Ms. Millennial: Coming of age, redefined by your ‘normal’

Where are you right now? No, I don’t mean geographically. I mean, do you think you’ve ‘come of age’ by now?

Ignoring the Judy Blume-awkwardness of such a question, let’s history for a moment to recall that coming of age has, for previous generations, been defined by such life events as:

  • Going to war
  • Getting a ‘real’ job
  • Getting a mortgage
  • Getting married
  • Procreating

So when you think about this to-do list for a moment, have you checked anything off? Should you?

It’s interesting to think about, because we are not experiencing these life events together as a generation. Individually — perhaps — but not in unison according to our age, and while you probably know somebody your age that’s served or has a decent job or even has a kid, do you know very many?

What makes us different as millennials, according to studies, is our use of technology and our values compared to our practices. We’re young, and idealistic (nothing new there) but we apply our values to action in different ways. We define success differently.

At a Pew Research Center conference in 2010, attendee Decker Ngongang, of Mobilizing America’s Youth, explained:

“We’re finding resistance in institutions. We want solutions. We don’t want names, we don’t want titles, we don’t want necessarily jobs — I want a bus stop that’s close to my community college and I want to know how to go to the city council to get that bus stop… So we want to simplify our democracy. We want to understand it better, and then where we see inefficiency in it, we want to know how to create those efficiencies.”

So if we’re not doing these ‘coming of age’ standards on the list anymore, are we even adults yet? Check your ID, but yeah, because we’re approaching the same issues but in a way that makes more sense to us.

Going to war. Since 1973 going to war is now your choice, not just your government’s. It’s true that Millennials are not enlisting like crazy to clean up the War on Terror, but we take it seriously. I will always remember that guy from high school who enlisted right after Bush went to war. He died almost immediately and yet no one was calling it a real war, instead we were told “mission accomplished.” Oh, and no WMDs, y’all.

But aside from wanting truth and acknowledgment, we also want to better understand effects like PTSD and support gender equality and respect in the armed services. It gets back to a desire to better recognize and respect the needs of everyday people.

Getting a job. As in the the kind that pays the bills, or just one bill? ‘Cause we’re still not sure if the former even exists, but tuition debt seems tangible enough. If you’re referring to any sort of job, then we’ve got internships coming out of our ears and enough (Idaho) minimum wage disasters to keep our grades scared-straight in the hope that it will improve our future prospects. And it will, right? Right?

Not so far.

We hate to play the blame game, but we also hate to be drafted into this disastrous economy. Are we crazy for wanting a work-life balance and pay-for-performance rather than billable hours? No, and despite the disadvantages of graduating into an employer’s market we can still recognize a problem when we step in it.

Today’s graduates are expected to have already gained real-world experience before applying to that nostalgic ‘first job.’ Chances are, it’s not really our first job anymore because of how competitive the market is, so quit asking us to believe we know nothing. We know a little, but not as much as generation-Xers or baby boomers– yet. By the way, did you know we are always seeking mentors?We also understand their need to feel appreciated.

Getting a mortgage. (lol) I’m going to wait until the the Great Recession ends to discuss this one, or at least wait until we’re not in a federal government shut-down. It is, I’m sure, an interesting study on generational ethics.

Getting married. You mean, like, to someone really special? Like, someone you like-like? Well that’s changing, too.

A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center reported that only 22 percent of millennials were married during the same generational point at which 36 percent of generation-Xers were married. We’re still partnering up, but we use marriage less and later in life. In fact, marriage is still one of our top priorities and if we’re more hesitant to participate it’s only because we want to take it seriously and make it meaningful.

Because we are not so defined by old institutions, we seek meaning in what we do. In nearly everything we do. That means access to marriage equality and individual right of expression, whether that’s keeping your last name, adopting a spouse’s or making a new one together. We aim to appreciate people. That is, when we’re ready we want to appreciate marriage.

Procreating. How wonderful that this is also your choice now, and not just your ovaries’ (if you have ovaries). And the same sentiment millennials have expressed about delaying marriage is true for parenthood. Why not wait, and then really appreciate it?

Millennials value parenthood more than marriage, so it’s a little funny to hear the panic erupting around the trend to delay parenthood by a few years. But instead of lecturing women that we’re weakening America by not breeding to our fullest potential, or breeding the right way, why not improve the institution? There’s comedy in urging underemployed millennials to take time off work (if they’re lucky enough to have work) to have expensive babies. Instead of questioning women, question the fallacy of the system and improve it.

Millennials understand there is no one-size-fits-all anymore (as if there ever was), unless you’re willing to wear a rain poncho. So when we’re stacked up against these old standards and institutions, it’s easier to understand why we can be so misunderstood by older generations. Some of the articles out there are so hostile toward millennials that I suspect many generation X-ers secretly just need a good hug. And lucky for them, millennials genuinely recognize the power of free hugs.


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