I say this as if it’s the first step in 12-step program: admitting I have a problem. Namely that I am a Millennial. And I have been in denial for most of my life about being part of the much-discussed (and often maligned) generation.
When I heard that people born in my birth year are often considered the inaugural year of the Millennials, I was like, “No way. That must be wrong.” Yet it’s true that the early 1980s are the beginning of the generation, with 1982 being specifically designated because it marked the class who would graduate from high school in the year 2000 (a fact that was shoved down our throats from when we first started elementary school).
Part of my shock stemmed from the fact that I’d heard so much about the Millennials that I just couldn’t relate to. They are entitled and narcissistic. They can’t handle the real, adult world because they were raised by “helicopter parents.” This upbringing means they can’t handle hearing the word “no,” can’t take any criticism, and that each one of them believes they are a special snowflake and should be treated as such by everyone (see the CBS story “The ‘Millennials’ Are Coming” that is rife with such, well frankly, insults).
This analysis made me cringe. So when I found out I was a Millennial, suddenly all of these really harsh criticisms were about me. And I just couldn’t identify with what was being said about my generation (turns out I’m not the only one…see the article “Most Millennials Resist the ‘Millennial’ Label” from the Pew Research Center).
I started working when I got a paper route at the age of 9. In high school, I made the honor roll every single quarter, I earned 12 varsity letters, I worked in a local hardware store, and volunteered at the hospital (not to mention that I hung out with my friends and had a pretty active social life). I worked my way through college and graduated Summa Cum Laude. And I can most assuredly tell you that none of that was “given” to me; it was all earned.
My life experience and outlook feels so far off from how the labels would paint me. I thought maybe that was because as far as Millennials go, I’m ancient. I’m three times older than the youngest Millennials. My 16-year-old nephew is part of the same generation, and while we have a similar sense of humor, we are miles apart in where we are in life, and my upbringing was very different.
I can remember a time before the Internet and personal computers. I was a rather late convert to getting a cell phone and social media (though they are now an integral part of my everyday life). So maybe I wasn’t a good representation of the generation. But then I started thinking about the other Millennials I know, and I found the characteristics that we’ve been pegged with didn’t match with the characteristics I was observing.
And here is where I think lies the problem: You can’t take an entire generation of people and try to boil them down to a handful of traits. Turns out a lot of these criticisms of Millennials are actually more representative of a certain socio-economic group (and even then I question how well the analysis holds water), and we are a whole lot more diverse than we’ve been labeled (see the article “The Millennial Muddle” by Eric Hoover).
The Millennials I know are tolerant and open-minded. We’ve played an important part in electing the first black president in the U.S. and in making same-sex marriage legal in the U.S. and beyond. We make our own definitions of happiness, wealth, family, hard work, and gender roles, among other things. It’s not the we don’t care about the ideals of former generations or that we don’t have respect for them; it’s just we don’t need to be defined by them.
We’re also the generation that is growing up in the shadow of 9/11. Most of us have entered (or will enter) the work force post the Great Recession. Those of us who have gone (or will go) to college are graduating with the highest levels of student loans ever, debt we’ll probably be paying back until our kids go to college (if they can afford it, which is unlikely as education costs continue to rise so drastically). Then we’re faced with a poor job market, and all the while everything costs more and our assets (like our homes) are worth less.
In a lot of ways we’ve been dealt a crappy hand, and, yeah, the world can feel like a scary, anxiety-inducing place. But we’re living in it and making the best of it, and I think as a generation, we are working to make the world a better place because I think we all deserve that.
Maybe that does make me entitled. But I’m not just going to sit around and wait for things to magically get better. I’m going to work every day at it…and I’m going to do it in my own way. Because I don’t need anyone else to tell me what makes for a meaningful life, while at the same time I recognize that others, from any generation, can certainly show me what that is.
So my fellow Millennials, I’m going to state here that I am proud to be a part of this generation. Let’s keep doing our thing and not freaking out about what boxes we’re put in by those who make a point of pigeonholing us and calling it research. Let’s live our lives with purpose and meaning, whatever that means to each of us.