It seems like I can’t make it through a day without hearing a generalization about our generation. The word “millennial” is tossed around a lot, with many different definitions, but usually what people mean when they say it is: young people. Or perhaps: people younger than the speaker.
This is not going to be another article disparaging, defending, or describing us, millennials. Enough of those exist already. I will say that I don’t think it’s possible or helpful to describe a large group of people using just a few words. I will say that I think that the decision to generalize says more about the generalizer than the generalizee. All of these articles and comments make me wonder: what if the generations before us came alongside us, instead of telling us who they think we are?
I grew up smack dab in the middle of the millennial generation. I was eager to learn, ambitious, and I tried to be teachable. In middle school, I sought out a mentor at church. We met together regularly and talked about the work of God in my life. Although I had my own opinions, and was honing my critical thinking skills, I frequently sought out guidance from people who were older. I talked about my desire to date with the moms of my babysitting charges as they dropped me off after an evening out. I went to coffee with my youth leaders and befriended pastors and their wives. I was serious about learning from the mistakes of my cloud of witnesses.
But along the way, something happened. My mentors dwindled. After high school, there were no volunteers to work with “youth” even though that was very much what I was. My relationship with church was becoming complicated and I wanted nothing more than to sit in the tension with someone, to talk about how I was feeling without fear. People were busy, and they assumed that I was busy, too. Or perhaps they assumed that I had picked up adulthood by osmosis and that it was time to fly on my own.
In college, I sought out mentors again: professors in my department, and even those outside it. We talked about school, but I’d often linger a moment or two in their offices talking about life in all of it’s complexity.
Mentorship, when done right, is not a small responsibility. Like any other truly successful relationship, it takes two willing, fully-committed participants. Sometimes I still talk on the phone to a college professor or two. Since those days, it’s been hard to find someone who wants to walk with me through the vagaries of early adulthood. I Google a lot of things, I check out books at the library, and I text my mom things like: can you freeze milk?
The thing about being young, is that there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s a problem that time eventually solves for you, but wisdom isn’t always included. As a young person, I’m hearing messages about my own entitlement, about the ways that I fall short. I’m trying to cover my ears and not let the ideas in, I need to prove them wrong if I’m going to continue learning about being human, growing up, and growing in knowledge.
I’m still looking for mentors, and sometimes I find them. Most of the time, it’s nothing so formal as my middle school mentoring relationship. These people never talk to me about millennials, but instead we talk about our lives. They live their lives in front of me and let me do the same. I pick up the steps of the dance by observation, and when I need to ask questions, they let me do that, too. Sometimes, they ask me for advice, it doesn’t seem to matter that I’m young.
At the beginning of this year, I was interviewing a winemaker as part of an assignment. Out of curiosity, I asked her how old she was and was surprised to discover that she was my age. I had assumed that she was much older than I was, since she is so successful, working in her dream job. After that, I started asking more people their ages. I realized that my contemporaries are surgeons and chefs, pilots and parents, editors and authors and professors. In short, they are adults. They might be young, but they are getting up every day and doing the work.
As Christians, we are called to community. We are called to take care of each other, and to work for the good of the world. I hear tidings of millennials leaving the church, but I’m still there, and I want to connect, to learn from my brothers and sisters in Christ, to have conversations that matter.
Perhaps all stereotypes come from a kernel of truth. I don’t always want to avoid the mistakes of my elders, and I’m sure that there are things that I think and feel because of my particular moment in history, but I don’t think that’s a young person thing, I think it’s a human thing.
I might just be starting out as an adult, but I don’t have training wheels. The bills, the decisions, the problems and joys are all real. I’m not alone, either. There are many of us quietly doing the work of life, with some days harder than others. It’s time to put aside the generational labels, the broad sweeping statements, and be on each other’s team, no matter what our age might be.