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Why has the Millennial generation aroused such anger? Why do people seem to think it is OK to bash Millennials when they wouldn’t do the same thing to any racial, ethnic, or religious group? This is a question I keep asking myself when I see articles that make snide remarks about Millennials or when I hear older managers talk about the problems with having a younger generation in their workforce. What is behind the anger?
I have a few hypotheses. One is that the bashers are really envious of the lifestyle and approach of Millennials. Millennials have their whole lives ahead of them and they seem willing to take risks and make choices with their needs and goals in mind, even if those choices involve leaving jobs that are not working for them. When I type the previous sentence out, the words seem to mock me, ‘Why would anyone stay in a job that was not working for them?” Well, many boomers have done just that and we really wish that we could just pick up and leave. Yet we have made, as David Whyte says in The Heart Aroused, “Faustian bargains with our mortgages and car payments.” We are too indebted and our investment eggs have lost such value that we don’t believe we can voluntarily drop everything.
Secondly, Millennials currently demand the kind of company they want but that all of us need. The requests they make for challenging work, for feedback on their efforts, and for an opportunity to have a say in their future are things that everyone would like in the “workplace of our dreams.” Many boomers believe that although that would be desirable it is not, as some people would say, practical or realistic.
My third hypothesis is that Millennials ask questions that force us to look at our assumptions. They wonder why we accept the world as it is. Recently I received an American Girl catalogue and one of their featured dolls is Julie Albright, a girl from 1974. She actually represents the time of my initiation into the outside world. I was idealistic, engaged, energetic about wanting to make a difference, and involved in doing so. I wore bell-bottom jeans and tie-died shirts; I wanted peace; and while I didn’t actually protest, my heart was with those who did. Where has that person gone? For a long time it has not been fashionable to tout those values—we were supposed to have grown beyond that. But when Millennials make us remember the person we were, it makes us uneasy and we tend to lash out at them in response.
As my son Ian says, my version of heaven might look more closely like a Millennial’s than I really want to acknowledge.
This is not about the confirmation or dismissal of faith. The heaven I speak of is not just a state-of-mind but rather a state-of-being. To establish the differentiation I’m presenting between the traditional ivory kingdom – with its angels plucking harps and martyrs popping grapes – and the heaven for Millennials, I will define my meaning of the word “heaven,” at least in this case.
Excluding the practitioners of certain beliefs, what a Millennial knows of heaven is simply the comprehension of the highest quality of reality. It involves the acknowledgment that we have stumbled upon our own little slice of happiness. The Millennial heaven is not necessarily a religious paradise.
What Millennials, such as myself, might’ve once longed for (as most people would deep in adolescence) evolved as we developed into adults.
During the hours of puberty, all we wanted was one day – just one day – with a smile devoid of braces, a forehead no longer sprinkled by pimples, and to be without the feeling of general embarrassment for our existence. There was always the dramatic, “Does this boy or that girl have a crush on me? Will I get a date for Saturday? Do my parents wish I was never born?” and other such inquisitions. We were constantly bursting with questions; I know I was. And how exhausting were these concerns then, while the hormones ripped away all previous sense of childhood, causing anxiety in the middle of algebra class?
The problem with this time of life, as I’m paraphrasing from a very wise man, is that “you have a lot of responsibilities and not a lot of power.”
These days, Millennials are discovering that power, realizing that they can dictate the rules and determine what happens tomorrow and the morning after. This is the heaven to which I refer. We are leaving the old dreams of werewolves hunting beneath full moons, the tooth fairy dispersing coins from her purse, a benevolent Santa Claus overlooking elves, and other such imagined absurdities, finally arriving at the doorstep of veracity.
Yes, we leave those fantasy moons behind as we enter heaven; it is a requirement of modern maturity. But they are not, I think, completely abandoned. We will always retain a fleeting sense of the fantastical. Our imagination will never be entirely extinguished, just as no one’s should.
