According to my birth year, I am a “Millennial.” A member of the generation that rode an earth-shattering wave of technology from one millennium to the next. There are 77 million of us in the United States alone, making up a quarter of the population. A third of us are college-educated. A quarter of us are bilingual. We know how to expertly navigate the virtual world. I may be biased, but I think that we are pretty extraordinary. However, to the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, the ones usually granting us access into the professional world, we are, for some reason, a complete mystery.
There have been thousands upon thousands of studies conducted just to see what makes us “tick.” What kind of investors will we be? What kind of voters? What kind of parents? Perhaps most importantly, what kind of workers? An infographic published on October 21, 2015 on business.com attempts to answer that question by dividing our generation into 12 distinct types. The intent being that if we are categorized, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers will know what kind of people they are hiring, and hopefully be able to weed out the good from the bad.
However, this system of categorization is inherently superficial. While some of the types are overzealously specific (the “Brogrammer”), others are incredibly vague (the “Underemployed”). Most importantly, several don’t seem to have much useful application in the professional world. (Does someone need to know that they are hiring a hipster?) Finally, assuming most Millennials are functioning human beings with multiple skills and interests, shoving someone into a specific group lops off valuable facets of his or her personality. Personally, I see myself as several different types, namely a “Boss Babe,” a “Nostalgic,” a “Travel Enthusiast,” a “Culinary Explorer,” and a “Collector.” Will my association with these types really matter when I search for a job? Not at all.
The idea of categorizing people into different social generations only gained popularity as recently as the mid 19th century. Before that time, a generation was used to describe familial relationships and hierarchies of power, not one’s relationship to others close to their age. Generations were not named until the Baby Boomer generation, and previous generations were named afterwards. While societal, economical, and technological developments no doubt have an effect upon the population that matures during a generation (a period of about 20 years), humanity has always had the tendency to react to tragedy, technology, and prosperity in much the same way throughout history.
In 1964, writer Martha Weinman Lear described Baby Boomers as “stand[ing] on a big threshold, and impossibly hip,” “distressingly complacent and hopelessly idealistic,” and finally, as a generation surrounded by adults who thought they were the best and worst thing to happen to the world. Sound familiar?
In reality, Millennials aren’t that different from Baby Boomers. Sure, they weren’t wired into the Internet and social media like we are, but the need for instant communication, instant gratification, and the inherent desire to challenge the authority of their parents is completely the same. Baby Boomers should see a reflection of themselves in Millennials, not a foreignness.
That is precisely why imposing a superficial labeling system on Millennials for the benefit of their future employers doesn’t work. Our “mysterious” nature is derived, if anything, from our strong comprehension and usage of modern technology from which new (and occasionally bizarre) facets of culture emerge. We benefitted from excellent timing. After all, it’s usually easier to grow up using new technology than it is to be introduced to it later in life.
As myself and my peers begin to navigate the professional world, it’s important to remember that we are a diverse group of individuals, not a set of caricatures neatly organized for review. Bottom line: Whatever you call us, we are ready to take on the world.