We Aren't Millennials

I know that splitting people into generations can be useful. It helps identify social trends and - for better or worse - influences marketing. My issue is when people start to identify with their generations as if they were Hogwarts houses or a Myers-Briggs personality type. Our personalities, strengths, and weaknesses cannot be boxed up so simplistically. It is dangerous and divisive to make grand generalizations, especially over relatively arbitrary designations based on birth years.

During a summer internship, I crowd-canvassed with a coworker. We were handing out information about resources provided by the nonprofit we were representing. An older man came up to us and asked us if we were millennials. “Yes,” we answered.

“You guys are destroying the world,” he told us.

There is something funny about being told you are destroying the world while actively and visibly being involved in trying to improve your community. My coworker and I exchanged a look and struggled to keep from laughing. At the same time, though, the situation was a little embarrassing. A tiny part of me thought: What exactly are we doing wrong? What did we do? I thought we were just getting started on the world.

I grew up identifying as a millenial. In 2014, my high school hosted a TEDxYouth conference. One of the student speakers gave a presentation titled, “Social Unconscious in Generation Y Bother.” We all assumed we were millennials and engaged with issues accordingly. Millennials are blamed for destroying malls and cereal and grocery stores. At the same time, they face debt over college tuition and the housing market. I grew up with this reality as my experience. I still feel a kind of defensiveness when I hear comments from older generations about the millennials.

I was born in 1998. Ergo, I am technically a part of Generation Z. To be completely honest, I probably fit with Generation Z in terms of my habits and beliefs more. However, I don’t really identify with Generation Z. I didn’t even know I was part of it until college, and some of my classes approach us as if we were millennials. Frankly, I don’t see myself as part of either of these generations. Come on! Some millennials are 38 and have children. Some members of Gen Z are still in elementary school.

When I was scrolling around online in college, I saw someone had posted a disparaging comment about millennials. But plot twist! This comment was from a member of Generation Z. It suggested that Generation Z was more progressive and that millennials had disappointed. “Hey now!” I thought. Again, my millennial defensiveness raised its head. At the same time, I thought, “So this is what Baby Boomers and Generation X feel when millennials complain about them.”

I think a lot of generations identify with their generalized good attributes and become overly defensive at outside criticism. This defensiveness impedes our attempts to interact with our communities, governments, and networks to make positive change. It is important to work beyond age boundaries and also acknowledge that those boundaries are arbitrary.

In conclusion, generational divides are dumb, and we have better things to discuss. (Ooh. Self burn).