Warning: Adult language ahead.
When I was 17, I applied to university.
I applied to an eclectic mix of programs: exercise science, peace and conflict studies, environmental science, and philosophy. I wanted to get into philosophy. I had never taken a philosophy course in my entire life, but I was dead set on being a philosophy major.
I pictured intense debates in a hall full of passionate, rash-tempered visionaries. I saw myself reading philosophical literature in a library daybed for hours on end. I imagined all of my classmates having a potluck dinner on a Friday evening, drinking beer out of chunky glass mugs coming up with answers to the world’s issues. I looked forward to standing downtown in the middle of a riot representing my beliefs and values in heated deliberation.
I wanted to be a ravenous idealist with optimism for the world so big it would be considered farfetched, yet pioneering.
I wanted to change the world by being a dreamer.
And that’s just it, so many of us millennials are dreamers.
The world isn’t beautiful enough, because it isn’t. The world isn’t kind enough, because it isn’t. The world isn’t smart enough, because it isn’t. The world isn’t good enough, because it isn’t.
And we dream about things being different.
We’ve sat in classes since we were three years old being lectured, advised, and preached to. We grew up with increased caution because the world is big, bad, and scary. We’ve watched the news and listened to the ideologies of the past infused with traditional idiocy.
Somewhere along the line, we realized we’re stuck.
We realized that we’re sitting in a dingy boat whose integrity has been compromised. And the hole can’t be found; we canvas the boat for the damn hole and it’s so well-camouflaged we fear not finding the leak before it’s too late. Before the boat loses all air and sinks to the depths of the lake.
But, we keep looking for the seepage—the culprit, of all the world’s suffering. We want to find it and then try something different to mend it. And we hope to learn and make changes as best we can given what we’ve got—a limited toolbox further restricted by the postulation that we’re all entitled, lazy, imprudent, contemptible assholes.
Yes, we’ve heard that we’re all assholes.
I realize that the retired couple sitting at the table across from me in an airport pub watching me type away on my computer dressed in ripped jeans and a ragged tee while I order beer after beer might not see me as a productive, successful, capable individual. I look like a frivolous chump wasting money on immediate satisfaction, writing words that will likely never warrant savings.
I look like a starving artist.
And, maybe that’s what I want. Maybe that’s what I am.
Let’s think for a second about what it means to be a starving artist. Let’s get a few things straight.
I believe that everyone can be kind, respectful, and humble. I believe that everyone should have the freedom to do what makes them healthy and happy. I believe that everyone has the right to freedom of speech without having to beat around the bush. I think that everyone ought to not settle.
How am I an asshole?
I believe that the world can be better. And I believe that the task of world betterment falls to the generation sitting in the hot seat. It was them. Now it’s us. Then it was about building the world up. It was about working hard, bringing home the bacon, supporting the family and enjoying the little time you had off at home with the kids. It was about saving so that you could give your children the best life possible—a life with opportunities, with increased freedom of choice.
And you gave that to us—you fucking gave that to us. And we are forever appreciative. You gave us increased freedom and so us working in a factory, writing what we’re told to write, not painting because there isn’t enough money in it, buying a house and having kids before we’re truly ready isn’t part of what we know. You gave us freedom of choice. You gave us the opportunity to choose passion.
Again, how are we assholes?
This train of thought is just different from what it was before, but it feels just and right and whole to me.
I don’t work because, “we all have to work.” I don’t work to save money. I work because what I’m working on is meaningful to me. I work to spend money on the things that make me feel alive—here and now.
I don’t bite my tongue because what I want to say isn’t socially acceptable. I say it. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. That’s all there really is to it. I’m still going to say it.
I don’t hesitate when it comes to taking seemingly absurd risks anymore. I used to until I realized there was no point to hesitation. Hesitation represents fear. And I’m a huge fan of embracing fear—facing it head on.
I don’t own a house. I don’t know if I’ll ever own a house. The thought of being tied to one residence doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe it will one day, but not now. And I’m okay with this because I’m not a huge person of things (despite the widespread thought that we’re all consumption-obsessed narcissists). I really don’t care if my couch is brand new and brand name. Garage sales, classifieds, and hand-me-downs have always served me well.
I don’t shy away from challenges. I’ve faced big challenges, life-or-death challenges. And I made it through, so as far as I’m concerned, bring it.
I help people. That is my work. I help people because as a person I need help from others. Just seems like a fair trade, eh?
Everything happens because you make it happen. As a millennial dreamer, I proudly consider myself a rebel of the ordinary. A rebel of an ordinary life. And I refuse to trade that in for a big house with a wraparound deck at the expense of passion. I refuse to settle for anything but that which excites me. And this is what they taught me. They taught me I’m free and capable and worthy of pursuing a life that brings me health and happiness.
My idea of a perfect night is sitting around a blazing bonfire with a few good friends talking about our lives. My friends who are like-minded, frivolous chumps wasting money on immediate satisfaction writing words that will likely never warrant savings.G
We’re starving millennial dreamers.
And that label sits well with us.
They saw potential and built the world into what it is. We see potential and work to change the world into what it could be.
Neither are wrong. They just are what they are.
I like to think that us millennial dreamers respect our elders. We revere their hard work and perseverance. We always have. Please don’t mistake our desire to do things differently as disrespect, entitlement, and arrogance. As least I think I speak for my friends and me when I say this.
They built the framework. We’re reinforcing it. All in hopes that our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will just have to decorate.
To the couple sitting across from me in the airport pub: I feel your judgment through your squinted eyes and lean-and-whispers. And if you’re saying that I’m wasting my time, energy, money, and youth on travel and immediate satisfaction, then I’m not mad.
Because that is what I’m doing, except I think of it as embracing rather than wasting. There was nothing wrong with how you did it. And I’m honestly grateful to cross paths with you in an airport; I’m thinking that you may indeed be traveling in your retirement, which was the goal of busting your back in youth, right?
I’m grateful to sit across from you because I see my grandparents and parents in you—the ones who worked excruciatingly hard to give us millennials a good life in hopes of seeing us change the world for the better—the ones who allowed us to be dreamers.
Please know we’re doing it. We’re just doing it our way, the way we know how to: adventure, cultural immersion, passion-pursuing, work from home (or wherever we are in the world), spending more and saving less—we’re being our own boss in work and in life. And it’s serving us well. It’s giving us meaning.
The world is fragmented. Not as a result of us, not as result of them. But as a result of a difference of opinions, views, and beliefs—differences that have somehow been twisted into offense, defense, and war. Us millennial dreamers see it as our job to make the one opinion/view/belief that we all share that of equality and worthiness regardless of how we live.
We’re not entitled, lazy, imprudent, contemptible assholes. Quite the opposite. We’re taking the freedom you gave us and working to give freedom to others by practicing what we preach.
Stepping foot into my first philosophy lecture at age 18, I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. I couldn’t put a finger on why I was there. But here I am making sense of it. It was me experiencing intuitive freedom of choice. It was me making the most of the gift my parents, grandparents, and elders gave me. It was me choosing to do things differently all while dreaming of the world becoming a better place.
I’ve come around full circle. I’m asking questions and not settling for anything less than satisfying answers. I broke away from the mold I thought was destiny and am instead starting to live the way I want to live.
Dear millennials, keep dreaming.
Author: Robyn Phillips
Editor: Travis May