Not to disregard the important role of spirituality for many, many people, but it does not seem uncommon for Millennials to be protective of their unconventional beliefs. Conviction in principles can indeed be that we break free of predictability and traditions, though not forgoing the comfort of ritual. And so the heaven that we strive for is tangible in a new and fresh way. There is an electricity in our goals, where we assemble ourselves to a place of authority – not over other generations, but over our previous selves.
It is fair to say that true liveliness in today’s expanding culture is like marching through a storm, and heaven is donning a raincoat. It’s obtaining a defense that not only gets you through the rain, but shields you from the disadvantage of not being prepared, of not having that authority. My realized paradise is a positive, exciting idea, where I have power over my life and can pursue true passions while still preserving a sense of reliability. The truth is anyone can gain this attitude, this proud position on a personal throne. It’s never too late to grow into the best version of yourself.
Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz once said, “The two great things about youth are looking cute and being able to travel.” Whether that’s true or not, there’s wisdom in that statement that goes beyond the literal. Looking cute can include much more than appearance; it’s about having an innocence, ambition, looking to the horizon. It’s about having a future. And to travel: To have the freedom to explore, whether it’s a locale or an interest, a love life or independence, a skill, a hobby, a passion – it doesn’t matter. Traveling, in its most basic form, is growth. Does this mean that you need to be young to have these benefits? Of course not.
To the confusion of many older adults, perhaps even to their dismay, I avoided a traditional college education. Since the ripe age of fifteen I felt that there was something incompatible, something uneasy between myself and standard scholastics. I simply didn’t want to learn things that A: I did not enjoy, and B: had no relevance to what I wanted to do with my life.
There are times when I wonder if avoiding the post high school status quo is, in a way, a sign of cowardice. Then I remind myself of the extensive amount of work I’ve done in my areas of interest, how devoted I’ve been, and realize that it probably takes even more courage to break free from the predictable and tread an unknown path leading to an uncharted mountain.
My reluctance to pursue a college existence did not result in me dismissing the process of learning; I went to a digital film making certificate program and had a great time, gaining more than I was ever prepared for. The Center for Digital Imaging Arts is a glimpse into the future of educating those in a specific field: complete immersion in your craft with emphasis on developing and executing projects on your own. Everyone is supportive and yet no one holds your hand.
A couple years after film school, interests changed, passions evolved, and I found myself swimming in new waters, uncertain as to whether there were sharks beneath me. I wanted to be a writer, not a filmmaker; a stunning choice to my friends and family. To “abandon” my famous obsession seemed like a practical joke, a silly stint that would only momentarily distract me from my next cinematic adventure. After all, I went to school for film and film alone – why give that up?
There was a validation to such concern; I had no formal training (high school doesn’t count) in writing anything besides screenplays, and I couldn’t exactly change my major to suit my new infatuation. At first I devoted myself to reading books about writing and practicing the art every day, but, for someone as feverish as I am, that could never satisfy the hunger to learn.
Online classes – that was where the gold was buried. They were a perfect fit to my situation and style of learning. It’s all about independence. Sure, there’s the usual reading, assignments, discussions, projects, but you complete these in your own home at a pace you can set yourself. You need to be motivated, that’s the key, and that motivation has to come from inside.
Now, I couldn’t be more thrilled about where I’m going and what I’ve gained through my own initiating. Writing is my world, and this desire and this pursuit has spawned from within.
I am a genuine self-starter, in that virtually everything I’ve done regarding writing this past year, the classes I’ve taken, the pieces I’ve written, the submissions to publications/contests, has come completely from my own enthusiasm. If something’s going to get done, I’m the one who’s going to do it. This demeanor is rather common among Millennials – we see opportunity in areas that older generations might dismiss. The last thing I want to do is give the impression that Millennials are superior to others in all ways when it comes to education, that’s clearly false. However, we are brilliant at achieving our goals on our own terms; it seems almost imbedded in our DNA. There’s one unarguable truth: We’re a generation that doesn’t need permission to learn.
While attending my 35th college reunion (really who could be this old?), I sat with three other alumnae of Bryn Mawr College and as each one gave us a snapshot of our lives in the last 5 years, I became aware that I was completely out-of-date with today’s world. I was someone who prided myself on being cutting edge and my edge was suddenly very dull.
