Technically, I’m a Millennial. I was born in 1986. I grew up in the Internet age. I was one of the first on Facebook, back when it required a college email address and was all about stalking your ex-friends and ex-lovers. But I don’t consider myself a Millennial. I also remember stealing music off the radio using my tape recorder, and calling my friends on our second landline which only went to a phone in my room. I remember playing Atari and hearing the dial-up tone whenever we logged on to the Internet.
I might be more capable—than the generation preceding me—at using my computer and efficiently consuming media, but I am stuck in the middle between the people who were beyond college when Facebook launched, and the people who are young enough to have found newer, trendier social media. Even with all of that, I have a very distinct memory which is the epitome of the Millennial Problem.
When I was about four years old, my sister was competing at the World Championship Paint Horse Show. While she had classes with our real horse, I was entered in a stick horse walk/trot class. The stick horse needed to be a Paint, to follow the rules, and I didn’t have one. So my mom found some hot pink felt (to match the awesome hot pink yarn mane on my white stick horse), we cut it into random blobs and glued them on. She was the prettiest Paint stick horse you ever saw.
I was already a horseman; I knew my stuff, so this stick horse competition was going to be a breeze. I sat up straight, perfectly executed a walk and then a trot and then a walk in a precise circle around the judge. Then I lined up with the other competitors in front of the judge, awaiting the results.
Only to find out that we were all receiving a trophy.
These trophies were legit. They stood almost as tall as we did, and had multiple tiers and shiny lacquer. I couldn’t wait. Until it came my turn and they said too many people had entered and there weren’t enough trophies after all.
My initial thought, as this small child who knew how competition was supposed to work, was that it was utterly stupid to give trophies to every entrant. The winner, and maybe the two runners-up, should get a trophy. Then maybe a few ribbons for the lesser riders. Then nothing if you were a really terrible specimen of horsemanship.
My second thought, when I found out I wouldn’t receive a trophy after all, was as harsh as a four-year-old can get. Not quite a “fuck you” but definitely some vicious ideas passed through my mind. I didn’t understand why if everyone was supposed to get one, I was getting the short end of the stick just because I happened to be lined up near the end.
And now that I think about this vague memory, imprinted on my brain forever, I wonder if this isn’t an excellent example of the exact problem we Millennials are labeled with. We are told we were raised to feel worthy, but then told as adults that we are entitled and lazy. I’m not blaming the parents, because that won’t do any good, but I am blaming the system. The system of raising us one way and then later telling us, “Oh, sorry, there are no more trophies because we were unprepared.”
And while I hate being stereotyped, a good friend of mine recently said that stereotypes have their roots in fact. The majority of my generation is lazy and entitled. But we are also entrepreneurs, economical, the most educated generation yet, and we have extreme potential. We are stuck in a time that hasn’t quite caught up with itself, which makes it look like we don’t want to work hard for the things we need. The truth is that we know there could be better and more efficient ways of doing things, they just haven’t been implemented yet. Hopefully this lack of tech will create frustration, which will promote change. Because change doesn’t happen until the system completely falls apart.
So here’s to hoping the system breaks. And that we Millennials will realize our capabilities and seize the moment to bring about a new and better world.