What I Learned When I Found Out I Was Not a Millennial

For my entire life I identified as a millennial. I was a part of the technological generation, the young people you see on the news making incredible advancements in medicine and engineering while facing a texting addiction. Every angsty article I read about how millennials were ruining our world's future, written of course by the generation who raised millennials, struck a nerve with me as I took it personally. I, like many others, felt a bond of solidarity as the new wave of adults reformed cultures, workforces, and priorities all over the world. And of course received hate for it.

All of this changed when as a senior in high school I found out that I was in fact not a millennial. I was a part of Gen Z.

It was as if seventeen years of avocado toast and being blamed for killing Applebee's suddenly meant nothing. I had already known my younger brother was in Generation Z and that my parents were Generation X, but I had always assumed that I was in the generation range as my sister, who was only two years older than me. My brother, five years my junior, was in fact my generation.

In the few days that followed this revelation, I began to notice characteristics in myself that defined Gen Z and also what separated Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen Z as we were all in one household together.

Gen X:

My parents are in Generation X. This is the generation that people view today as traditional in values and the workforce. Growing up, my dad worked a 9-5 job and my mom homeschooled my sister and I until elementary when she became and active volunteer and classroom mom. To me Gen X is simply everyone's parents, working in an economy that the younger generations are fighting to change and holding strong to their ideas. Yet this is one of America's first generations to be labeled as "slackers" and "unmotivated" having grown up in the '70's and '80's when pop culture was just beginning to define itself on new media like MTV and rock bands. It's weird to think that the generation giving millennials the most grief received such judgment. Gen X redefined what families looked like and brought a faster pace to America, not unlike the attitudes of innovation that Millennials are bringing into the economy as well. I can see the standard Gen Xer in my parents but I can see the former 1980's revolutionizers in their stories. It is difficult to believe that the ridicule and stereotypes Millennials face now were once what Gen X received.

Gen Y (AKA Millennials):

As modern hippies and social justice warriors, Millennials were raised with internet and global threats of terrorism, a mix that creates an informed individual as well as one fighting for change. My sister is pursuing a degree in journalism. She is a Millennial getting ready to join the work force as a reporter in the age of Fake News.

I always thought I too was a Millennial, biding my time until I too could work for purpose and not a promotion. It is clear to me now that I am not a Millennial because I wasn't shaped by what shaped them. I remember the one year anniversary of 9/11, but not the actual event. The first iPhone came out two years before I was allowed to own a phone. The 2008 recession was something I lived through but did not impact me the way it impacted the majority of Millennials at the time who were in college or new to the workforce. My sister was just old enough to have it shape her view points, and I am glad I was on the cusp so that I can appreciate her perspective on matter that we don't agree on.

Gen Z:

Gen Z is my generation. When I first told my family about the fact that I shared a generation with my brother, who at the time was 12, they all nodded, knowing it made sense. While my sister didn't understand how my parents could view a career so traditionally, as something that defined who you were and not your personal life, my sister also couldn't understand my brother and I's views on fame.

Gen Z grew up on YouTube, where anyone could make a name for themselves and an infinite number of people were famous to an infinite number of groups. For every sect of interest in the world, (ie. games, makeup, cars, history, etc.), there were many famous people leading each group on YouTube. For my brother's 14th birthday I took him to see one of our favorite YouTubers, Markiplier. My sister asked who I would be more excited to see, Brad Pitt or Markiplier. I replied "Markiplier" with no hesitation.

That is what is so interesting about Gen Z, anyone can become famous so fame is less astounding than previous generations. I enjoy Markiplier over Brad Pitt, so therefore would be more excited to see him. Overall, generations seem to be made by world changing events but identified by their work views. Gen X spent much of their youth fighting for careers that would define them, working hard for good houses and the next promotion. Gen Y can't afford homes so easily, instead finding happiness in their purpose and social connections. And of course, Gen Z has grown up in a world where anyone can make a name for themselves and their sole purpose appears to find what makes them happiest and thrive in their groups.

Why This Matters:

The most important lesson I learned from all of these observation and research was from an episode of "Adam Ruins Everything." He showed populations for generations and defining characteristics before making this excellent point:


Yes, despite all of the statistics we've grown up with, the only real data to take away is that people have existed.

I am proud to be a part of Generation Z, but I don't want the characteristics of it to be the only things that people see me as. The best takeaway here is not focus on what makes generations different but what similarities we share that make us people living in the modern world. While my sister can work on fighting "fake news" and change media and my brother can "burn me with memes for days," I'm not going to get hung up on where I exactly I fit in. I will, however, always be proud to place the slow death of Applebee's solely on my sister's shoulders.