As the facilitator circled the table asking the typical questions, such as “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” I felt like I was being a bit oppositional. If I admitted to being born in Indiana, anyone who had even visited the state would ask me about it, and as my parents moved to another state when I was six weeks old and never returned, I was basically clueless about life in Indiana. So I answered “I’m from nowhere,” and explained my dilemma.
Unfazed he asked, “Where did you grow up?”
“Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, three different times… Mississippi. We moved every few years.”
“Okay, where did you graduate from high school?” He was being cautious, as some of the attendees were older than me and never found a need to go beyond high school to find a decent job.
“I didn’t.” I replied, “But I have a Master’s degree.” That was a bit of story to explain, too. My family moved to Mississippi at the end of my junior year during the factious days of public school integration. The Deep South high schools were far behind the ones I had attended in Illinois and Ohio. So, on the recommendation of a local professor, I applied for college, and got accepted, even receiving a small scholarship. They did not see me as any different than students coming from unaccredited private high schools.
“And what do you do?”
My identity is supposed to be all about work. But I’ve changed careers multiple times. Currently, I work in a field born about the same time as I was and still have to explain what an instructional designer does to ninety-nine percent of the people I meet.
As he questioned the younger people in the room, I realized that my path of growing up – living multiple places, changing careers, working in a new field and returning to college for more education – was the path more likely to be taken by millennials than baby boomers. I did lack the opportunity to teeth on technology growing up. The first computer I glimpsed at age six contained banks of reel-to-reel tapes with blinking lights and filled a bedroom sized area. But I didn’t get my hands on a computer until high school. It was the only one in the entire high school, and it had its own closet, a much tinier room than that filled by the first computer I saw. One had to create programs in Basic on punch cards and wait until the teacher tested them to see if they actually worked on the computer.
However, my generation was marked by events as impactful as growing up with computers and the internet as part of daily life. These included the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, which resulted in a distrust of authority and an attempt to make a complete break with life style of the older generation by many. This may seem ironic to those who now see baby boomers as conventional and bound to their jobs as proof of self-worth. Sometimes I suspect the grumbling about this young “Millennial” generation is just a projection of our own thoughts. We expect the following generation to make a break with the previous one, because that’s exactly what we did. Why should they be any different than us, when we were young?
photo By Angélica Martínez – Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25543037