No one would write this article except a millennial, you’re thinking with a roll of your eyes, and you might be right. You’re correct in assuming my status as a millennial, about a childhood spent knowing I could’ve crushed “Legends of the Hidden Temple” and an early adulthood that started with MySpace and ended with Snapchat. So yeah, I’m a millennial, and while there are certainly traits of my generation that are not only embarrassing, but appalling, there’s a reason that 32 year old Damien Chazelle just became the youngest director ever to win an Academy Award, for directing “La La Land.”
You heard me right- 32. That means he wrote the script for “La La Land” in his twenties and won an Oscar for directing it a few years later. His composer, Justin Hurwitz, who won an Oscar for Best Score? Also 32 years old. Two millennial friends, making history.
I know why Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz won those awards at such a young age, and how Damien made that movie happen. There’s a lot of talk about us millennials, a lot of well-deserved disdain towards our general attitude of entitlement, but let me tell you something- we are also poised to change the world. Here’s how:
We think we can.
Sounds assine. Let me explain.
Damien Chazelle won that Oscar because he wrote a movie and then believed he could make it. He shut down a freeway and directed a complicated musical number using an entire freeway on-ramp because he had vision. He won an award for a very millennial trait, which is that we are willing to try impossible feats because we tend to believe in ourselves… because you told us to. It was written on every pencil in our teacher’s prize box, on every cat poster in the counselor’s office; you said it when we were nervous to try out for a play, our coaches shouted it during our games; pop stars sang to us about it…. And we took you at your word. We think we can do anything, because that’s what you told us. So when you think we’re crazy for wanting fulfilling jobs with amazing paychecks, a happy family, and a successful side small business that we start in our garage: remember, you told us we could do it. We might sound crazy and yes, some of us are entitled pricks, but a lot of us simply took you at your word and decided to do what we set out to do.
Like win an Oscar for an old-school Hollywood musical that we wrote and directed with our friends.
This particular strand of chutzpah has an obvious parent: Google. YouTube. Reddit. Instagram. Facebook. We know that social networking, search engines, and community information canvassing aren’t simply recreational. These laptops and phones attached to our fingers are passports to a world of knowledge. Why argue a detail, like how far it is to the moon or how many people live in Somalia, when the answer is in your pocket? Why hire a plumber when you can just learn the basics on YouTube? Who needs a wedding DJ when your friend curated a killer Spotify list? You might say this means we don’t think for ourselves anymore, or that we are lazy learners, but we know that it just means we can do anything we want to try. There is a freedom that comes with access, and the motto of our entire age group might as well be: “Let’s try.”
Also- we live a life examined. Ok, yeah, selfies aren’t actual self- examination. But the truth is, even though a lot of us didn’t have social media until high school and college, we spent our formative young adult years in a fishbowl society, where The Real Word made us want to be watched and then the internet made it possible. Our lives are on display in a manner unknown to any previous groups of people, which makes us self-conscious, self-aware, self-centered and self-deprecating. In light of all that self, we have another skill: when you ask us how we’re feeling, we know the answer. Thanks to you, of course.
You asked about our feelings a lot when we were kids, even developed curriculum around the idea of sharing our feelings, probably mostly in reaction to the fact that your parents did NOT ask you about feelings. Did this also create a group of kids who can’t believe when college professors and employers don’t care about their precious emotions? Well, yes. Does our generation put too much stock in an emotional currency that changes by the moment? Absolutely. But we are also connected to ourselves in a layered, nuanced manner, because we’ve been allowed to explore our psyches.
Encouraged our entire lives to look inward, some of that prompting produced selfish masses of navel-gazers, but it also produced an entire generation of feelers. And feelings are what draw us into the plight of others, because mature feelings develop into empathy, and in this age of technology and connection and GoFundMe accounts, we know how to create change that is powered by our empathy. Which is why we give our money away, and start non profits, why we take jobs for less pay because they mean something to us, and why we actually think we can change the world.
So please excuse our occasional selfies and our obsessive need to stay connected. Don’t worry when we change jobs with the wind and still live with our parents in between traveling gigs. It might not make sense, but trust me: we are working hard, and we want to leave this world better than we received it, just like every generation before us, and every generation after.
Speaking of which, I can only imagine the articles my children will write to convince all of us that they’re not really robots, and they care about the world too.
I probably won’t believe them, either.