If you’re anywhere between the approximate ages of 22 to 37, you’ve probably been labeled a “Millennial” at least once in your life. Especially as soon as you do something that ventures outside of what the previous generations consider to be the “norm”. Forget about if they know what’s going on in your head, or not – you’re such a typical millennial for doing X, Y, or Z!
Now, this post isn’t going to be about rejecting every aspect of the millennial stereotype(s), because there are some things that are true and are not worth arguing about. However, there are two pretty big misconceptions that I believe exist between many of us and our parents – at least, this is what I have gleaned from talking to a good amount of my peers. We are seen as lazy when we prefer to work smart, instead of hard; and we are seen as flaky or shortsighted when we choose to spend money on travel or more instantaneous rewards, versus saving up for a mortgage, retirement, etc.
Before I go any further, let me address the rebuttals that will surely arise to that last statement. I am NOT saying – nor would I ever say – that we should completely disregard saving up for things like buying a house, or putting money into a 401(k). So, don’t get mad (yet). What I am about to explain is the thought process behind having those items slightly lower on the priority list. This isn’t to excuse it, but to hopefully help bridge the gap of understanding between millennials and their parents when this misunderstanding arises.
I obviously can’t speak for everyone in my generation, nor do I intend to. But, I think I can safely say that we’ve seen quite a few things crash and burn in our lifetime (ex: for American millennials, the Great Recession). And just as certain events helped mold the mindsets and habits of previous generations, events during our lifetime have shown us how easily you can lose everything you’ve been waiting for. The key word here is waiting. It may seem that millennials prefer instant gratification because we lack patience and foresight, but it’s not always that simple. We prefer instant gratification because we don’t necessarily want to wait for a day in the distant future that may never come. Rather, we want to ensure a higher quality of life – while we still have a life to live.
We don’t want to work tirelessly at a passionless job as cogs in the machine, barely getting by for a paycheck just to pay bills and put money into a savings account, in the hopes of making enough money to retire “someday”. With the rise of social media and instant access to everything happening in the world, we have become acutely aware that this vague “someday” may never come. Therefore, we want to seize the current day, do something that will make us happy, and live for the moment because we know that tomorrow is never promised. And that’s pretty scary to think about. Now, compound this with the pressure that we feel to enter that traditional world when (many of) us wish to explore what life has to offer, while we still have a chance. This can create a dissonance, because we know what we truly want in life…but we don’t want to stray from the common path, lest we disappoint anyone. It can make a person feel trapped if it’s not well-managed.
I’m sure at this point there are a lot of heads shaking in disagreement at what I’ve proposed. And that’s okay. This is a topic that will never quite reach a consensus. My only goal is to explore the subject while (hopefully) providing Gen X with a bit of clarity about why some of us millennials think and act the way that we do.
Before I end this post: it’s critical to note that the mindset I’ve described is, in and of itself, a privilege. Those of us who have enough financial stability or sense of direction or support (or all three) to break out of the aforementioned mundanity, inherently have privilege because we can visualize the dream as our reality – and chase it. Not everyone is nearly as fortunate to do that. So, as we chase our dreams and seek out the lives we desire, let’s not forget those who can’t do the same. And, if you’re able to, try to help them along the way.
Where do you stand on the “Millennials” debate? Let me know!