A few weeks ago I had the chance to sit down and talk with a friend and mentor of mine on a nice summer morning. This guy is articulate and insightful, and our conversations are usually fairly interesting. On this particular morning we talked about work he was doing for his masters program, specifically studying changes in the attitudes of young people as generations have gone by. Because he works with young people, his focus is on the Millennials, or Generation Y. The milleninals make up most of our teenagers and twenty-somethings in America today.
I am a Millennial. You are likely a millennial as well, if you are reading this. We were born after 1980, and most likely before 2000. Generation X came before us (1960is-1980ish), and this would be my parents generation. The baby boomers came before them, and my grandparents are likely best represented in this category. Before them comes the silent generation, one that was raised during the Great Depression, fought and won World War II, and returned home to shape much of what America is today.
If you haven’t done so, you can read an interesting article from Time (a few months old) here, or do credible background reading here (citation needed). To summarize, Millennials tend to be characterized by confidence, optimism, and idealism, despite coming of age during tough economic times. We are the most highly educated generation. Most millennials are tech savvy, liberal, less overtly religious than previous generations, frequent users of social media, and generally friendly with their parents and respectful of elder generations (I didn’t make that last bit up. Pew Research Group backs me up here). Critics of my generation call us lazy, narcissistic, overly confident, and entitled. There is truth to all of those descriptions.
At first I felt as though I didn’t identify with Millennials. By lifestyle, religion, and values I am often distanced from my peers by those very decisions. I began to list in my head all of the reasons I may not fit well in this Millennial grouping (of course by writing about it on my personal blog I fall right back into that Millennial stereotype. Oops). To run down the list from the Pew article, there are tons of differences. I married at a very young age (20). I have no tattoos. I have strong religious beliefs, and make no efforts to conceal them. I have been gainfully employed for the past six years during high school and undergrad (this will change in about 4 days when I move to begin medical school). My Facebook profile is very private, I don’t have Twitter, rarely take selfies, don’t have cable TV, and spend much of my free time reading.
Armed with this notion in my head, I headed to the Internet to prove myself right (the fact that I turned to the Internet should have been a great clue here). Sure enough, Pew research has a quiz you can take to see how Millennial you are. The scale is 1-100 (not 1-Millennial, as I was hoping). After 15 quick questions my results popped up.
Shocking, right? I started the quiz so confidently, checking off questions. No piercings, yes I’m conservative, no tattoos, etc. Other questions seemed silly. Of course I spent about an hour online yesterday. Do I have a house phone? Heck no! How many texts did I send? Hmm…around 40. It was a slow day. Did I play an hour of video games yesterday? Well, I did happen to spend 90 minutes or so on the amazingly addictive time sink called Minecraft (seriously though…I start on building something cool, then next thing I know it’s 2am!!)
So I’m definitely a millennial. It’s official, the Internet said so. I still have to hold on to the hope that I’m an unusual millennial, since that makes me sort of special. There is some truth to that idea, I think. I already talked about some of my non-Millennial traits, but there’s more to it. At a medical school interview this past year, I learned that the median age for fist year medical students was 26. I’m 22! By the time I’m 26, I’ll have either a) graduated medical school or b) died of a sweet tea overdose.
Once a practicing physician, I will be about as young as a new doctor can be, without being some sort of prodigy. In fact, the first millennials were born in 1980, so the oldest would be around 33 today. This means that millennials are just now finishing residencies and becoming physicians, entering a field currently dominated by Generation X. I’m interested to see how we change medicine in the next twenty years. Will our confidence, idealism, and optimism usher in a wave of reform and growth, riding the momentum handed to us by a wave of medical breakthroughs in proteomics, epigenetics, and gene therapy? Or instead, will our spirit eventually be destroyed by the grind of life? We were all told, while growing up, that someday we would change the world. Will we wake up in our forties, with debt and family problems, and realize that won’t happen? In that case, the idealism we currently hold may change to a characteristic cynicism in two decades. Only time will tell.
I’m curious what my kids will be like. I’m young, but I can remember not having the Internet. Maybe our kids will end up being the Networked Generation? The Wireless Generation? Let’s wait and see.
Thanks for reading!