Millennials: digitally savvy, altruistic, driven, ambitious, socially connected, open-minded, confident, team-playing, achieving group of individuals born between 1980 and 2000. Often times viewed as: entitled, narcissistic, coddled, lazy, unrealistic, lost, impatient, and A.D.D. There is quite the opposition in those two perceptions to say the least. So, why are we millennials so misunderstood?
Different Generation, Different Dream
Growing up, while we sat in history classes we learned (or tried to learn, I for one was never a Social Studies gal) about the growth of America. Immigrants moved to this country from all over the world to pursue what was called “The American Dream”. The American Dream is the concept that everyone in America has the chance for prosperity, success, and the right to the pursuit of happiness. Many of us have firsthand witnessed our loved ones chase after The American Dream, with parents, grandparents, or great grandparents sharing with us their stories of when they first came to the U.S. While this dream is still very alive today, the majority of millennials in this country have a different dream. Many millennials who are descendants of immigrants, grew up as 1st or 2nd generation American citizens. So for us, the American Dream doesn’t really apply. We grew up seeing our parents having already “made it”, achieving success, stability, and financial security.
Our childhood was arguably much different than previous generations. Growing up we were told by our teachers and parents that we were special and that as long as we tried, we could get an A for effort or a blue ribbon for participation. We grew up with access to anything you could possibly imagine, at the touch of our fingertips. Cartoons and kid shows? Yeah there were 6 different channels we had to choose from. There was Rugrats and Hey Arnold! on Nickelodean, or Power Rangers on Fox, and Dexter’s Laboratory on Cartoon Network. If we wanted to talk to our friends? We didn’t have to call the home line anymore and wait for the older sister Becky to get off the freaking phone. We could talk on Instant Messenger online instead (ah, the good old days of AIM), or text and call via our cell phones. And remember how I said that we were told we were special? Well, unlike our parents or grandparents, we had 10 times the number of people wishing us happy birthday, thanks to Facebook.
We Want More
It was hammered into our brains throughout our adolescence that if we graduated high school and went to college, we would get a high-paying job and be more successful—it was a guarantee. So what is the millennial dream? Doesn’t it seem as though millennials can have everything they could possibly want?
You see, it really ruffles my feathers when people call us entitled. We were told these things, it’s not our fault that we believed them and set off into the real world expecting certain things. And I don’t think it’s right to place the blame on the messengers either. Back then, it was the truth. The people who went to college, were able to get more opportunities and earn higher incomes. The thing is though, that the challenge our generation faces is an over-saturated market of competition. You look around and see most of your peers have a degree, and a lot of them have your degree. Well s***, how do we stand out now? Then, there was the recession in 2007-2009 that also set us back and lowered the starting salaries. So, we started compromising our wants for our needs; do we really need a job in our field or do we just need a job to pay the bills?
But when you compromise your dreams and your aspirations, you find yourself in a place of frustration. It’s actually basic psychology: cognitive dissonance. This is when you are doing an action that contradicts with your existing beliefs, ideas, or values. It was engrained to our very core, that we were special and valuable human beings. This is why millennials seek to have more out of their careers, they seek to have meaning and fulfillment in their jobs. We chant in our heads “we are special and we can make a difference, we are valuable and we can contribute to the world”. But if we have a job where we don’t feel that we are doing that, we go stir crazy. That’s precisely why, the top executives think millennials are entitled and greedy—but millennials feel like they’re receiving the short end of the stick. We can do more! We deserve more! Sigh.
We’re told we’re impatient, but the truth is we’re just used to getting things fast. Whether it be our internet speed or the clothes that we ordered online, millennials love shortcuts and hate waiting. I don’t think that this is a terrible attribute to have; it shows our enthusiasm and eagerness. We are like new-born puppies, excited and ready to explore the world. We’re told “you need to walk before you run” and while that may be true, we see another path enticing us from the corner of our eye that could get us there faster.
The pursuit of happiness is a theme present in both the American Dream and the Millennial Dream. However, the manner by which one achieves happiness is different between the two. In the American Dream, working hard to attain prosperity and success is the route to happiness. In the Millennial Dream, hard work is still an important ingredient in the equation, but millennials achieve happiness when they get that warm feeling of specialness again; when they have deeper meaning in their lives.
Regardless of which dream better applies to you, I hope that each and every one of you gets to fulfill your dream. And while reaching that end goal is certainly a promised state of bliss, hopefully we can remember that one can also find happiness in the journey along the way.