evolved, but unchanged: The Millennial Grows Up

The Evolution of the Millennial

Rena Siddall

Recently, my husband was giving his sister- 7 years his junior- the gears for being “so millennial,” and she quickly pointed out that he too was a millennial. He didn’t believe it. And therein lies the problem with the label. A lot of young adults don’t even know they’re a millennial. It’s too pigeon-holed to categorize a generation spread out over approximately 15 years (depending on whose definition you go by) into the “millennial” traits like entitled, special, achieving, the list goes on.

The term millennial is widely considered to be first coined by historians William Strauss & Neil Howe. First in their book Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 and then again as a focus topic in Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. The name originating in the kids entering kindergarten that would graduate high school in Y2K. Back when I was in university, the term millennial wasn’t really being floated around all that much- mind you, neither were blogs.

Outside of the “achieving” identity and perhaps the motivation for a work-life balance, it seems that millennials get a consistently bad rap. Or maybe I’m just being defensive. Have you seen that Forrest Gump meme? “And then one day, for no particular reason, we became offended by everything.” That said, the results for millennial-related news are unflattering to say the least.

Grown-Up Children: the Peter Pan Generation

What was once coffee, bars & music festivals, is now investments, dinner parties and… still music festivals. We’re the “unlucky” generation still living at our parents’ place, not able to buy cars without financing and still booking extended weekends for Coachella – crop tops don’t scare us! Why do you think they had to add two weekends?  It’s also why millennials have been dubbed the Peter Pan Generation. We never grow up.

Admittedly I’m at the very start of the millennial window. As in the millennials that made mixed tapes and remember dial-up and ignorantly assumed their Facebook posts wouldn’t be dug up 13 years later. I’ve held four different careers in three different industries since I was 23, I rent my Dad’s place which I hope to buy off of him but can’t afford to yet and I still really like music festivals. I also have a son, a millennial husband who looks after our investments… oh, and I still really like coffee.

Getting Down to Business.

When I was a year into the workforce, the Maclean’s tagline above referencing our spoiled and selfish motivations was the typical refrain in most millennial articles. Millennials were seen as entitled, a risky hire, and mostly just fun-seeking, albeit altruistic.

To play the devil’s advocate, has anything really changed?  Or has the world’s view simply shifted? Most of the millennial hustlers I know (and there are plenty that don’t hustle) are still spoiled in a sense – we rely on our parents for a lot. What was once a place to live, is now childcare. They used to help us through university and now they help us get approved for a mortgage.

We still pose a risk to employers because, unlike our boomer parents, we don’t shy away from the prospect of multiple careers in order to get what we really want out of a career. Disenfranchised with promises of careers at the end of university degrees and instead finding only a recession with underpaid, or worse, unpaid internships and minimum wage opportunities, we shifted jobs and took new positions as needed. Millennials have opted for the dynamic (ahem, fickle) career path. Keep us happy or else sayonara Mr. CEO. Ping pong tables and a keg in the office don’t cut it anymore. We want incentives, a flexible work environment, benefits, constructive feedback and social responsibility. Millennials are an excellent example of maximizing value. We’ll give you our ambition for a worthwhile price. For a limited time only.

Career-driven in their own way, millennials still love fun- grinding away in order to live big on the weekends. And we typically want to make the world a better place- millennials are increasingly social liberal. House parties accepting donations for charities, gift exchanges replaced with charity work, startups that promise an ROI to social consciousness.

As millennials now consist of 37% of the workforce in Canada, the headlines have shifted. There are more articles about how to indulge and take advantage of the millennial persona. Millennials are a tough sell not just in the workplace but even more so in the market. We are the toughest target consumers making up only 12% of the purchasing power in Canada even though we make up 27% of the population. In part perhaps because millennials are willing to pay more to support small and local businesses– true to our altruistic ways. But more than that, we just can’t afford to spend the way older generations did. We’d prefer to live within our means (and incredibly high student loan debt). Vice put it plainly. Millennials are broke.

Broke, grown-up children. As we age and have grown into the second largest generation within the Canadian population, it’s only natural that we would shift worldview. We are the catalysts of the internet, social media and the smartphone after all. Despite the fact that boomers are still the larger population in numbers, we’re larger consumers of digital media in this information age. And we might just be a tiny bit wiser for it. (Go ahead, let the debate begin).

But of course, we’re pigeonholing again…

Calling all non-white, non-middle-class, non- North American millennials.

Given all of the above, is it really possible to lump 15+ years of adults into a few distinctive traits? One of the predominate issues with generalizing the millennial persona like above is that it’s generally founded in a fairly WASP-y upbringing.

If you step outside of North America, you begin to realize that it’s incredibly common for young adults to live with their parents. In much of small-town, Western Europe it’s not unusual to see a new home being built on the parents’ property. I have a number of friends in Austria, Italy and Germany that do just that. They’re in their early to mid-thirties and it’s not considered strange or millennial. In many parts of Asia, where multigenerational households are common, the nuclear family barely exists.

Back in the True North, where do the first-generation Chinese Canadians fit into this millennial mould? Let’s file under achieving. The indigenous young adults migrating towards political activism?  Socially conscious. In Canada, skilled foreign workers in the 18-35 age group are awarded the maximum points possible for the age category- in addition to English and/or French language skills, education, work experience, qualifying Canadian job offer, and “adaptability.” Get enough points and you can apply for Express Entry into Canada. It’s difficult to say how the gift of being the correct age in our visa and immigration system plays out within the millennial persona- but I have a feeling that those qualifying wouldn’t portray too many signs of entitlement. 

Generalizations aside, the millennial is an interesting and necessary evolution to take note of. What was once seen as entitlement is now toted as balanced. Selfish could be considered calculated consuming. But we still love fun. Please someone, plan a festival in B.C. specifically for all of us millennials. And if 60% of the proceeds could go to charity that’d be great.

Rena Siddall /

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