2014 is almost in its final quarter and this year has marked a lot of things. It’s the fortieth anniversary of Saturday Night Live, the earth’s massive Ozone hole is showing signs of shrinking and American women now make up more than half of our professional labor force. It’s also the year that I turn thirty, unashamedly and with feverishly high hopes. 1984 was the year of Orwell’s vision for a dystopian hell, but it was also the year I broke water and declared my existence.
But something extraordinary is happening. My experience isn’t isolated. It’s happening en masse. Staggering numbers of people born during the Reagen-era baby boom are exiting their twenties and stumbling into their thirties. Stumbling is an accurate term for a lot of millennials because it has felt like a thirty year lost weekend for legions of young people birthed in the promise of new family values and the Ford Aerostar lifestyle. Millennials are loosely defined as people born after 1980 and just before (or in) 2000. Other creative ways to describe them include: People too young to remember the Challenger explosion, but young enough to still have 9/11 nightmares. Too old for Bratz, but old enough for Jem. Many millennials remember fondly using daddy’s vinyl player, but welcomed the compact disc with fervor.
Life has been uniquely complicated by concepts and happenings exclusive to this generation. Millennials were the first kids to enter grade school learning how to operate computers. By the first grade I was expected to have the typing skills that forty years prior, my teenaged grandmother was expected to have after graduating secretarial school. Now a computer is actually easier for me to operate than a cable box. We were also expected to learn both the Metric and US Customary systems “just in case”, as well as environmental mindfulness and the uncensored history of our Civil Rights movement. This also came with having our playgrounds retrofitted in foam rubber and hearing things like “I can’t sleepover at your house because your mom serves sugar”. Millennials were born into a world where owning and watching your favorite film on demand with the push of a button was commonplace – of course Home Alone was your favorite film, you watched it eighty times. Our childhoods also dawned the age of participation trophies.
Other unique sets of challenges haven’t been as constructive to our character in ways we would have liked. We weren’t the first generation to be hyper aware of our mortality in school, but mass shootings didn’t appear to have on us the same affect as the threat of nuclear war on boomers. “Duck and Cover” might never mean anything to us, but “Run for the nearest exit” would. Zero Tolerance meant there were no such things as Senior Pranks unless they had been pre-approved by the school board. Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have also stolen a great deal of our millennial colleagues from us in ways that have blemished our hearts.
This group is turning thirty. Most of them (including yours truly) are turning Dirty Thirty. That is, we feel neither restriction nor despondency from the life we’ve chosen – that is, the life we’ve chosen so far. Dirty Thirty means you’re older and wiser in the most technical sense, but your spirit remains young. A hopeful and ambitious young. Young as in not to have endless energy and good looks, but to have infinite things to look forward to. They always say that forty is the new thirty and thirty is the new twenty – but consider for a moment that this thirty may not be the sort of thing we expected so many eons ago, watching 90210 and wondering what it would be like to have great boobs and clear skin.
This thirty is a new one that was not the thirty of our Gen X compatriots. This thirty will not be about trying to find ourselves or fitting into a corporate and deferential society – rather, it will be about retooling society to better find us. We’re adults who rediscovered organic gardening and artisanal handiwork, though no company was marketing it. Tattoos are huge with us, but we’re more discriminating over the integrity of tattoo art than some have been over their cars. We’re a group of people interested in entrepreneurship at a time when economics are bleak, but ingenuity is at the push of a button. Record numbers of people in their late twenties are launching creative ventures, disinterested in industrial models. We’re also reinventing clothing and music trends from our younger selves rather than trying to emulate the cultural trends of previous generation’s younger selves. We’ve monetized blogs. We are us-centric. I don’t love myself because I was advised to – I love myself because I’ve worked so hard to become myself.
In other words? We are getting down. Down and dirty, down and thirty, sans apologies. Not even vaguely concerned with the opinions of others, we are looking forward with vigilant optimism in an original direction. Turning thirty means I have nothing to fear and no reason to repent. It means there are still great things to come at a higher momentum. My engines don’t need to cool because my track is laid so far ahead, I can’t see where it ends.