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  • Natalie Garcia
    Natalie Garcia

    The Pitfalls of Generational Labeling: A Look at the Millennial Generation

    Millennials are often blamed for being the cause of the tensions between different generations. These generational gaps have existed since the dawn of time, so what is the source of this disconnect between millennials and the generations before them? The answer lies in our societal ways of thinking when it comes to generational labeling, which is encompassed by a range of ideas and events.

    Generational labels are often based on popular social trends, pop culture, technology, music or even government directions or initiatives. Generalizations can be easily formed with these labels, leading to biased and incomplete notions of age-based groups. Consequently, it can be hard to go beyond these labels and truly identify the values that form each generation and the reasons why our thinking differs from the rest.

    The millennial generation, born from the early 1980s up to the late 1990s, had their adolescent years during the rise of the internet, computers and mobile technologies. This was a revolutionary time for communication and information access, with young people then and now being exposed to more than any previous generations. This unprecedented access to knowledge has impacted millennials significantly in both their culture, language and values. It has enabled us to discover our own identities away from traditional social, cultural and career stereotypes.

    Yet for many, this paradigm shift has caused an internal conflict. Long-standing standards and expectations have remained in many social circles, while millennials face a barrage of new opportunities and expectations brought by these technological advances. This means they have to determine whether they should conform or diverge from older generations.

    Furthermore, with wider access to resources, millennials have been faced with more choices than ever before. Thanks to advancements in online skills training, education and career development, millennials are no longer restricted to the same linear career paths. With more availability of different job and career options, as well as more fluid transitions between multiple roles or entrepreneurial activities, the millennial generation has seen a marked shift away from prior expectations and norms. Some argue that this change has caused tension with other generations, who had access to fewer job options were put in a more limited of opportunities.

    The concept of ‘job hopping’ is one example of this tension. With the growth of the gig economy and the rising demand for contractors and freelance work, millennials are more prepared to choose shorter frames of employment, rather than long-term contractual obligations.

    At the same time, generational labeling continues to be used as a tool to create generalizations about an entire generation, rather than an individual basis. There is an underlying assumption that behaviors, beliefs, attitudes and social values are shared across a given age group, rather than allowing time and space for individual differences. With generalizations come oversimplifications, which can rob individuals of the chance to uniquely express their own traits and beliefs. This can further exacerbate the already existing disconnect between those of different generations.

    These generational gaps can and should be addressed through better understanding and appreciation of the unique experiences and influences within a given generation. We need to move past only considering the defining generational events and characteristics and instead focus on the individuality within every generation. In order to truly understand what someone is going through and what drives them, we must look beyond the labels, and dig deeper into their lived experiences and influences.

    What creativity, dreams, and ambitions really matter are the ones driven by personal interests and values, not the standardized labels of the generations that came before us. For instance, some millennials may want to pursue a more traditional path, while others may prefer to blaze new trails. People should also take into account that generational labels can be quite deceiving and any notion of “youth entitlement” is generally misguided. Millennials are just as motivated, driven and hardworking as preceding generations, if not more so.

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