Who Is a Millennial?

…and who dared to coin this annoying term ‘millennials’ for the whole generation? This article answers these pressing questions and shares some thoughts on what it means to be a millennial, according to a millennial.

Millennial Is a Hero

In 1991 two American authors Neil Howe and William Strauss, in their book ‘Generations’ created the name ‘millennials’ to define the population born between 1982 to 2004. Howe and Strauss developed a generational theory according to which, every generation represents one of the four repetitive personality types (archetypes). Each archetype has its characteristics and specific approach to taking a risk, family life, culture, and activism. Initially identified by the authors as Idealist, Reactive, Civic and Adaptive and further renamed to Prophet, Nomad, Hero, and Artist, these archetypes determine the historical events.

The generation of millennials is considered to be a Hero archetype. Although we don’t necessarily need two old men to tell us that we are a generation of heroes (because we already know it), let’s have a look into what they meant by giving us this distinguished title.

Hero (Civic) generations enter childhood (…) during an Unraveling, a time of individual pragmatism, self-reliance, and laissez-faire. Heroes grow up as increasingly protected post-Awakening children, come of age as team-oriented young optimists during a Crisis, emerge as energetic, overly-confident midlifers, and age into politically powerful elders attacked by another Awakening.

Doesn’t sound bad, right? Individualism, pragmatism, self-reliance but also laissez-faire, optimism, energy, confidence, power – if all that is associated with our generation, then I guess we can stop being annoyed with this stupidly sounding name ‘millennials.’ Instead, we can own it and use it to our advantage by uniting, supporting each other to create a sense of belonging.

Are You a Millennial? Check the Dates!

However, the definitions of a millennial vary, depending on the source. Interestingly, the dates of millennials’ birth are not very consistent. Hence, some people can be confused whether they are millennials or not.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a millennial is:

(…) an identity given to a broadly and vaguely defines a group of people. There are two wings of ‘Millennial’ that are often at odds with each other: Generation Y (people born between 1981-1991) and Generation Z (born between 1991-2001) (…) Both Generation Y and Generation Z can be called ‘Millennial’ with the primary difference between the two being technology. Generation Y grew-up on personal computers, cell phones, and video game systems, while Generation Z has grown up on tablets, smartphones, and apps. Yet, the common ground between both generations is that both have been transforming and altering communication and identity.’

Wikipedia refers to the Pew Research Center report published in 2018, which establishes that millennials are people born from 1981 to 1996.  The report points out ‘that there are no precise dates for when this cohort (millennials) starts or ends.’

Bearing in mind the abovementioned, we know how the world characterizes millennials. It is also no surprise what boomers think about millennials (they frequently share their well-argued and, of course, very relevant opinion: ‘millennials are the worse.’ (10 Facts About Boomers)

Life of a Millennial Is Hard, Weird and Full of Paradoxes

But what millennials think about being millennials and, more importantly, about the life of a millennial?

Upon consultations with myself and my peers, I would define the life of a millennial using these keywords: hard, weird, and full of paradoxes.

Firstly, the hardship. I can already hear the boomers, particularly from post-Soviet countries who lived under the communist regime saying: ‘you have no idea what hard life is!’, not mentioning the grandparents who survived the World War II. I totally understand that. However, every generation has its own struggle. Millennials challenge the status quo and present to the world their ideas of a fulfilled life. Nevertheless, since they respect an individual’s freedom of choice, they are aware that there is no such thing as the only proper way of living life. Millennials do not constitute a homogenous group. On the contrary, they are a diverse group consisting of people living different lifestyles, depending on their priorities and circumstances. They are young parents; they are hustlers; they are singles in big cities; they are lovebirds in long-term relationships. They have all the choices the generations before never had. However, having too many options sometimes means having no choice at all. (5 Dilemmas of a Millennial Woman)

The average salary of a young professional is not enough to maintain a family or to rent a two-bedroom apartment. Moreover, millennials have to hear all these intrusive questions from parents, grandparents and aunts (‘when are you getting married?’ ‘how much money are you making?’, ‘when are you going to have children’?). As we already established couple paragraphs above (with the help of two authors, Howe and Strauss), millennials equal heroes. As we know from Greek mythology, being heroes is not always easy. The history of the humankind shows that being pioneers is not easy as well. As my friend Eloisa once said: ‘great things take time.’ So, deal with that, aunt Lucy. Being a millennial is hard but only temporary!

Secondly, the weirdness. The life of millennials is weird. Millennials who come from dysfunctional families try to navigate their life, career, and relationships in a way that would help them to avoid the life of their frustrated parents. However, due to childhood trauma they very often land at never-ending therapy or drugs, alcohol, or food and sugar addiction. They sometimes do not have the traditional sense of belonging due to the fact they love being citizens of the world. Because they do things that are not very conventional, they often feel excluded, alone or weird. However, here comes the Internet (and this blog), where all the millennial weirdness is accepted and even welcomed, and where they can find mental and emotional support by reading and educating themselves about healthy coping mechanisms. Remember that knowledge is power!

Last, but not least, the paradox factor. Millennials are hard-working and creative founders of amazing companies, but also they wouldn’t build this all if they wouldn’t be kicked off the college or be unemployed before. They love independence, but they can somehow combine that with living with their parents in their late 20s and early 30s. They care about a work-life balance, but are usually overworked and save money for an expensive cream to cover their dark undereye circles. Always underfunded, living on a budget… but also making tons of money from their innovatory businesses.

Millennials Are Adult Emo

It also is worth noting that millennials are adult emo teenagers. Remember wearing dark makeup, black clothes, listening to sad music, and being depressed all the time? Avril Lavigne was our Billie Eilish. Cherishing my emo memories from the past made me realize that millennials are like butterflies, regardless how cliché that may sound (by the way, the majority of clichés are true!). Being emo was the emotional cocoon that helped young millennials to survive the Weltschmerz. Later in the 2010s, millennials (including me) wore trashy clothes, used to go for a fake tan, and got a bit lost in life because suddenly, the world appeared fun and glittery (I still to this day think that we should embrace our fashion choices from this extravagant period!). Finally, in 2020, the infamous, avant-garde, courageous, and #boomerproof millennials, are fully ready to thrive like butterflies that left the cocoon (and never went back)! 

The scope of the definition of millennials is much broader than their year of birth and their relationship with technology. What creates a unique millennial identity is the barrier-breaking attitude towards life. What defines the millennials generation are the audacious choices that are unpopular at the beginning yet admired by others in the end. Technology, communication, new media play an important but rather a complementary role in the life of a millennial. Concluding, the delineating factor of the existence of millennials is the bold and cutting-edge approach to life that differs significantly from the one praised by previous generations.

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