What Millennials Are and Are Not

I remember the first time I heard the term “Millennial Generation.” It was a 60 Minutes report called The Millennials are Coming. When I watched it, I became annoyed at the condescending tone that comes from a privileged perspective. “Oh no, the Millennials not like the previous generation!” Yeah, that’s called progress. Let’s clear up some stereotypes about the Millennial Generation:

  • Stereotype #1: Millennials are lazy and entitled. This is a favorite complaint by every older generation. Well, it’s hard to get a job when the economy went to hell in 2008. It’s also hard to call a generation that has more bachelor’s degrees by percentage than any other generation lazy. We’ve worked hard and done what society has asked: Finish high school and get a college degree. Yes, we do demand more in job satisfaction and because of that, we’re picky with our occupations. Previous generations have relied on unions to get job security, reasonable working conditions, and benefits. Unions are weaker today, but educated millennials still value union-like demands. Millennials are less likely stay in a job that offers little in benefits and security not because they’re spoiled entitled brats, but they demand more in respect and workers’ rights. They just do it without unions.
  • Stereotype #2: Millennials only care about happiness and having fun. Just because we value these feelings doesn’t mean we only care about these things. We’re a generation that’s challenging the traditional notion that being miserable and tired is the only road to success (i.e., Protestant work ethic). Critics see this as a rejection of hard work. We’re not rejecting hard work, but simply changing work to make it meaningful and healthy. Why does the typical notion of work require sitting solitary at a desk or repetitively completing the same task for 8 hours (unless you love this stuff, then more power to you)? We’re the generation that loves Office Space, where the protagonist eventually chose a blue collar job that made him happier and Milton, the hard worker, enacts burning revenge. Science and research even supports the Millennial value of happiness. Harvard researcher Shawn Achor believes that happiness promotes more productivity. This is inverse of the traditional ethic of productivity leads to happiness, but Achor’s conclusion makes a lot of sense and it’s something that we Millennials have heard from–yes–the older generation: love your work and it won’t feel like work. Lastly, whereas critics may perceive happiness as temporary and juvenile, Millennials equate happiness with having meaningful relationships, helping others, and having gratitude. You know, good moral stuff.
  • Stereotype #3: Millennials don’t care about activism and politics. While this is a common complaint against the younger generation in general, this stereotype persists because Millennials are more disengaged in party politics. 50% of Millennials consider themselves politically independent compared to 32-39% of older generations, according to the Pew Research Center. We’re a diverse generation who understand diverse views. We’re perhaps the most tolerant generation as well. We don’t care if you use pot. Even 61% of young Republicans agree that same-sex marriage should be legal. Millennials are not attracted to the discord and hyperpartisan culture in American politics and their lack of party loyalty is a product of that. This might change the future political culture for good.
  • Stereotype #4: This generation is soft, overly sensitive, and too “PC.” I’m sorry to offend you with our tolerance and understanding.
  • Stereotype #5: They’re the “Me” Generation. For a nation that prides on individualism, society is pretty harsh on a generation that values…individualism. This complaint really should be applied to everybody that’s alive today. Social media and technological innovations have given the individual more power. The World is Flat. We can self-publish our work (hey, that’s what blogs are for!). We can distribute our own short films. A single Tweet or YouTube video can make an unknown into a celebrity. We can watch TV shows on our own schedule. These aren’t faults to be placed on a generation. It’s simply progress in an epoch of time.

The conclusion is that the Millennial Generation, as with every generation, is a product of their time. We live in a post-9/11, Great Recession, social media era. So we’re not like the Greatest Generation. Perhaps if World War III breaks out in the near future and my generation defeat Hitler Jr., we might overtake that title of greatest generation. Otherwise, we’ll continue to make life more meaningful, tolerant, just, and happier. That’s so “me.”

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