We all saw what happened in Washington, D.C. last week. As the rioting and Capitol breach unfolded, I had a thought that I’m sure many of us had, “What is happening to our country?!” 5 people died including a Capitol Police Officer. It’s incredibly say to say the least and I won’t belabor the issue with ongoing commentary. However, the incident sparked a brief conversation between myself and a coworker about how kids, 20 years from now, will interpret this moment in history. The conversation made me think, “Maybe my generation is the most resilient generation the world has seen?”
Being a Millennial has become a joke over the last decade. But I think it could be argued that being a part of the Millennial Generation is a badge of courage. In case you haven’t heard, we still live at home with our parents. We haven’t accumulated any wealth. We’re not getting married and we’re having fewer kids. We are buying houses later in life, or, not at all. We’re fragile. We complain too much. We won’t hold on to a job. etc. I’m not going to argue with any of that. Not that I agree with it, but it’s hard to say with any certainty how factual each one of these trends are at an individual level. What we can do is look at unprecedented global events like what happened last week at the Capitol:
- ’00 – Dot Com Burst
- ’01 – 9/11 and an ensuing 20 year War in the Middle East
- ’01 – The Enron Scandal (I add this because I was in Houston going to college at the time and I talked with recent UH graduates who lost their jobs because of the Enron collapse.)
- ’08 – The Financial Crisis
- ’15 ish – Student Loan Debt hits 1.5 Trillion Dollars
- ’20 – COVID 19 Pandemic
- ’21 – Capitol Breach
Millennials are generally defined as being born between the early 80’s and late 90’s. I think it’s arguable that the choice to delay home ownership, parenthood, and live with parents can easily be seen as a strategically intelligent move in an environment that has been marked by unforeseen volatile global events in the decades following the 90’s. Especially, if you went to college and took on significant amounts of debt. Something that was so aggressively encouraged by our teachers and parents.
I would say that Millennials have had a fairly rocky environment to start our lives in, maybe we deserve some slack? Maybe we’re actually a lot stronger as a generation than people give us credit for? It takes courage to tell a romantic interest that you’re living with your parents. It takes humility to admit that you can’t do the things that are the normative markers of success in our society… and maybe, you’ll never do them.
Differences in wealth accumulation across demographic groups is a constant topic in the media these days. If I have significantly less wealth than the average person, but I’m far more happy and fulfilled in life than the average person, what does that mean? I think we as Millennials are often getting a bad rap based purely on historical averages. Does the fact that different benchmarks for maturity (home ownership, parenthood, and marriage) happen later in life for Millenials, mean that we are actually less responsible than previous generations? A better question is, why are these particular benchmarks seen as the markers for maturity and success?
If one person dies at 70 years old, full of life and vitality, but little in the way of monetary wealth and another person dies at 85 years old, bitter and cynical with millions of dollars, who lived a better life? I think the answer is very subjective and would require much investigation into the private lives of both people. However, I will say this, if I can be happy on beans and rice, but you’re pissed off when your grass-fed steak is slightly overcooked, the math says that I’m going to be happier a lot more often than you will.
In reality, I think that life today is vastly easier and filled with more opportunities than the life my parents had when they were my age. Even with all the crazy events that have happened in the last 2 decades. It would be hard to call any generation the most resilient because our behavior is so influenced by the environmental inputs. With time, those inputs will change. Therefore, behaviors will change. The problem might be the idea that each generation should do ‘better’ than the previous generation. But, why? And, what does ‘better’ mean? It seems to me that ‘better’ has always meant having more money and nicer things. If the last 2 decades has shown me anything, it’s that peace of mind is far more valuable that both money and things.
I do feel like my generation is more skeptical of long held beliefs around what makes a good life or what makes a person successful (at least I am). If in the long-term we have a better sense of self and we are more at peace with who we truly are, then I think we have done better.