Years ago someone coined the phrase “millenial.” Almost immediately, this word was associated with personality traits no one would want to be connected with. Millenials are whiny. They can’t get jobs after college. They all move back home. They don’t understand hard work. They are addicted to their phones. They are so entitled. And on, and on, and on. And, as someone who would be horrified to be described in such a manner, I vehemently opposed being associated with the generation that I may or may not be a part of. Further, when I became a teacher and saw some of the up and comers? Who were also supposedly “millenials?” Oh, you best believe I was going to deny my generational moniker with ever fiber of my being. Some recent events, however, have made me come to a new conclusion: I don’t mind being a millenial. I’d even say I am proud of it.
The first step was the actual defining of who was, and who wasn’t, a millenial. I was reading the Skimm the other day and learned that actual perimeters had been set on the generation. I quickly went to the article praying “please don’t let it be me. Please don’t let it be me.” Low and behold – I am definitely a millenial. According to multiple sources, a millenial is someone who was born between the years 1981 and 1997. I was born in 1989. To quote Chandler Bing, could I be any more millenial?
This age range gave me a North Star. Okay, I might be a millenial, but so, too, is my big sister. So is James’ cousin Amanda who I respect so much. So is this boss I have had, and that boss, and that actress, and this activist. As my list grew, I became encouraged. Yes I am a millenial. So are thousands of really neat individuals. Don’t you wish you were a millenial too? (Don’t answer that.)
After getting over my distaste for just being a millenial, I began to reflect on what that means as far as my time on this earth. It was initially strange to me that the name, which would make sense to associate with the turn of the millennium, actually describes those born in the 20 years before the turn. When you think about it, though, it actually makes a lot of sense. With the dawn of Y2K came a great deal of change, and our generation got a chance to see it all. We have the before and the after. The massive changes defined both our entire childhood and our adolescence.
When I was born we had one family landline phone, and my mom could only call her mom on a certain day of the week, after a certain hour, because that was when long-distance call charges dropped. When I was six Daddy got us our first family computer. It was a Macintosh. It was beige, and enormous, and we weren’t allowed to play on it for more than 30 minutes a day. We had one television set and no internet. And then, slowly but surely, as I grew from pigtails to braces, things changed.
Dad got a cell phone. Then mom. We got dial-up internet. Then we got a second phone line so you could be on the internet and the phone at the same time. Our Macintosh was replaced by an iMac. My sisters and I took computer classes in school.
9/11 happened and I was old enough to understand what was happening. I didn’t understand the impact, but I knew what death was, I knew what fear was, and I knew what it meant when the San Francisco Chronicle had three enormous, bold, block letters spelled out on the front page one morning in my eighth grade year: WAR.
I entered high school. I got my first cell phone. Then my first flip phone. Our dial up was replaced, and then replaced again by Wifi (in the home! Can you imagine?!). All homework assignments went from by-hand to typed out, in Times New Roman, size 12 font. I gave up on finding Carmen San Diego.
I went to college in 2008, and entered on the first day with professors all singing the same song: the economy is a trash, you will never get a job, call your parents and tell them you’re moving home in four years. I did, actually, and my dad laughed and told me things always ebb and flow. And they did. By the time I graduated things had gotten a little better. Then they improved a little bit more. By the time we reached out quarter-life crises, the Dow had hit a record high. We were doing a-okay.
Being a millenial is, surprisingly, an enormous gift. There are two sides to every story, and having been born when we were, we got to see both sides of history. We were there before the technology, before the airport security regulations, before social media, before legalized gay marriage. And we’re still here, so very young in the grand scheme of things, with (God willing) 50 more trips around the sun to go. Despite the fact that when we entered college we were told that EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE YOU MIGHT AS WELL GIVE UP NOW, we managed to keep going. We took the low salaries and we just kept working. We might not have been everybody’s cup of tea initially, but the oldest millenial is now 37, and over time, we’ve improved. We grew. We changed. And the world did with us.
The world is now, and hear me out here, all “millenials.” Everyone is addicted to their phones. Our whole world is used to instant gratification. Hard work looks vastly different than it used to. We can complain about “millenials,” but, arguably, “millenials” are the ones handling this new world the best. We watched the changes happen from our car-seats and our training wheels and we took note. We became adults when everything was terrible. Everything was grey and gloomy and that’s where we started. And yet…here we are.
The old expression goes that parents like to tell the story of how they walked to school, barefoot, uphill both ways, in the snow. It’s fun to tell the younger generation how easy they have it. Truly, though, we actually did enter the workforce (if we were even lucky to get a job things were so bad) in the economic equivalent of an uphill-both-ways-snowstorm. I remember sitting with girlfriends who were interviewing for jobs following graduation and saying things like “well there are no benefits, and they only offered $35K, but it’s better than the other firm that could only offer $33k.” These were women with degrees, some dual degrees, from the number eight public school in the nation, and that was the best they could do. They were about to pay rent in San Francisco and they were looking at the same salary a full-time employee making $15 an hour at Chipotle would earn. (Yes, I did the math. It helps with the argument.) I was sitting there so grateful for my traveling consultant gig because that meant no rent, so my $15K was a gift. It was bad, guys. Really bad.
So we don’t do things the way they used to be done. That’s not a bad thing. It’s because we couldn’t. It’s because by the time we were adults we had had an impeached-but-not-removed-president, the word “terrorism” had been redefined, the housing market had been destroyed, and, frankly, we were tired of everything being gloomy. So we changed things. Mark Zuckerburg is a millenial. Did you think about that? This world you now live in? We made it that way because things weren’t going so hot.
All this to say, I am proud to be a millenial. I like being part of a change-agent group of people. I am a traditionalist to the core. I believe in family and loyalty. I even believe in hierarchy and seniority. What I don’t believe in is complacency, and that is one thing that my generation refuses to accept. When I was about to resign from a recent job I asked my mom what I should say. She jokingly responded “Just say I’m a millenial – we’re rolling stones.” I laughed, but it’s true. We are rolling stones. We refuse to accept the place we are in. We don’t put in a certain amount of time in a job we are in just because we are “supposed” to. We change. We move. We grow. We seek better. Is that a bad thing? Or is that why the world has been more innovative in the last 15 years than it was in the previous 50?