First was Victoria, who had sold her actuarial business and was designing websites. Her everyday world was filled with twenty-five year old men. She showed us her online site selling specialty exercise videos made by people who were completely different from her and her background. She used her iPhone to show us her website, pinching and flicking to move around the internet.
Then Cathy says, I can see an iPhone in my future but only when they add a GPS system (who knew that cell phones could have GPS systems in them?) Cathy had just taken a new job where she used her journalism skills to create the online presence for the non-profit she had just joined. She also said that her daughter had set up a Facebook page for her and friended her. I knew enough to know that would never happen to me.
OK, maybe two other people were more up-to-date than I was but surely Janet who had been a stay-at-home mom for the last five years wouldn’t show me up. Instead she talks about how she loves to do research on the web and that she reads the New York Sunday Times online on Saturday.
I, who used to work in the IT division of a major corporation and sat in on every technology update for two years, could not be so completely out of it. But I was. At the same time each of us talked about our Millennial children and what they were doing. The contrast with my life was stunning. They were all following their passions and their dreams. I was continuing to do what I had been doing for the last twenty years—sure it was in different companies—but I was feeling very stuck. So it came to me—if I could live more like a Millennial, I could deal better with this ever-changing world.
Are you feeling stuck?
They never called me Ian and they never treated me like a stranger. I, too, addressed them not by their names, but by their Xbox Live Gamer tags. “Hello, Quiet. Hello, Lethal,” I said to the couple when they picked me up outside the Birmingham Train Station on a cloudy April day. “Hey, you alright, Smoochy?” asked Lethal, grinning. We had known each other, electronically, for five months. We talked and video chatted almost every day. We were gamers, united by the 21st century’s most addictive hobby.
The woman at customs at the Manchester Airport had a serious problem with the way I’d met my hosts, as I’m sure many people might.
“You say you started talking to them… while play computer games? So you’ve never actually met them before?”
“That’s right,” I said, smiling.
“You’re visiting them from America and you’ve never seen them before?”
I nodded enthusiastically, still excited about my arrival, while she looked me over skeptically. I had the feeling she wanted to accuse me of some offense, but instead she shrugged and told me to enjoy my holiday.
The very first thing we did upon arriving at Lethal and Quiet’s suburban residence was drink tea and eat toasted crumpets, to instantly give me the true English experience. I hauled my suitcase upstairs and looked out the window at the little garden. Here I was. Who would’ve thought that shooting digital terrorists with digital assault rifles would lead to a 3,000 mile journey with blood pudding for breakfast and fish and chips for supper?
I slept in a ragdoll’s Eden, their daughter’s bedroom, a metropolis of stuffed animals and flowered wallpaper. Ten days in a rather uncomfortable bed, but I had no intention of complaining. How could I when people I’d never met were allowing me into their home, into their lives? Quiet was considerably pregnant, they already had two hyper children, and yet they were thrilled to have me. Lethal even took the week off work as a truck driver to spend time with me. “Cup of tea, Smooch?” I was asked multiple times a day. This was hospitality at its most basic.
Being twenty-years-old means no legal alcohol in the U.S. However, it does mean I’m college age: ripe for keggers and beer pong and promiscuity. I can drive, vote, get married, and die for my country, but I can’t have a sip of champagne on New Year’s or even set foot inside a sports bar to watch a baseball game. In Great Britain, the alcohol flows freely and with little hesitation. And so Lethal took me to a local pub, rugby and football on the telly, where I got to feel very adult and take turns buying rounds. No need to worry though, we walked home.
I showed them my award-winning short films, which were well received. We went to the cinema, to Warrick Castle, to an arcade (billiards and bowling), explored Stratford (Shakespeare’s birthplace), bought chocolates and a Union Jack t-shirt; we played video games; we drank; we laughed. It was a brilliant ten days, a trip that Lethal later said confirmed me as a “true friend.” There aren’t many individual words that come to mind to describe my visit, but there’s no doubt, I had a helluva lot of fun.
