You’ve probably heard the common line of thinking about our generation, often called the Millennial Generation. It goes something like this: They are narcissistic, entitled, and materialistic. They all received trophies for failing as preschool soccer stars and expect the world to be handed to us on a silver platter. They have poor communication skills and are vastly underprepared for the real world.
I recently saw a comment on a website that noted, “I think the single word that defines a whole generation is ‘whatever.’”
This is who we are, or so we’ve been told by analysts, teachers, potential employers, and grumbling baby boomers. However, does this largely negative stereotype accurately capture what we have to offer? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, our generation (born between 1980 to 2000) is shaping up to be one of the most diverse and forceful groups America has seen in a while. We are already challenging the status quo and reshaping our society—and that scares people. Perhaps that is why older generations are so eager to box us in with labels. Regardless, here are six things about our generation worth celebrating:
- We volunteer more. According to the 2012 Millennial Impact report, 63 percent of us volunteered for a non-profit last year, and three quarters of us donated money from our own pockets to a charity. While middle-aged Americans tend to volunteer more than Millennials, we are giving far more of our time than they did as teenagers and twenty-somethings.
- We have more options—and we take advantage of them. Odds are that my peers will hold seven different jobs before they turn 26. Some traditionalists would look at this and cry at a lack of commitment, but really we are simply adapting to a world in which more jobs are available to us. We are putting off more and more big decisions, from marriage to children to home ownership. Are we suffering from restlessness and cold feet? No way. Because of technology, we know that the workplace, the world, and social circles are full of options—and we want to say we did it all.
- We watch less television. Okay, so this isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. But studies have consistently found that Americans watch more TV as they age, with the lowest viewership in the younger demographics. This definitely bucks the idea that reality TV icons like Snookie and Kim Kardashian—whom older generations might see as the epitome of what’s wrong with Millennials—really have much influence on us.
- We have big expectations. Some people see this trait as an extreme negative. I’ve heard that, in the workplace, millennials expect not only quick promotions and high salaries, but also personal fulfillment. They say we have an extraordinary sense of entitlement to these things. Well, you definitely could do worse than having a group of people wanting happiness out of their professional lives. In fact, I think this is a great shift: we could be the generation that redefines success as something beyond getting a paycheck. By looking for fulfilling jobs, we aren’t showing arrogance; we are showing that we have values that are more than materialistic.
- We are disillusioned, but not defeated. We face the most difficult job market in many years. Partisan politics is nearly all we’ve ever seen from Washington. Because of this, our overall trust in institutions is extremely low compared to members of other age groups. But we aren’t about to let that stop us from establishing ourselves as a force in today’s world. Instead of climbing the traditional ladder of success, we build our own: 54 percent of young people intend to start and run their own business, or have already done so, according to a study by the Kauffman Foundation. We take things into our own hands in politics, too. Through online movements like Kony 2012 and countless Change.org petitions, as well as the youth’s impact on Obama’s 2008 election, we have shown an affinity for action.
- Our story is only beginning. Maybe some of the stereotypes about my generation are true—maybe we spend too much time on our phones, maybe we eat too much fast food, we’re often paralyzed by the dreaded Fear Of Missing Out, and we’re too focused on image and fame—but that’s only who we are right now. Every generation went through periods of naval-gazing; it isn’t a Millennial thing, it’s a young people thing. We can and will change as we age, and we can and will change the world as well.
So what do I have to say to all the negative stereotypes about my peers? Whatever.