Updated on January 24, 2017
As far as I’m concerned, people in my generation are the only true millennials. I mean, I graduated from high school in the year 2000, the beginning of the new millennium (by popular opinion, if not the actual beginning). They said that those in my class represented the future. It was an honor, yes, but it also came with very high expectations. Apparently, now there are two decades of people, most of whom are younger than us, who have been dubbed millennials and for whatever their reasons, older generations look down on millennials as a whole today. I guess things have changed.
My generation, the “old millennials” (or late Gen X’ers, depending on who you ask), were expected to do great things. Some of us did, but many of us got hit so hard by consequences of the mistakes of generations before us that even when we chose the safe, socially acceptable route of profession first and passion later (if at all) it did not lead to the success we were told that it would. Now here come those young millennials – lazy, narcissistic, and hopelessly obsessed with technology, hoping that the world will simply fall at their feet.
Ironically, my generation has suffered from what those before us have done to screw up the economy, while the younger millennials are the ones who the prior generations complain will screw up the future. So even though we were the trailblazing millennials, we are tragically stuck between facing our own disappointments and trying to separate ourselves from the bad reputation of the “new” millennials.
But I’ve found that we can learn a lot from these so-called, self-centered, flighty, and entitled new millennials. In fact, if we’d embraced their way of thinking we may have found it easier to denounce others’ expectations of us and been able to bounce back from our failed expectations of ourselves and adulthood. It’s almost as if the new millennials figured out life before it had a chance beat them up. Or maybe they figured out how not to take life so seriously, unlike us who are now struggling to catch up after we let life derail us before we could truly discover what it all means. Maybe they learned a little something from watching us fail.
In general, both generations were given the tools to succeed or at least the instruction manual, but old millennials were not allowed the space to use these tools creatively. I’m sure parents of the new millennials didn’t necessarily jump for joy at the thought of their kids going the non-traditional route towards success either, but that didn’t stop them from doing it anyway. That’s probably why the older generations look down on them with disdain. They did what we all wished we could have done.
One thing all generations of millennials have in common is being part of the so-called “slash generation”; we have many jobs. We are the accountant/funny t-shirt entrepreneur, the real-estate agent/gluten-free baker, the IT professional/freelance illustrator, or like me, the attorney/lifestyle blogger. Those who don’t get it think we are fickle and spoiled and yes, maybe some of us are, but maybe we are simply part of a generation that is braver than those before us. We are now more likely to follow our dreams rather than commit our entire lives to a job we hate just to get a paycheck. The difference is we old millennials most likely chose to follow our dreams later in life and out of necessity or frustration because we weren’t making money or achieving happiness, or neither, from our traditional 9 to 5’s. We figured we might as well take a chance doing what we love because it couldn’t be any worse and could, in fact, be better. Young millennials, on the other hand, know this is what they must do from the very start. They embrace their dreams, their creativity, and their passions, all while forging their way into more stable, parent-acceptable careers. Or, they do the unthinkable, they turn what society has deemed an unacceptable career into, more than just a passion, a profession.
It first struck me how these young people are taking traditional values and turning them on their heads when I read several stories about notable young millennials, including Teen Vogue’s “21 under 21,” Forbes “30 Under 30,” and Urban Outfitters “Class of 2017.” I found that many young millennials pursue their passions while pursuing a degree or decide to put their degrees on hold so that they can pursue their passions first. And then there are those young millennials who begin their non-traditional path from the start, without apology. These are things that I could only dream of doing when I was their age.
Take 19-year-old Sage Adams, for example. She co-founded the Art Hoe Collective (@arthoecollective), which is an online collective created by queer artists of color, for all artists of color. She and her friends saw a dire need for an outlet where young POC’s art could be featured and appreciated, so they created one. Sage is a writer, curator, artist, and activist, who recently decided not to pursue her degree at Howard University at this time.
21-year-old Samia Hampstead is a model who is in college studying biology. She plans to model full-time after receiving her degree and then later attend school to become an optometrist. Despite the fact that she has been pretty successful in her modeling career, when she first began she was told that she didn’t have the face of a model, only the height. After struggling with her own self-esteem issues, she helped her younger sisters get through a similar battle using her Instagram page. She aspires to continue using social media to inspire young girls to realize both their inner and outer beauty.
