Hi. I am a privileged millennial. This is my story.
I should start this essay by saying that I am a white woman in a city with a standard cost of living which is among the lowest in the United States. I have a middle class, financially stable background, with my parents’ providing a built-in safety net should I ever need it (and I have). Along with scholarships I received, they took out loans to pay for my college education. (In my defense, any continuing education I chose to seek out after my I received by BA, I paid for 100%).
Hate me yet? You should.
It took me through most of my twenties to fully come to terms and appreciate what I have been given. There were times when if I hadn’t had a system of welfare provided to me by my family, I would have probably been homeless. If I ever accomplish the feats I wish to in my life, I need people to understand this about me so they don’t think I did it all on my own.
I also need you to understand that my situation in the wake of the 2008 recession was not as dire as some of my peers. It’s true that when the housing bubble burst, my generation paid for it more than others, but you shouldn’t feel sorry for me in particular.
I grew up in middle class suburbia, neither rich nor poor. My brother and I were both intellectuals of different sorts: he was a STEM prodigy, and I favored the liberal arts. In sixth grade, my parents enrolled him in an elite private school, stretching the limits of their finances to do so. He paid them back by becoming a national merit scholar and earning a free ride to any university that would have him (he framed the rejection letter sent to him by his first choice, MIT).
It was decided that my competencies were adequately served in public education. Now, I was smart in basically all subjects, even my least favorite (math — I got straight A’s in all of my math classes in high school). If my work ethic matched my intellect, I probably could have — would have? — nailed down a 4.0 GPA by the time I graduated high school. Now, I don’t consider natural intellect a virtue — there are plenty of geniuses in the world who I would call morally deficient. Work ethic, on the other hand, I would say is a combination of both natural inclination and personal responsibility.
In addition to a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, my adolescence represents the first of three major depressive episodes (which would not be diagnosed until the spring semester of my sophomore year of college). This episode waned (gradually and considerably) during my last two years of high school, and that coincided with an improved academic focus.
I don’t want to equate depression with laziness. Depression manifests in many different ways; some people throw themselves into their work, isolating their family and friends. My worst symptoms were best summed up as a lack of energy and motivation. I didn’t throw myself into anything except perpetual fantasies — and yes, I also isolated myself from family and friends.
This was particularly evident in my early college years. I chose a conservative Christian college, and I was very enthusiastic about my choice, at least in the early days. I crashed pretty heavily after a few weeks and never really recovered until the end of the school year.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore years served as an eye of the hurricane — three months of relief. I got a minimum wage summer job as a hospitality clerk at a mildly famous (and poorly managed) amphitheater in my hometown. My bosses admired my hard work and I received a raise just a couple of weeks into it. I’m not sure why my work ethic was suddenly one of my best qualities as an employee, but the experience catapulted me into my sophomore year which, I swore to myself, would be better than the last.
It was better for a while, and then, again, the crash came, even worse than before. By the end of the year, I was feeling hopeless and I figured a drastic change in scenery was what I needed, so I transferred to a big state university with about 15 times the student population or so.
My symptoms waned — again, gradually and considerably. Here’s the thing, though: while I had spent two years battling severe depression, what I wasn’t doing was learning how to cultivate an efficient and productive work ethic that didn’t involve manual labor. When I graduated two years later, I found myself ill-equipped for professional life after college.
It took me almost six months to find a job at a struggling community newspaper. I was a journalism major for a year and I hated it, but I was out of other options. I managed to find a cheap apartment and moved out of my parent’s house. Soon, I remembered just why I hated journalism. I was let go when the newspaper took a turn for the worse financially, and when my lease was up, I moved back in with my parents.
This was 2012. I was starting to realize then that my choice to major in English (with a focus in creative writing) coupled with a still-recovering economy was going to make things difficult. I wanted to write, but good luck finding steady employment with that. I decided to investigate temporary staffing agencies and entry level office positions — anything to give me a living while I wrote my novel.
Temping gave me experience in accounts payable, and so I took a couple of undergrad courses in Accounting. My AP experience gave me a position at a major hospital network in my home town. That led me to getting a medical coding certification, which leads me to today, when I am basically an office manager at a physical therapy clinic (and not a temp anymore). I now have my own place, pay my own bills, and have created a modicum of financial stability.
The above paragraphs offer a condensed version of my struggle to both land on and stay on my feet for the better part of this millennium so far. My goal is not to make you, the reader, feel sorry for me; after all, a number of my issues were self-inflicted. Instead, I want to impress upon you the effect that my experience has had on my perspective. Upon reflection, I realize the depths of my privilege and am grateful for the safety net that privilege provided me. By coming to grips with my own advantages, I also had to face the realization that my situation was in no way universal.
You see, I was afforded the opportunity to take risks, make mistakes, move back home while I figured things out, and invest in continuing my education to broaden my horizons. All of these things were pivotal in my transition into full-fledged independence, especially considering that transition was happening in the midst of an international economic crisis.
Was I entitled to these advantages? I don’t know. What I do know is that now I pay taxes, I work in health care, I write articles when I can, and I am contributing to society much more than I would be had I been dealt another hand.
I don’t tell this story to make you think of me as someone who mooches off of others to live rent-free without paying my fair share for things like health care and food. I hated having to move back in with my parents. I wanted nothing more than independence, and even lived in poverty at times over that fierce desire. I am sharing my story so some may understand why others in my position but without a strong financial backing would be demanding things like a living wage, or universal health care, or any of the other “entitlements” designed to open up their lives to new opportunities.
You see, the idea isn’t about giving people free stuff. It’s about giving people a chance to give back. In the end, society as a whole benefits.