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  • Jeff Kelling, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Just One of 70 Million

Millennials, those Americans born between 1981 and 1996, are so named because we are the first generation to have come of age in the new millennium. As for whatever narrative is told about my generation, I think it is a bit simplistic to make broad sweeping declarations about a diverse population of over seventy million people born over a sixteen-year period. With that being said, all I can do is tell my story and let the narrative tellers decide to what degree my story fits within the official millennial narrative.

I was born in 1981 and graduated high school in 2000, so I consider myself to be an "Original" Millennial. Unlike my younger millennial counterparts, I had an analog childhood and digital adulthood. I used such cutting-edge technologies as Nintendo, Apple IIe, Sony Walkman, VHS player, and Motorola pager. I enjoyed watching music videos and Beavis and Butt-Head on MTV. I used to spend hours talking to my friends on a corded phone, stretching the cord as far as I could so I could carry on my conversation in privacy behind the closed bathroom door. I have heard that many people in my generation are the product of helicopter parenting. My childhood experience was quite the opposite. I feel like I had a relatively high-degree of freedom. I am grateful that I grew up before smartphones. I cannot imagine my parents having a tracking app on me. I find that to be offensive and intrusive. I have also heard that millennials are the product of the “everyone gets a medal because we don’t want anyone to feel bad about themselves” mentality. My childhood experience differs in that I did receive my share of silver medals, but I did start to notice the “everyone gets a medal” thing getting implemented somewhat in the 1990s. I can see how this mentality could be problematic, but millennial children did not make the decision to implement this—their Baby Boomer parents did. Another narrative told about millennials is that they are job hoppers. While I cannot speak for seventy million people, I can say that I have had factory jobs lasting six, four, and seven years. I left my first job because I wanted the opportunity to work first shift and see my son. I left my second job because I hated it. I left my third job because I was in college and seeking opportunities beyond what my employer was willing to offer. In defense of my fellow millennials, employers are less committed to their employees than they were in previous generations. How many millennials have a pension? How many companies have closed up shop and shipped off operations to a country where the cost of labor is lower? Lastly, I have heard that millennials are fragile. You can’t yell at millennials at work because they might get their feelings hurt and then their production will drop off until their emotional upset is resolved. This is not a narrative that I fit into.

Overall, I think labeling an individual based on their membership in a large, diverse group is of some value, but also individuals need to be evaluated on their own merits.

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