I first heard the term “millennial” back in 2007. I was attending a Christmas party hosted by my first full time employer, and to welcome me and a handful of other new, young employees to the company, our HR manager gave a speech about millennials. Millennials, he read, were a generation of selfish, relatively clueless and consumer-driven youngsters who were brought up with the misconception that they were “special.” He followed this description by stating that the company was lucky that me and the other new hires, while born in the millennial generation, were exceptions to these undesirable traits. I was thankful that we weren’t viewed in such a negative perspective on that particular night, but over the last several years, my generation has endured quite the thrashing from most everybody else, and, to be blunt, I’ve had quite enough.
For the past decade and a half, our generation has been constantly hearing about how coddled we were growing up and how blissfully unaware we are about the “real world.” They talk about how easy we had it as kids and mock those of us who indulge in self-care. They accuse us of being weak or thin-skinned and don’t hesitate to second guess how we would have survived the struggles of generations who came before us.
Let me stop here and say that I am fully aware that every generation has its struggles. In the eighties there was the AIDs crisis, in the sixties and seventies it was Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement, before that, WWII and the Depression. And those eras produced some bad asses. But those of us born between approximately 1982 and 2004 have had our fair share of struggles and life-altering circumstances that we’ve had to overcome and have molded us into who we are today.
For one, we were children and teenagers when the twin towers fell out of the sky. If you know how scary it was to watch 9/11 unfold as an adult, imagine watching it at age sixteen. Or eleven. Or eight. Imagine living in a world where adults always had the answers and could always keep you safe, and then one day, that bubble bursts as you watch, wide-eyed and shaking at a TV in your science class. I was sixteen years old on that terrible day, and that morning robbed an entire generation of a gradual ascent into adulthood. The proverbial rug was pulled out from under us just like it was from our grandparents when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor sixty years previous.
Growing up in a world wrought with terrorism was just the beginning. I was thirteen years old when two teenagers stormed Columbine High School and murdered twelve people. From then on, it was considered normal for students to walk through metal detectors every morning or find bomb threats scrawled on bathroom mirrors. The term “school shooting” became as familiar to us as the lyrics of the pop songs blaring from the radios.
Add this violent new world to the already tumultuous years of peer pressure from drugs, alcohol, and sex. Normal teenage dalliances? Maybe. I’ve heard stories from my parents’ generation about how smoking weed, dropping acid, sleeping around, and drinking and driving weren’t really a big deal back then. But add bad batches of drugs, binge drinking, and STDs into the mix, what used to be thought of as fairly normal rights of passage morphed into life threatening risks.
And in the background were the all the other negative tidbits – parents who divorced at a rate of 50%; an education suffering from budget cuts; air, food, and water poisoned with chemicals and pesticides; and peers being diagnosed with serious new illnesses like life-threatening allergies, juvenile cancer, and autism.
All things considered, do you blame us for needing “safe places” where we could laugh, have fun, make friends and feel loved? Do you still think we’re so coddled and sheltered? Do you understand why, after high school, we sought to pursue our dreams and change the world once we had graduated?
In Spite of it All
Because although our childhood and teenager years were wrought with over-inflated angst thanks to the aforementioned events, we still somehow managed to have a pretty encouraging outlook on the world once we received our high school diplomas.
Despite the terrorism, both foreign and domestic, despite the decades old text books, eliminated arts and music programs, lead paint covering our toys, and broken homes, our generation was constantly reassured that we could do anything we wanted when we grew up. We were told we could spur change, pursue our dreams and passions, and if we went to college and stayed there, we’d make a bunch of money doing those very things!
And then the “real world” crafted by previous generations slapped us in the face. The degrees that we studied so hard for and cost us tens of thousands of dollars were practically worthless, considering approximately eight zillion other people had pursued the same major. The entry-level jobs in that field started at a measly twelve dollars an hour, an even bigger slap in the face considering the interest rates of the student loans and the cost of having shelter, food, and reliable transportation. Those of us who went back to our parents’ homes to try to re-establish some type of starting point in life were called boomerang kids, and by doing so you were also labeled as lazy, irresponsible, immature moochers. On the flip side, those of us who immediately moved into our own apartment or house, were considered selfish, outlandish, and accused of having no idea how to prioritize life.
The older generation is constantly reminding us that they started their lives with nothing and worked their way up at an employer over the course of many years. This is all fine and good, and I absolutely believe in the positive effects of humble beginnings. But the generations before us weren’t saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt and sky-high interest rates. And while inflation has been a constant, wages have not risen to keep up with it. And everyone seems to ignore the fact that we entered “the real world” in the middle of the biggest recession since the Great Depression.
Us millennials are constantly being told that we want too much too soon and that we have no sense of priorities or how to handle a budget. But the same people telling us these things are the same people who refuse to acknowledge that it is next to impossible to live on less than $15.00 an hour, especially if you have a degree (and the debt that comes with it). Furthermore, how exactly were we supposed to learn how to budget or project expenses when life skills are no longer taught in schools? The same generation who cut and changed school curriculums are the same people complaining that we don’t know how to balance a check book, cook basic meals, or sew a button.
I don’t want this to be all about blaming other generations for obstacles or stereotypes millennials encounter. But one of the most infuriating things about all of our criticisms is that we had absolutely no part in many of the things we are criticized for.
Someone to Blame?
One of the biggest examples of the pointless “blame game” is the dreaded and much talked about “participation trophies.” I loathe the term as much as the next millennial, but I had to tackle the subject, as it represents perfectly the dynamic between millennials and older generations.
At some point when we were kids, somebody (our parents or grandparents), thought it would be a great idea to give every kid who ever played baseball or tap danced a trophy, regardless of if they ever won a game or talent show. Like any normal child, we accepted the trophies happily, excited to have something shiny with our names on it to display in our bedrooms.
For years, these trophies were manufactured, distributed, and displayed by children and parents alike, whether it was to reminisce about a dance recital or mark a milestone “first” basketball season. But at some point, the trophies started causing controversy. Shouldn’t kids be taught the value of losing as well as winning? Shouldn’t we give the kids something to strive for instead of settling? Shouldn’t we try to toughen them up now so they aren’t disappointed when the state championship game or the job interview only goes to one team or candidate? Aren’t these kids getting a little spoiled?
Again, the most infuriating thing about all of these questions is the fact that they are being asked by the very people who conjured up the idea in the first place!
No child of my generation ever asked for a participation trophy. It was not within our young consciousness to conjure up such a notion. So please. Of all of the things that get on our nerves the most, stop talking about the damn participation trophies. You cannot complain about something that you invented and gave us. The same goes for the abysmal state of the job market, the economy, the education system, our government, and the environment, to name a few.
And now that my frustration has reached its peak, I’m going to use that last paragraph as opportunity to close on this first part of the blog. Because despite the fact that we’ve inherited a broken world, us millennials are still doing our damnedest to try and change it.
Coming up in Part 2 of F@#$%*G Millennials:
~ Why are the same people who are telling us that we need to work harder for charge also telling us that change is impossible?
~ What kind of positive traits do millennials have? (Hint: there are a lot)!
~ If millennials’ knowledge and use of technology is such a terrible thing, why is the older generation always asking for our help with it?
~ Is this generational gap really so much worse than the gaps between previous generations? Or are we all more aware of said gap because of the Internet and social media?