What does it mean to be a millennial?

There's a problem with labels.  They make the world simpler, easier to parse and understand, but the problem is that all of the stereotypical associations with a label are rarely true for every application of it.

Take gender for instance.  It is absolutely correct to call me a woman, but what baggage does that term bring?  What extra information does it give you when I accept that label?  If you had to guess the length of my hair, it would likely be longer than if you were to guess the same for a man.  If you were to first meet me, what do you think you would assume my profession to be?  My hobbies?  My favorite movies?  Labels help us guess these things, and you might be right on several of them, but not on all of them.  These guesses also help us ask right questions so we can learn more about people and move beyond the labels.  If all you needed to know was my gender to know everything about me, it would be a tragically simple world.

I want to talk about the label applied to people of my generation: millennial.  There are some ways in which I am absolutely a millennial, and other ways in which I wish I could distance myself from the term as much as possible.

In particular, I identify strongly with the tech-savvy elements of the label.  My childhood was also associated with world events and media particular to my generation, both of which I feel neutral about.  What I wish to avoid is the label of being selfish and indulgent.  While everyone has their moments, this is not something I want to accept for myself.  This is to say, I may be more self-centered than those older than me, but I don't want to be and I'm anxious to work on it.  Also, maturity just comes with age.  It's hard to know what the final millennial legacy will be while we are still so young.

To work on changing the associations with this label, two things need to happen.  First and foremost, we just need to buck up and start thinking about others.  We need to ask: how can I be a better child, romantic partner, or employee?  How can I be a more polite stranger in stores, on the street, in my car, and online?  How can I contribute to the world?  And when we ask this final question, the emphasis should be on how the world can be improved, not on our role in improving it.  These are good ideas for anyone to think about, and many millennials are already asking these things, but it seems like the cultural expectations for us are lower than for previous generations, which brings me to my second point.

Older generations need to expect more from us.  Don't coddle me: I want to be told when I'm not up to snuff.  And while you don't need to be mean, I need you to be honest.  My feelings will inevitably be hurt, just because change is inherently painful, but it is worth the effort on both our parts.  I need to be told when to put away my electronics, when I need to work harder, and when I'm being rude.  I need to be told not because I'm sluffing the responsibility off on you, but because sometimes I just need to know my behavior is wrong in order to change it.

Also: keep your praise mild.  I'd rather feel like there's room for improvement than like I'm the best thing ever.  The humility that comes from feeling like you're never good enough is far better than the arrogance that comes from feeling like everything you do is golden.  Err on the side of being hard on me: excellence comes from being pushed.

To tie the two points together: we (millennials...and everyone, really) also need to learn how to accept criticism.  This means we need to value results more than how we feel about our work to produce them.  This and basically all issues of selfishness come down to priorities. We just need to move ourselves lower down in the list.

It doesn't matter if you're a millennial or not, these ideas apply to everyone, including myself.  Everyone, no matter how selfless they are, should consider how to improve.  We can improve how we give and receive advice.  We can improve how we treat others.  We can improve our priorities.  And maybe a few rare people should decide that they need to prioritize themselves more, but chances are that those people aren't reading this (spending their time, instead, on others).  My only hope is that our generation will have its fair share of those individuals.  There is still time to write our legacy.  Let's make it a generous one.