’s impossible to know for sure, and Williams makes quite a few sweeping assumptions in her criticism…
“… you are a young, white, English speaking woman with a degree and a family who I would assume is helping you out at the moment, and you are asking for handouts from strangers while you sit on your ass looking for cushy jobs you are not entitled to while you complain about the establishment, probably from a nice laptop. To you, that is more acceptable than taking a job in a restaurant, or a coffee shop, or a fast food place. And that’s the trouble with not just your outlook, but the outlook of so many people your age.”
Whoa there, Stefanie Williams, that’s a lot to assume just because someone posted a photo of them self drinking expensive bourbon. And since when does a 29 year old get to refer to a 25 year old with the line “so many people your age?” (Newsflash: 25 and 29 are pretty much the same age.)
Williams makes some good points. I too cringed at the end of Talia Jane’s letter when she asked readers for donations to help her during her job search. Um, no. But, then again, I don’t understand the Go Fund Me culture that seems to be running rampant. Williams is right, entitlement won’t get you to success. There are no guarantees for success, but a killer work ethic will give you a better shot. If Williams really wanted to make that point by engaging with Talia Jane, it would have been much more constructive to acknowledge that there are good reasons to feel frustrated. According to an article that appeared on Vox:
“College-educated students are increasingly coming out of school with higher levels of debt — affecting middle-class minorities the hardest — and entry-level incomes in certain fields have barely moved in decades. According to a 2014 Pew Research study, real hourly wages in the US have been flat or declining since they peaked in 1973.
And the cities where labor markets are booming — San Francisco, but also New York, Washington, DC, Boston, and Seattle, among others — also have skyrocketing costs of living, in part because of their restrictions on building new housing.”
In light of statistics like those, I say go ahead and knock yourself out with a raging pity party, Talia Jane. Then, when it’s over, clean up the mess and realistically consider your options. And who’s to say Talia Jane isn’t planning on doing just that? Certainly not Stefanie Williams, who admits to crying in the restaurant’s private party room when she was humiliated to have to wait on former classmates. Was that not whiny? Is it OK to show emotion by crying in the party room but not by posting a rant about the bigger issue?
I saw that Stefanie Williams had the nerve to respond to an email from writer Sara Morrison who asked about Williams’ use of a crowdfunding campaign herself by saying “I love nothing more than taking time out for people like yourself who think they are so smart and snarky.” Well, well, if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black. Self-righteousness is just as bad as entitlement in my book.
Williams has a lot to be proud of. She obviously faced challenges and made it through them. That’s great and it’s the kind of story that could be very helpful to someone currently in Talia Jane’s shoes. Tell her what you had to do, Stefanie Williams. Tell her how hard it was swallowing your pride. Tell her it was difficult to realign your expectations for your career and living arrangements. Explain to her how you sacrificed, but made it pay off in the end. Make it constructive criticism instead of a snippy lecture that’s really more about painting a picture of how superior you are than it is about the plight of Talia Jane and those like her.
This is where Stefanie Williams, and the majority of the discussion around Talia Jane’s letter, completely misses the larger picture. The real problem here is not the difference between whiny entitled millennials and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps millennials. The real problem is a significant shortage of opportunities for the middle class (and particularly younger people just starting out), with more and more power and resources concentrated at the very top of the upper class – the 1% as we’ve come to refer to them.
Older generations spent decades gathering up a great deal of the power and influence in our society – they still predominantly hold the reins in public and corporate America – and they aren’t looking to let it go any time soon. The fact that Stefanie Williams has, at 29, become a shill for that generation’s vitriol for millennials is ironic.
The baby boom generation is fond of reminding us how they banded together; they had something to say as a collective. Why Stefanie Williams and Talia Jane aren’t following suit by uniting to discuss the much bigger societal problem for their generation is the question here – the real missed point.
And Talia Jane and Stefanie Williams don’t just have a generational problem to deal with; they also face the double-whammy of being women. I struggled mightily right out of college, just like Stefanie Williams and Talia Jane. I couldn’t make my rent and took a lowly retail job to make ends meet. I was also lucky enough to have parents who were able to help me, even though I found it humiliating to require that help. By 25, I had my foot in the door of a career I was excited about. By 29, I had worked my way up to mid-management level in my organization and was solidly established in my field. I felt like I was well on my way to a significant, senior-level position in my field. Now I’ve passed 40 and, like many women my age, I am acutely feeling the limitations of a society that still doesn’t take well to women in positions of authority and power.
Stefanie Williams and Talia Jane seem to be opinionated and articulate young women. They have a tough row to hoe with the operative words being both “young” and “women.” They would do a great service to themselves and others to work together toward affecting constructive change.