• cynthiaccheng

Musings of a Millennial

Updated: Mar 7



The demographic label “millennial” captures anyone born between the early eighties to (depending on which source you follow) the mid-nineties or early noughties. A quick disclaimer before we proceed: I have zero authority on the sociological, psychological and scientific truths of being a millennial — other than the fact that I am one. Born in 1990, I sit squarely and undeniably within the millennial category, a pure breed Gen Y through and through.


The term “millennial” generally induces one of these three reflexes: (1) your skin recoils from within out of a subtle yet ever present wave of revolt — you can identify such millennials easily in your daily life, especially in your work place, and your brain associates this class of alien beings as self-entitled, largely incompetent and self-inflated humans; (2) your heart tugs with a conflicting sense of envy and disdain for the generation that has managed to get (and get paid for) jobs with titles like “Innovation Alchemist”, “Influencer”, “Data Guru” and "Happiness Engineer”; (3) your stomach sinks — because you are one.


We joke about the millennial obsession for overpriced avocado toasts, pineapple-print paraphernalia, gluten-free lactose-free fat-free oat milk vegan turmeric “lattes” and such other effects. We identify them (us) as a generation that is too quick to “find themselves” and too slow to commit. While, as a generalisation, this is true to some degree — perhaps we can be too eager to mock our peers for being “too millennial”. Every generation faces its unique obstacles and millennials will not cruise through the next century unscathed.


We have now with us a generation of social media addicts — running endlessly on a self-abusive treadmill of WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat. This is the first generation to truly be hit by technological advances in every single aspect of their lives, bombarded with a torrent of messages demanding instant responses; living a reality where work allocated today was really due yesterday. What do you mean you haven’t seen the email/ WhatsApp/ iMessage/ encrypted comment? Two blue ticks — no excuses.


Another uniquely millennial phenomenon is the one of “swiping” for the love of your life. How has this oddity changed our perception of love and of relationships? We have a lost generation unacquainted with the beauty and romance of the more traditional methods of courtship. Swipe. This guy is hot but has an air of uninspiring aloofness. Swipe. This guy looks average but appears witty and writes a funny quip. We are all aware of the basic vanilla equation for success on apps like Tinder — the photo resume. The portfolio should include images that fit within this very specific set of criteria: you with a couple of friends (they of course have to be less attractive than you but not overly unattractive); you looking active, preferably sporting stylish “athleisure” wear; you cuddling some sort of domesticated animal (note risk that cat or dog lovers could be isolated accordingly); and, last but not least, you on holiday posing with a Margarita and dressed in some form of swimwear on an exotic island emanating a carefree vibe with sun-bleached hair and sand between your toes. Voila — herewith we have the ideal profile of a desirable and “mate-able” human being.


This technological tornado has engulfed millennials in a way that no other generation has seen before. Millennials are caught on the precarious cusp of a ruthless and rapid digital transformation. Undeniably guilty of excessive screen time and social media addiction, we still remember how wonderful it is to read and touch printed books, to listen to cassette tapes — yes, those charming multi-coloured translucent mixtapes with your carefully curated songs; to play Snake on your first Nokia phone; Minesweeper on Windows 95; the infuriating whirring white noise of the internet attempting to connect to your fax machine and the further infuriation of it not connecting. Yes, we may have been young at the time, but we remember all this.


Millennials are blamed for their lack of depth, thought, perseverance and berated for their large doses of self-entitlement and impulsiveness. Yet we forget that the world is now fuelled by a culture of instant gratification, constant distraction and the mirage of “connectedness”. Millennials are at the heart of an automated - preferably eco-friendly and sustainable - hamster wheel and running for their lives to keep up. "Keep up with what?", you ask. Technology and computers that run unimaginably quicker than any human being ever could? I don’t know, but for now we’ve just got to keep running.


There is an irrefutable correlation between social media and mental health issues such as low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. Yet there is no real option for us to disconnect from the very sources that are making us miserable. Everything is faster in the age of millennials, even life crises. Forget the mid-life crisis, make way for the quarter-life crisis. Where are mental health issues being discussed and where is support being offered? Where are the tools that guide meditation and keep track of our health? They are on the apps dancing around on our little personal screens — the very infrastructure that our work, life, relationships, entertainment and finances also all happen to hinge precariously on.


We are also both blessed and cursed with the concrete possibility of longevity. Many of us will live at least 100 years. We are at an age where one can be prime minister at age 92 (see former PM of Malaysia). The tried and tested formula of socially acceptable life choices and career progression do not work for us and will not work for the generations to come. How will we learn to reinvent ourselves in this constantly changing climate? How do we stay fluid, adaptable and resilient when we have just a few extra decades to plan for than our grandparents? We’ve seen waves upon waves of corporate burn-outs amongst our peers by the age of 29 — is this the life that we want to embrace?


Our parents are Baby Boomers who have worked hard their entire lives, likely tirelessly on a single career trajectory. They persevered and made money in order to allow their kids (us, the millennials) to dream and have a choice to do what they want. Millennials are dreamers but also do-ers. There has undoubtedly been an abundance of creativity, passion and hard work in this generation which has resulted in many fruitful and innovative things. Though we are also a generation so petrified of failure and judgement (instantaneous judgement, no less) yet never has any generation been so exposed to failure and the consequences of it. The world is there on their screens to judge you, and quickly.


All of this is to just say that perhaps we can be too quick to scoff at someone for being “too millennial”. Just as every generation has its unique challenges, recognise that millennials are not necessarily a bunch of self-entitled, incompetent, insufferable hipster know-it-alls (some are, naturally) and that the challenges that millennials face are just as pertinent as those faced by previous generations; we just have to face them at a pace that the world has never seen before.


Good luck, Gen Alpha.