Baumgarten: The turn of the Millennial
“You’re so successful for your age, April.” While the phrase makes me confident, it also scares me. It’s usually followed by a smug, “Your generation has it so easy,” or “You think you deserve everything.”
People say it all the time to my generation. There is a name for my age group that makes me cringe every time I hear it — the Millennials.
A Millennial is someone who is born between the 1980s and 2000s. Also, known as Generation Y, we tend to have a “Me, me, me!” attitude. We think we are the great generation. We expect not only to get great jobs out of college but we also want high pay, great benefits and a flashy car.
When I first heard of this concept, I thought, “I’m not that person. I’m not that arrogant. I’m not a Millennial.” To me, the term was derogatory, and I wanted to stay away from it as much as possible.
Then I read an interesting piece from the blog, “Wait But Why” titled, “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy.” It took me about 10 minutes to read, but I’ll summarize. Tim Urban and Andrew Finn say happiness equals reality minus expectations. So when someone’s life is better than what they expect, they are happy. When life falls short of expectations, you are probably miserable.
Why does this matter? My parents were born in the ‘60s, known as Generation X. Their parents — my grandparents — were born in the early 1900s, meaning they went through horrid events like the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II. This period of time left people scrapping for work and money. My grandparents, like everyone else in that era, worked hard to not only make ends meet but also make sure their children had a better life. They didn’t expect much or get much, but they were happy.
Then my parents and others went out to find jobs, with an upbringing that said they should work hard. Many experienced success in a time of economic prosperity by the end of the millenium. They expected little and got a lot. So, they were happy.
Then my generation was born. I’m not saying mine ever did this, but the theory is parents who had success felt their children could also have said success. As Urban puts it, what was once a brown lawn turned into greener grass. The motto changed from “Work hard,” to “You can be whatever you want and the sky is the limit.”
My generation saw grass with flowers, even roses. We were told we were special and above our peers. The idea that everyone is a winner made us ambitious but delusional. We told ourselves we could be movie actors, CEOs, even the President of the United States. By the time we were 25, we should have management positions.
But that didn’t happen. The economy collapsed and jobs became scarce. When Millennials didn’t get a job, they felt cheated and depressed. On top of it, social media, where people never lie (Did you catch the sarcasm?), showed our friends having great lives, making depression set in faster.
I would like to think that didn’t happen to me. I was raised to be a good sport if I lost, even when I knew I deserved the first-place trophy. My parents made sure I worked so hard on the farm that I didn’t want to come back or move back in with them unless absolutely necessary.
I was driven to be independent, to make something out of myself. I would like to think that’s why people say I am successful for my age, not because I got things handed to me on a silver platter. I don’t think I’m better than anyone else, and if I sound like I do, I apologize.
In defense of my new-age cohorts, we do work harder than people give us credit for. In our economic climate, it is just as hard as ever to find a job and make ends meet. We struggle to pay off college loans. We eat food based on a budget. And we will get every mile we can out of those bald tires on our cars.
Every generation has a hard time understanding the other, so we make assumptions — usually bad ones. Our grandparents think we are arrogant; we think the older, wiser generation will never change.
But it doesn’t matter. It goes in cycles. When I’m old and grey, I will say to my grandchildren, “When I was your age, we couldn’t teleport from place to place. We had to walk outside in the cold, start our cars and drive in a snowstorm that dropped 50 inches on us in one night.”
So, call me a Millennial if you want. Whatever makes your reality greater than your expectations.
Baumgarten is the assistant editor of The Dickinson Press. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her past posts on her blog at baumsaway.areavoices.com.