Young people get a pretty bad rap these days. Chances are, you’ve seen more than one article or op-ed from a credited news source lamenting the dismal performance of “millennials” – a term used in media to lump anyone born between the early 1980s and late 2000s into one single category. Often times, the language used could almost be referring to a different species. Google the term, and you get pages of headlines like, “Five Tips for Managing Millennials,” or “The Millennials Are Coming,” as if our generation was an invading alien race rather than a group of diverse, talented and hardworking people who aren’t that different from those who came before.
The stereotypes are abundant, but my favorite is the frequently reoccurring statement that we are the generation who “played on [enter sport of your choice here] teams where there were no winners or losers” – as if that alone should clue someone in that there is something fundamentally inferior about our work ethic. Not every narrative explicitly identifies these distinguishing characteristics as negative, but anytime “millennial” is mentioned, it is usually to compare and contrast the stark differences between generations.
People are quick to cite statistics about how many millennials have tattoos or liken the loss of their phone to the loss of an appendage – but how often do you hear that 81 percent of our generation have donated money, goods or services, that we may soon become the most educated generation in American history, or that approximately 60 percent of us believe we are personally responsible to leave the world better than we inherited it?
Though they are decidedly few and far between, the articles that focus on the positive attributes of the millennial generation frequently list the desire to make the world a better place first and foremost among our most defining qualities. According to a recent study, more than half of millennials have said they would take a pay cut to work somewhere that is impacting positive change. Somehow, that doesn’t strike me as a characteristic of a lazy and disengaged generation.
In fact, if I had to pick the negative quality that I have most frequently observed in my peers I would say it is the tendency to be overly concerned and troubled by the state of the world – or the fear that their skills and talents won’t be enough to make a difference after all.
As for being lazy, I wouldn’t use that word to describe the countless students I have met who were presidents of clubs, editors of newspapers, captains of sports teams, founders of non-profits and startups, and members of the honor roll – all before graduating high school. Every year, the graduating class is more accomplished than the last. So yes, we might have grown up playing on sports teams where everyone was a winner, but we were also learning to play a musical instrument, taking an art class, speaking a second language or engaging in a plethora of other activities, all at the same time.
Of course, that’s a gross generalization of a very diverse and immense group of people – but it seems only fair to respond in kind to the generalizations heaped upon us by the media these days. The journalists, CEOs and politicians who bemoan the state of the younger generations should be the people we look up to – and yet, it is my peers who inspire me most. Their accomplishments impress and motivate me, their visions of the future excite me, and their views and perspectives challenge and engage me.
As a university student, I have come to recognize that it has been the experience of being surrounded by my fellow millennials that has truly educated me – sometimes more than a professor ever could. And if prominent members of older generations and the mainstream media doesn’t seem to understand that, who cares?
They’re not the ones I want to impress anyway.