More and more people, not just from my generation, are meeting up through video games and the internet. This may still seem strange to others, especially to Baby Boomers and beyond, but it is very real and very common. The idea of meeting virtually can be hard to grasp when you might have trouble adapting to technological and communicative advances on your own. It can, believe it or not, actually be comforting to get to know someone before coming in physical contact with them. There’s a lack of pressure, of uneasiness that being in someone’s presence for the first time can bring. You don’t stand around with your hands in your pockets mumbling about the weather; you talk to them in a safe environment where you can explore common interests, past events, future ambitions, and whatever else comes to mind.
I’m living proof that not only is meeting someone digitally a promising and beneficial act, but it can lead to greater things; such as traveling to another continent to gain a lifelong experience, one that you might never forget. Who knows, maybe you’ll make yourself a “true friend,” and maybe, just maybe, you’ll have some fun while doing it.
As I researched information about Millennials, I found quite a lot of Millennial-bashing. Some people were very resentful of these younger folks who had not paid their dues and who wanted to work differently and be rewarded differently and who weren’t willing to sit around and wait for their turn.
Then I found others who valued what Millennials could do that was so hard for older folks. At least one researcher described similar values between the generations that played out in different ways.
When I told people anecdotes about how the Millennials that I knew were living their lives differently, I had interested faces and lots of questions. For example, I told how my son, Ian, had met people from Birmingham, England while playing online massive multi-player video games. (See previous post XBox and England.) He became such good friends with them that he went to visit them for 10 days having never seen them in person before that. The scandalous looks that said, “How could you let your son do this?” were replaced with sheepish looks when I pointed out how difficult it would be for us to do something like that. Occasionally I would get told a story back of how someone had reached out across global boundaries to build a friendship.
This pattern of stories that showed how Millennials embraced today’s world and how the rest of us could take baby steps to join them sparked lots of interest in my listeners. I realized that a blog that captured these stories and had other useful links could be very successful. However I worried that the very people who most needed the information wouldn’t find it because they read books to learn rather than used the web. So is there anyone you could share this site with who might find it of interest? Or are you an agent who would like to get us a book deal?
After I check my email for messages from family and friends, newsletters on various forms of writing, proper grammar and character study, I check my email again. The send/receive button is clicked like a drum beat and I text away on a cell phone’s miniature keyboard. Should the time come when I have to slide into my compact car, the GPS is turned on before I leave the garage – even if I’m driving to the grocery store up the street.
Technology on a day-to-day basis as a Millennial means a routine of activity. We are constantly living in the rapid-paced present without knowing so, for we are always focused on the future, on the next big thing. When does the new iPhone come out? When will Facebook upgrade to a different format? When will my wireless router be faster? Despite a conventional belief that this viewpoint is detrimental to savoring life, the truth is quite the opposite.
Though my sustenance may occasionally be focused on the sensitivity of a touch screen, I’m concentrating on intangible success, in the form of efficiency, in romance and in happiness. And that is what being up to date can help with, the contribution to happiness. It’s not about cutting corners, but rather shape shifting to an evolving society. To be held back in the modern world means missing out on opportunities to improve your life. Nothing wows Millennials anymore. Nothing knocks us on our knees in humility to a technological advancement. It’s possible to be impressed with implanted microchips and virtual reality, but we’re just not going to be in shock from innovation.
To older generations, the sight of an original room-filling computer must’ve been like a crowd beholding the first circus. They were observing alien creatures, never seen outside picture books or imagined beyond stories. A mystical white tiger leaping through fire, or a chimpanzee collecting nickels in the stands was something out of a dream, inspiring awe.
No computer could do this to a Millennial. Even the most revolutionary improvement is like witnessing something as simple as a mutt dragging its owner down a city sidewalk, lifting its leg against an imprisoned tree. It’s all customary.
Now, I video chat with other gamers from England; I network with long lost friends; I use satellite-based maps to navigate perplexing roads. And I digitize my existence with an awareness that translates, ultimately, to progress.