Anajah Hamilton, a 19-year-old performance art curator at Art Hoe Collective, is also an actor and a singer who will be releasing her EP this year. She won many public speaking awards in high school and her family wanted her to go into law so she studied politics at Stanford and Princeton. But she left school when she decided that she wasn’t willing to give up her love of the arts.
21-year-old Djali Brown-Cepeda is a writer, activist, DJ, and a yogi. She also has her own web series and is currently studying Film and Ethnicity & Race, with a concentration in Latin America at Eugene Lang College. She plans to use her artistic endeavors and her education to continue her activism.
Rebecca Dharmapalan is a 21-year-old activist, artist, and filmmaker who is studying sociology and public policy at UC Berkeley. She founded ONX online magazine and creative agency to allow “Black and POC creatives…expose the world to their art and their identities.”
Tschabalala Self is a 26-year-old artist who studied at Bard College and went on to receive her MFA at Yale School of Art. She is an acclaimed artist who says, “My work explores the emotional, physical and psychological impact of the Black female body as icon, and is primarily devoted to examining the intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality.”
Sadie Hernandez, who went to her first protest as an elementary schooler, is a 21-year-old activist for women’s reproductive rights. She spearheaded the People’s Veto and the Twitter hashtag #StandWithSadie in 2015 by staging a 17-day protest, in which the CEO of Planned Parenthood joined her. Today, she still organizes around reproductive justice issues and studies political science at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
These young women embraced the artist, intersectional feminist, and activist identities more readily than we old millennials have and, in doing so, realized that they can be creative, intellectual, and professionals at the same time.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point to a couple of facts about the above examples. These young people are all women and not just women, but women of color. These characteristics surely added to their attitudes about life and their career choices. Today, young women of color are more willing to take a stand for what they believe in and to force those around them to get with the program. It isn’t that these attitudes came about only recently, rather I think that the young millennials’ use of technology aided them in getting the word out to many more people, and faster. Sure, my generation came of age in a time where there was no technology for the everyday person and then all of a sudden there was – and I think that made us pioneers. But technology was not as all-encompassing in our lives as it is for new millennials. For us, the internet was just the cool new thing, now young people cannot do their school work or even communicate with another person without it.
In addition to technology, the attitudes towards young women of color have diverged significantly the last several years. There is a “you’re either with us or against us” attitude. I believe this stance is necessary because while most of society sees women of color as having no value, these young women of color have successfully carved out their own spaces in the world where haters aren’t allowed to exist. More people are realizing that #BlackGirlMagic is real, that black and brown girls must be allowed to be carefree, and that despite our magic we are living breathing people, who cry and feel pain. Slowly people are beginning to accept that sometimes we just want to twerk in the mirror, make a 3D collage of a pussy to highlight the dangers of misogyny, and then head to our Econ 101 class where we are getting a strong B+. With technology, art, and even entertainment, young women of color have been able to spread this message, if not to the non-believers, to the other young women of color that need to know it is OK to be all of those things and more.
Young millennials have used all of the things that outsiders and older generations have criticized them for, technology taking over their lives, being obnoxious social justice warriors, their obsession with political correctness, their inability to be “serious” about adulthood because they feel entitled, and their possession of “too high” self-esteem to turn their world into a place they actually feel good to be a part of. Of course, when these characteristics are present in people who suffer from white male privilege it does support the idea that young millennials are the scourge of society. But when they are present in young women of color, they are, well, magic.
With a touch of magic, young millennials are able to see their place in society as well as how to make life worth something to them as individuals. They understand that at some point they need to get a career and maybe even a family but they also realize that they first need to make themselves happy and maybe the former things will follow. Most importantly, they know it is possible to have both stability and the desires of their heart. Maybe this idealistic way of looking at life is unrealistic, but the bravery it takes to pursue and embrace every aspect of yourself simultaneously is something we can all aspire to.