Hi. My name is Heidi, and I am a millennial. Before you judge, let me explain:
I was born in 1981; a cusp year. I grew up watching the Cosby Show, Smurfs, and the first class of Saved By the Bell. I played with Little Miss Make-up, Care bears, and Pogo balls. We wore slap wraps, hammer pants, hyper-color shirts, and a bunch of other stuff most millennials have never heard of.
I grew up with gen-X friends and cousins who probably see millennials as a bunch of lazy, self-serving good-for-nothings living off of their parents and whining that they’d get rich if only they could get their big break… Or maybe that’s a thought I’ve had. I hoped if I passed myself off as one of you, I could escape that reputation and my sense of personal specialness.
For a long time though, I’ve excused myself as being “culturally gen-X” under the guise that upbringing is more important in deciding generation per se than birth year. Like maybe I would have been a millennial if I was cool enough to have dial-up internet in 1993 when the only thing to do online was talk to people you didn’t know in weird, themed chatrooms; but I was’t. Be-bo-be-bo-crrrrrrr.
My family did not “get the internet” until 1998 when I was about to graduate high school. I spent a lot of time those days on Instant Messenger talking to friends who had already gone away to college.
Also, I can’t spell “millennial.” I have been struggling with that one for 19 years so how could I be one? Thankfully, I use the internet well enough that I was able to come up with the correct spelling for this post plus lots of pictures of young people taking selfies.
The first time I heard anyone use the term “selfie” was in 2014. I was working as a Park Ranger in Glacier Bay, and I was aboard a cruise ship parked in front of a tidewater glacier. A young man with an iPhone caught my eye and said, “Selfie?” I didn’t understand what he was asking, and I didn’t like it, so I just kept walking like any self-respecting gen-Xer would do. A few minutes later he was back, peering at me from around a corner; “Selfie?”
Thankfully, being from the most empathetic generation ever, he read my confusion and used a complete sentence: “Can I take a selfie with you? ”
“Oh,” I said. “Sure.”
What good is identity anyway? I like to rebrand myself now and then just to keep my inner psyche on her toes. Here’s what did it:
Last year I watched Iliza Shlesinger’s Netflix stand-up comedy special, Elder Millennial, thinking I’d get to enjoy feeling superior to the millennial generation. But I got all of the jokes. I loved it, and I identified with it.
Wait a minute, said my cerebral cortex, if she was born only two years after you…and she’s a millennial…wouldn’t that make you…
Stop! Shouted my limbic brain. No need to go any farther with that thought!
Ok, said my cerebral cortex. My mistake. She is from New York City so her family probably got the internet really early, like 1992…
Phew, said limbic brain. That was a close one.
Meanwhile the participation trophies are still lined up on the shelf, threatening to overthrow my childhood bedroom. (Actually, all of my childhood stuff is still basically in that bedroom. It’s like my own personal shrine.)
Sigh. I know Millennials have a bad reputation with older generations, but the older I get the more I relate to and need my younger friends. Here’s what I love about them, ahem, us:
I’ve never met a group of people with such admirable hearts. Millennials are smart, creative, funny, honest, and ambitious. We refuse to compromise who we are. We have the courage to ask hard questions about who we are and why we do what we do; because experience with failure has caused us to lose our fear of failure. We ask the hard questions – Who am I? Isn’t there more to life than this? – over and over, and we are not afraid to change the answers. We accept ourselves and empathize with others. We refuse to compromise who we are and so grow into people of great faith and focus. Our roots are woven together into a fabric of human equality, ethics, and a vision of a better world.
Ambitious haircuts still make me nervous. I don’t have an Instagram account, and I struggle to use hashtags (#wtfhashtags). But I’m working on these things. Like it or not, I’m a millennial, and I might as well get used to these things. Maybe generational confusion is a natural part of growing up as one generation of peers makes its way out of the world, and the next generation makes its way in. Or maybe that’s just me, a millennial, thinking I’m someone special.