Yes, I'm a Millennial, But That Probably Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

Yes, I was born after 1980. No, that doesn't mean you have me figured out. Tired of the run-of-the-mill (and often condescending) Millennial stories written by Baby Boomer editorial staffs, I decided to write my own.

Aug 28, 2013 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

Ninety-five percent.
 
I’ve always tested well, even on pop quizzes, so when I took this quiz on the Pew Research Center website to find out just “How Millennial” I am, my results were on par with my academic trajectory of achievement.
 
As a part of what Pew defines as “the most educated generation in American history,” this should be somewhat expected, of course. 
 
This 14-question “scientific nationwide survey” (that I stumbled upon while taking a break from my ever-growing to-do list) evaluated my likes and interests to tell me how closely I align with the rest of my generation and where I compared to the other ones. To do this, the good folks at Pew posed a collection of non-sequitur inquiries about whether I had tattoos, where my piercings were, and other very scientific things.
 
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"Taking a break" also includes reading major news sites, getting a snack, and taking selfies.

 
The Pew Research Center is doing a yearlong series of reports that “explore the behaviors, values and opinions of today’s teens and twenty-somethings.” This kind of study requires the supposition that we Millennials are different in some way—and that we are homogenous in our difference—making us worth studying, trashing, and talking about. 
 
And talking about us, they are.  Defined (and distinguished) by our diversity, confidence, acceptance, higher levels of educational attainment, and connectedness, we are also the subjects of quite a few tirades in the media from members of the Baby Boomer set who spew the word “Millennial” like some sort of epithet. 
 
There have been numerous reports, suggestions, and opinions published by people who make lazy summations and dangerous inferences about the so-called "Me Me Me Generation." It seems we’re so peculiar that the "grown ups" need suggestions on how to retain, mentor,and manage us all.
 
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Employers love having Millennials in the workplace because we "think outside the box," yet they stuff us in dull, uninspiring ones called "cubicles."

 
It’s what the suits call, “buy in.”
 
My first job out of graduate school was at a K Street public relations and strategic communications firm in D.C. My boss, who is around the same age as my mother, frequently capped the off-color remarks she made about me to whoever was listening with a matter-of-fact, “You know how these Millennials are.” This says nothing of the time a senior-level employee of a notable non-profit organization stuck a pencil in my face and told me to “Go sharpen it,” in a room full of people at the top of the client meeting.
 
That type of thing is hard to buy into.
 
Talk to a boomer about this type of thing, they’ll tell you, “It happens.” They’ll package it with a story about their own public humiliation and they call it “paying your dues” or “starting from the bottom.” Well, to quote another line from fellow Millennial and contemporary philosopher Aubrey Graham, you only live once. 
 
I felt sorry for the people who had been so conditioned to accept and expect their own misery that their best offers were to advise me of the same. 
 
“Why do I have to wait until I’m 65 to enjoy my life?”, I thought. “Why do I have to be a manager to have my work, ideas and contributions respected, even in an entry-level position? If so many hours of our day are spent working, shouldn’t we at least feel fulfilled in the work we do?”
 
“Work is work. It’s not supposed to be fun,” said Sandy Hingston, a writer for Philadelphia magazine’s The Philly Post. [Disclosure, I write there once a week.] My mom has echoed the same refrain to me each year that I’ve been out of school.  This refrain did little to ease The Sunday Blues I experienced with each approach of a Monday morning.
 
Perhaps fun is a stretch, but work – hard work – should feel good. And I don’t know many Millennials who aren’t hard workers. In fact, they’re full-time hustlers with full-time jobs and passion projects on the side that they’re trying to develop after-hours.  They’re owners of start-ups and sole proprietorships, constantly working to build traditional business acumen, client rosters, and sustainable companies on their own. They’re unemployed folks, who spend their days doing the consuming work of finding a job. 
 
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This is what life looks like as a consultant. My eyesight is going to be absolute trash, but it's so worth it.

 
The fact is The Great Recession, which has posed a risk to my generation in the long term, has made it clear that big business loves only itself.  Just ask the dutiful Boomer worker bees who suffered losses to their pensions and retirement savings.
 
The once anti-establishment, countercultured and progressive boomers represent the generation that peers on, baffled by the very nature of our collective existence. But they are the ones who raised us, teaching us to be ourselves, to value education, to question authority, and self-advocate—we can have what we want if we work hard.
 
Yes, parents, we heard what you said when we weren't listening. 
 
Even as I am reminded the importance of making connections, I am playfully chastised by my Dad to put my phone down when he sees me tapping away at my iPhone - usually to an editor, but sometimes to a client or TV segment producer who found my contact information on the Web site I created that bears my name. (Ugh, Millennials are such narcissists!) 

Most times, I’m chatting to my best friends who live in other states, or engaging on Twitter while I prepare to write my book. Other times, I am picking up tidbits on The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post and other institutional titles that I respect but never buy in print

“I’m working,” I say, as he moves closer to take my phone away. 

He shakes his head. I know he doesn’t believe it.