The one thing I miss the most about being a little kid was that feeling that absolutely anything was possible. That no matter how big my dream was, it would never be bigger than my ability to reach it. That I had unlimited time to be whoever I wanted, to do whatever I wanted, that the world was mine for the taking.
Most of us millennials probably felt the same way.
When we were young, the path to success looked simple. Graduate high school, go to college, study that thing you loved, get the diploma, land a good job, save up, get married, buy a house, pop out a couple kids, and there you have it, the American dream-complete with a white picket fence and a golden retriever.
But for our generation, the American dream is just that, a dream.
It’s nothing but an idea that we entertain every once in a while when things don’t seem so bleak, only to snap back to the reality that we can barely make rent, let alone buy a house. Instead, it feels like we’re staring down the American nightmare. We’re dealing with growing income inequality, student loan debt, rising healthcare costs, an unstable job market, and the unshakeable feeling that things are going to get a lot worse before they ever get better. And this is not a new phenomenon-many of us saw the effects of 9/11, the war in Iraq, and the 2008 recession before we even graduated high school. We couldn’t wear our rose colored glasses for long.
Despite the fact that none of these economic obstacles are our fault, our generation will bear the brunt of the suffering. Instead of being sympathetic, older generations are often quick to write us off. How many times have you heard millennials called
“lazy”? How about “entitled” or “special snowflakes”?
In addition to the name calling, we also have to see headlines from journalists who are completely out of touch with our financial struggles, asking questions like “Why aren’t millennials buying diamonds?” Well, those luxuries will just have to wait until we’re not stressing over our grocery budgets. In the mean time, we’ll be over here stocking up on rice and beans.
But in spite of all the criticism and condescension, our generation amazes me.
We’re not lazy-we’re working harder and putting in longer hours than the generation before us. And since the job market won’t just hand us our dream gigs, we’re creating our own. We’re freelancers, creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs. The jobs our parents worked don’t exist anymore, so we’re moving into uncharted territory in the workplace. We’re digital nomads, social media mavens, the masters of coding and content creation. We’re changing the way the world views “work,” and we’re finding entirely new paths to pursuing our passions.
We’re not entitled-we want to see a better world for everyone, not just ourselves. We’re the most educated generation in American history, and we want everyone to have a chance to go to college, no matter how much money their family makes. We want to see a higher minimum wage, even if we’re making more, because we know how it feels to be overworked and underpaid. We’re sick of watching the sea levels and temperatures rise while politicians sit back and do nothing, so we try to live more sustainably. We’re fighting for affordable housing because our country has more empty homes than homeless people. We want paid family leave and affordable childcare for working families, even though more and more of us are choosing not to have children. And we want to see our country finally step up and guarantee healthcare to all of its citizens, even if it means we have to pay higher taxes.
And we’re not “snowflakes”-we’re standing up to longstanding injustice. We want to see a world where a woman can walk down the street at night without fearing assault. Where gay couples can adopt children and provide them with loving homes without the government playing morality police. Where people of color don’t face racism, prejudice, and discrimination. We’re not asking for anything radical here-just equality and understanding. But we won’t hesitate to take our protests from social media to the streets if the cause demands it.
I’ve heard some say that they would rather have been born during a different time-a time when America seemed more prosperous, when opportunity was abundant, when that dream of a steady job and a comfy life in the suburbs was easier to reach.
But today, we have a different kind of opportunity.
We have the opportunity to succeed in ways that no one thought we could, to prove the naysayers wrong. We have the opportunity to push for progress in all areas. It might seem like a lofty goal, but we really do have the opportunity to change the world. And maybe, that idea we held on to when we were little-the idea that we could accomplish anything we wanted to achieve-is still possible.
Fellow millennials, I’m proud of you. I believe in you. I believe in us. Because we’re the generation that’s not scared to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty to fight for what we believe in.