Millennials catch the blame for a lot these days. People label them a lazy, selfish and spoiled generation. They are often criticized for having more conversations with Siri or Alexa than they do with their parents, siblings or even friends. Millennials are accused of having their heads in the cloud and their eyes fixated firmly on LED screens. “Down with participation trophies,” they scream, “These kids need to earn everything they get.”
I find myself in a unique position. Demographically speaking, I was born right in the middle of the Millennial generation and yet, I have never felt like I belonged. I despise social media, love a day filled with manual labor and have never actually been to a music festival. I don’t take pictures of my food, wear ironic t-shirts or play Pokemon Go. Nothing sanctimonious about it, I just feel like the typical knocks against Millennials don’t land.
And yet, I come to you in defense of my generation. To quote one of my Dad’s favorite bands “People try to bring us down/ Just because we get around/ The things they do look awful cold/ I hope I die before I get old.” For the record, I don’t actually hope that I die before I get old...But I digress. Let me start by saying this, just because I will present a defense of the Millennial generation I am in no way intentionally demeaning or disrespecting the other generations of our time. I just think we have a largely undeserved reputation.
Let’s begin with some statistics:
- Millennials are the most racially diverse American generation thus far, a whopping 43% of our generation are non-white. For comparison's sake, baby boomers are 72% white, and Generation X is 61% white.
- Collectively, the Millennial generation in the U.S. owes more than a trillion dollars in student debt, with that number rising steadily every single semester. There is also a positive spin here, as Millennials are the most educated generation with at least 34% having received their Bachelor’s degree.
- 64% of Millennials would prefer to make $40K at a job they love than $100K at a job that is “boring.” And 84% say that helping to make a positive difference in the world is more important than professional recognition.
- Nearly half of my generation (48%) is eternally optimistic, believing that our Country’s best years are ahead of us.
As you can imagine, a simple Google search will reveal 1,000+ additional statistics on millennials but I am choosing to focus in on the strengths of this generation and in that effort decided to share relevant facts to support my beliefs. Make sense?
Tolerant - Millennials have watched carefully as intolerance and hatred create an ever-widening gap between races, socioeconomic groups and yeah, even generations. If their feelings match mine, they are sick and tired of it. I would venture to guess that most of us aren’t advocating for one side over another, we are advocating for us to be on the same side. This I consider to be one of our greatest strengths and though I hate to paint with a broad brush, I deeply believe in this generation’s ability to replace vitriol with virtue and hate with hope. I really do.
Clutch - I mean clutch in the Michael Jordan way, not like a manual transmission which, coincidentally, most Millennials have no idea how to drive. Our generation thrives under pressure because we have shouldered pressure our entire lives. From a never-ending slate of extracurricular activities, to super competitive college applications processes to a ‘Hunger Games’ workplace environment replete with our highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression. Turn up the heat, we will jump in the kitchen and cook up some prosciutto-wrapped truffle fries.
Noble - Aspiring to higher ideals is our jam. The Millennials generation is all about improving both the small circles we live in and on a larger scale, the World. Many of our generation have started companies that give back, hell we invented the “One for One” business model and continue to find new causes that need our attention. Take for example, the initiative to provide clean water to everyone in the world. Spurred by innovators from the Millennial generation, this cause has gotten some serious legs in recent years and they have made a significant dent in this problem reducing the total percentage of people that do not have access to clean water by nearly 20%. Millennials do more non-mandatory community service than any other generation.
Bright - People worry about the future of this country and while I believe that concern is valid, if the cause is the rising generation, your concern is misplaced. We know that this country can be helped, healed and handed over in a better state than how we found it. But that’s only the first step. We have a ways to go, we have to learn how to work, strategize and organize. Millennials must face hard facts head on and refuse to back down. We have to absorb the best traits of the generations before us and add the creativity and courage that makes us, well, us. But the future is bright, in many ways.
Call me overly optimistic or blind to the complex dividing lines that have been drawn, but I really do believe in the potential of our generation and our young country. I emphasize potential as it will take us time to figure it out but ultimately we will find a way through it all, we always do. I am grateful for organizations like WOHO that have laid a valuable groundwork for service and for companies like mine that inspire others to be better.
Ben Checketts is the director of brand at Rhone, a premium men's activewear brand. Ben is an above average parallel parker, loves sports and is a dedicated husband and father of two.