This is what it means to be a Millennial

Most of us feel more of a connection to #NoDAPL than #YOLO

I was born halfway between the end of the Soviet Union and the attacks on 9/11. I grew up with a TV split between Jersey Shore and the Iraq War. I didn’t have a MySpace, I never received a participation award, and I don’t know what a floppy disk is.

My generation chanted “Bill Nye the Science Guy” on a quasi-religious basis, and most of us know what “house” we belong to in the Harry Potter universe. We text, call, and Snapchat more than most Baby Boomers can bear. We ‘waste time’ on Buzzfeed quizzes and cooking videos. Being a Millennial is more complicated than we’re given credit for.

First, I must clarify. “Millennial” is one of the most cited but least critical generalizations cited in academia, in mass media, and by your parents. Everyone seems to know what it is without having read a definition. In its simplest form it refers to the hazy approximation of a generation born somewhere between the 1970s and early 2000s.

It’s time to redefine Millennial

To most of us this information is inconsequential. I don’t care if I’m a Millennial, a Gen X, Y, Z-er, or if the definition applied to us includes the terms “me me me” or “global”.

I for one am tired of reading articles about how all millennials are entitled and bratty. And I can only hear so much from journalists that say Millennials’ addiction to social media is corrosive to humanity. It’s time that the minority of annoying Millennials stop representing our entire generation. Let’s start to reclaim “Millennial” by adding a little flavor to the terribly bland stereotypes pinned to us before we even get a chance to speak.

For better or for worse, we are constantly connected. I see pictures of protests in Thailand right next to updates from my friend’s semester in Germany. The world is less of a distant curiosity than it is an adventure waiting to happen. We deal in the currency of Instagram posts and tweets (although most of us aren’t as prolific as Donald J. Trump). We reproduce ourselves for an online audience in the hopes of being seen and heard.

My family includes all the people who have welcomed me into their lives. Here I am with my family in northern India

We swim laps through information with the finesse of Olympians because it’s all we’ve ever known. We were dropped into a vast and multiplying sea of data before we were taught to tread water. We are baffled by politicians and pundits who claim to have all the answers, when we know how little we know. The difference is that Millennials are comfortable in the unknowability of our world. This seemingly simple revelation is a call to action – we are a generation that will never stop learning. We welcome the new and unique, even though we may complain about how the new software update changed the look of emojis.

Facebook news-feeds are plastered with politics and breaking news bulletins. I flick through statuses pleading with people to call their congressmen in the hopes of using our ability to connect to spread essential awareness. I called my senators for the first time a few weeks ago. Now their office phone numbers are saved in my contacts. We are inching closer towards activism that hasn’t been seen on this scale in decades.

We read CNN articles before class begins, and we can form an opinion about almost anything. Millennials see what cannot be ignored. We know the names of Americans murdered without justice or cause: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and Michael Brown. We remember their names and those of the thousands of victims in a war that began hundreds of years ago. We know the difference between Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter. Try asking a preacher of All Lives Matter how important the lives of refugees are after the United States turned its back on Syrian families and banned entry to 134,000,000 people.

In all likelihood, most of us feel more of a connection to #NoDAPL than #YOLO. To be honest I can’t even think about that last one without rolling my eyes. Kim Kardashian and DJ Khaled may be some of our most recently viewed Snapchat stories, but that doesn’t tell our story (Oh, it’s cheesy, but I’m a Millennial. Let me have some fun).

I’m a Millennial because of what I chose to be. I see a world full of opportunities. I feel connected to hardships I will never experience. It’s an indescribable feeling that tends to present itself as a welling up in the back of my throat and the tightening of muscles around my eyes. I see and feel the world I am a part of. Far from being “Generation Me,” I dream of a world where everyone may be as fortunate as I have been. I see myself as one member in an organic whole. Without my community I am nothing.

On January 21, 2017, we created one of the largest protests in human history, spanning across all seven continents. The Women’s March encompassed climate issues, reproductive rights, anti-fascist protesters, and a myriad of progressive causes. We stood in awe of ourselves and a global community that maintains the freedom to determine our rights and our future. Immense pride bubbled into the first sense of hope I’ve felt in months. I saw the raw power of my generation on display for the whole world to see. It was a spectacular premier and I can only hope it is the beginning of a movement. We are a generation that is experiencing an awakening – a call to action. Being a Millennial means getting angry. Being a Millennial means doing something.

Photo courtesy of Rene Lubov.

We are the generation that will inherit the hardships born out of the decisions (and indecisions) of individuals, organizations, and institutions beyond our grasp. We are the generation that worries about college debt, rising sea levels, deforestation, refugee crises, human rights, and a more equitable future. Millennialism is a state of mind as much as it is a year of birth. We know we are nowhere near perfect, but that isn’t the goal. We aren’t satisfied with a “good job” and a pat on the back. We want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. The Millennials I know won’t rest until we redefine our generation as one of compassion, connection, and change. It doesn’t matter what Baby Boomers or anyone else asserts about Millennials because I know what being a Millennial means to me.