After writing about the rise of cynicism of millennials yesterday, I found a great article with a completely different take on what’s really going on with the millennial generation. As a millennial who loves to observe and write about millennials, I’ve said before that it has been interesting to see the cohesion of attitude and values in my generation. Being on the front end of millennials, it’s as if the older cohort of millennials are trying to find a voice, and articulating “who we are” is at the tip of our tongues, almost forming coherently. It’s great when you find an article that is able to define who we are perfectly.
The article Millennial medium chill: What the screwed generation can teach us about happiness starts by referencing the Howe & Strauss generational cycle theory and (of course) identities millennials as a Hero, or Civic, generation.
First of all, I love all of the cultural references of the article: I too watched The Little Mermaid over and over in ’91, I correlate my life milestones to the releases of Harry Potter books and movies, and I laughed out loud at the reference about millennials being a generation of 80 million Buster Bluths (80% hilarity / 20% terror).
The article goes on to identify the key millennial traits, and builds a broad and valid case for who we are and where we are at as a generation.
1. Financial struggle
We are loaded with student debt, in a bad economy, and inherited a “toxic legacy” of debt that will be paid off “through higher taxes, less infrastructure and social spending, and, fatefully, the prospect of painfully slow growth for the foreseeable future.” This is a generational trait that can’t be ignored. Boomers had Woodstock, millennials have a part-time jobs at Starbucks. Financial struggle is a defining generational quality that can’t be ignored.
2.The whole “coddled and immature” thing
Speaking of in inheriting a “toxic legacy” caused by the irresponsibility of previous generations, millennials get a lot of criticism for being immature.
“Our widespread inability to fully flee the nest even led psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett to famously raise the prospect of recognizing a new stage of life, Emerging Adulthood, the same way psychologists a century ago successfully made a case for adolescence as a phase distinct from childhood. After crunching the numbers and looking at our long-term prospects for financial maturity, the establishment is understandably starting to freak out a little bit: It looks like the country’s got about 80 million Buster Bluths on its hands. How can we be counted on to tackle looming global challenges like climate change if we can’t even take care of ourselves?” –Claire Thompson
There are generational set-backs because of how were were raised as a generation. I don’t think Helicopter Parenting is a myth, I’ve seen several examples of this in college students. I think millennials were raised more idealistically than pragmatically. But blaming everything on how millennials were raised doesn’t matter in a world where there is little room for entitlement.
3. The Real World according to millennials (and reality)
A mentality I sometimes notice with some Boomers is one that blames millennials for the “sins of our fathers” which is odd because they are our fathers. We are sensation-seeking, identity-exploring hippies, who thinks the world owes us a living. Also the NYT article I posted about yesterday accuses millennials of being partisan, and cynical. Another Boomer-written NYT article chastises millennials for being too promiscuous and dubs us the Hook-Up Generation. So (according to Boomers) that makes us promiscuous, partisan, and cynical. Are you sensing the hypocrisy yet? I hope so, because so far hypocrisy is at least one trait millennials have managed to keep out of our generational identity so far.
“In this world they’ve left us with, we’re not sharing shabby apartments and living on coffee-shop tips out of some blithe desire to experiment. Experimentation is when you’re 15 and you skip history class to get high, knowing how little this forbidden risk-taking really matters for your future, provided it recurs just infrequently enough to allow you to achieve everything you’re told you’re capable of. What we’re experiencing now isn’t rebellion, it’s reality — just not the reality we thought we’d be rewarded with for playing by the rules.” –Claire Thompson
The real problem is that millennials see the obvious hypocrisy of being told to man up in the “real world” that suffered an epic burnout at the hands of… well not us, as we were kids or coming-of-age. The ‘real world’ we were prepared for doesn’t exist. We know it’s time for a change.
4. Don’t be fooled, we are optimists.
Millennials know the world has changed, but we also sense a shift in generational values. Millennials “are still saying they’re pretty sure they’re going to get what they want out of life” (Morrigan McCarthy, co-creator Geography of Youth).
“You could dismiss this as youthful naïveté, but I think it’s also a sign of how our reality has influenced our expectations. Our confidence only sounds delusional under the assumption that what we want out of life is a four-bedroom house in a nice suburb, two or three cars, and kids with private-school educations.” –Claire Thompson
Just because we didn’t purchase out happiness doesn’t mean we aren’t indeed happy.
“Indeed, it seems that millennials are ahead of the curve in our embrace of what Grist’s David Roberts calls the medium chill, or the decision to forgo the rat race — where “there will always be a More and Better just beyond our reach, no matter how high we climb” — in pursuit of more authentic and lasting happiness. From our perspective, a traditional career path looks like an endless ladder constantly sprouting new steps, while we’re all still on the ground, jumping for the first rung. So we’re looking for ways to avoid that ladder altogether — maybe by climbing a tree instead.”
“As achieving success in the traditional sense requires ever more exhausting amounts of ambition, it makes sense that millennials would see the pursuit of meaningful relationships as a better investment of energy.”
This is my favorite point of the article. It’s like the traditional path has collapsed in on itself, and while some people of out parents’ generation are fretting and worrying about the fate of millennials, we’re relieved. We don’t want that life. And I think if previous generations are honest with themselves, I don’t think they do either. Perhaps our contentment as a generation is bad for the economy, but we’ll find some way to manage through it.This is just speaking optimistically, but we may find a way to succeed in a more holistic, and healthier sense.
“we recognize that these fundamental shifts are good for society as a whole, that they represent a rejection of the mindset that got us into this mess. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we still have very little power in this country, and until those in charge stop seeing us as shiftless rogues, we’re going to be on our own in creating the life we want.” –Claire Thompson
Take time to read this article. I think it’s a good portrait for where millennials are at. For reals.