By Andrew Heikkila
For those in college now, as well as those who’ve graduated college within the last, roughly, 10 years, the term “Millennial” is not unfamiliar. I fit into this category as well, though I’m not sure entirely what the word “Millennial” means anymore. Dean Burnett, writing for The Guardian, argues that the Millennial moniker is “vague, lazy, and meaningless” in descriptive terms. Burnett writes, sarcastically at first:
“Apparently millennials like to use their phones, especially in the cinema. They don’t like working. They want to share everything on social media. They like socialism. They have short attention spans. They are narcissistic. And lazy. And entitled. And practically homeless. So there you have it. A millennial is a lazy narcissist who only cares about themselves and their phone although they can’t pay attention to any of these things for long unless it’s to do with something that they want which is typically socialism. Clear? …It’s almost as if “millennial” is used as a handy term for older vested interests who don’t understand, and are somewhat alarmed by, the confusing behaviour of modern youth in an increasingly complex world, but still want to exploit it.”
Nevertheless, there is still value in identifying and even rallying as a “Millennial,” because many young people in and recently out of college are inherently different as a product of their time. Whether you agree with calling us the M-word or not, there’s no denying that being “digital natives” has put us at odds with some of the tech illiterates in the older generations, enough for a multiple articles worth of content on how to handle an intergenerational workplace. There’s also no denying that even though we’re using our phones and technology in ways people could never have imagined before, our innovation is somewhat in vain because 70% of us will never earn more than our parents. We’ve grown up in a changing world, only to realize that it’s changing more and changing faster every day, to the point that it’s hard to keep up with it all. So what exactly does it mean to be a Millennial, and how do you get ahead in this crazy new world?
Recognizing What We Are and What We Are Not
The first thing that we as Millennials have to get past is the trivial “facts” about our generation that are really nothing more than just conjecture or stereotypes. It’s extremely hard to pin down substantiated facts on a group comprised of approximately 75 million people, according to Pew. If anything, the pervading wisdom about Millennials are more myth than they are fact. Take, for instance, these numbers on public perception of Millennials, also according to Pew:
- 79% of the public think there is “a major difference in the point of view of younger people and older people today.”
- 73% think younger generations and older generations are “very different” in the way they handle technology.
- 66% think that “Older Americans” are superior in terms of their moral values, respect for others, and work ethic.
I highlight these statistics because I think it sums up the generational zeitgeist quite nicely: younger people and older people are more apt to see differences in one another than similarities, technology is drastically affecting the way we all live, and as it changes how we live, it changes the things that we value.
In “The Myth of the Millennial as Cultural Rebel”, author Laura Marsh makes the great point that we’re really not that different in ideology than the generations that came before us–we’re just experiencing changes in the system at a rate that no other generation our age has. Speaking on the idea that Millennials are “socialists” who are threatening the capitalist economy, Marsh notes:
“The idea that these “trends” in consumption are driven primarily by cultural preferences, rather than a faltering economy and ever-rising costs of living, is difficult to believe, but that’s the prevailing narrative… Which explanation seems more likely? Do we use Zipcar because we are ideologically committed to sharing, or because car ownership is still out of reach for a lot of people and renting piecemeal is the next best thing?”
What Marsh’s statement points out is that the problems we’re facing aren’t ones that we created, but they’re ones we’ve always lived with. Our elders watched this change continue to accelerate through the latter half of their lives. What we have been born into and have become accustomed to, the older generations have had to adapt to, like it or not.
Check back in for “On Being a Millennial and Embracing Constant Change pt. 2” soon. Andrew Heikkila is a Millennial (whatever that means), a writer, an artist and musician, and a small business owner. He believes in the power of change and the power of people. By combining those two elements, he believes, anything is possible. Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyO_TheHammer