Growing up millennial — what does ‘success’ look like?
Most of the articles on millennials that come on my various social media feeds seem to warn me about my questionable values and future. They seem to view me as the perpetual younger sibling of the Gen X crowd or the ungrateful child of the Baby Boomers. As a member (and therefore sometimes hesitant) representative of this generation, if I take these articles and opinions to heart, I would believe that I am lazy, entitled, disloyal and irresponsible. I don’t buy houses, get married, have children at a responsible age or take care of my parents.
No, I don’t.
I don’t buy houses if I cannot afford it; I cannot afford it because I did not take a job in the first place which would allow me to buy a house, or perhaps I was forced to slowly climb a ladder after an unpaid internship. Without wanting to sound flippant, perhaps it’s a house I didn’t want anyway! I’m not ready to move in to take care of my parents, but we go on holidays every year to a new country because I live away from them. I didn’t get married at a convenient time for someone else, but when I was ready.
I have to say that as a millennial, I find this subtle condescension against our generation troubling. And this is embodied in many ways…. Including the constant barrage of questions like:
‘What do you want to do in life?’
‘Why can’t you commit to one thing?’
‘Where do you see yourself five years from now?’
‘Don’t you think you should prioritise finding a partner?’
‘You only want to have one child?!’
I often find myself in a state somewhere between amused and angry when I hear these statements. While these types of questions used to be easy to digest in my twenties, now that I’m in my thirties they take on a different meaning and weight. This is because we know that the framework for “success” looks very different today than it did for the generations that preceded us — the trouble is, it’s not nearly as clear.
Not all of us know where we want to be five years from now — because you know what? It’s not realistic. Last week, most people I know thought they would see the first female American President; earlier this month my friends in India wouldn’t have believed that their currency notes would be worth less than the paper they’re printed on; three years ago, you never would have convinced me I’d move to London to get married. And yet I should somehow carefully plan for the next five years?
Not all millennials are disloyal, selfish or irresponsible. But the way traditional values are embodied in our generation have clearly evolved.
Loyalty does not always mean staying in a company for 20 years — perhaps now it means having close friendships across the world and making the commitment to grow them. Being selfless does not always mean having a large family — maybe it’s demonstrated by marrying into a completely different culture than your own and knowing when to let go of the things most precious to you. Responsibility isn’t necessarily saving all your money to buy a house — it’s possible that today this is reflected in our ability to integrate fully into a new community and live sustainably.
So no, I don’t know how or where I see myself five years from now. Neither do I want to. I do know that I will always strive to do something I enjoy. I do know that I am lucky to have grown up in this day and age. I do know I will prioritise those who are important to me. I do know that I’m incredibly fortunate to have the options I do and don’t want to take anything for granted. I do know that I am proud of my millennial values of curiosity, restlessness and independence. It is on these values that I consider myself ‘successful’ … and I hope they grow over time.