Life

The Millennials Who Wish They Were Gen Z

“We've been screwed over by everyone – no one likes us. Everyone's just giving us shit for whatever we do."
November 8, 2021, 10:13am
millennials in denial
Image: Christa Jarrold

When I hear the words “Gen Z”, I think of e-boys, mullets and Greta Thunberg bravely sailing a boat to a climate summit. When I hear “millennial”, the warning lights flash red.

From cutester cafes and Epic Meal Time to embarrassing, archaic memes, if you’re a millennial like me, it feels like there’s no escape from over a decade’s worth of humiliation.

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Which is perhaps why plenty of millennials have taken to calling themselves “Technically, a Gen Z”, “on the edge” or “a zillennial”.

“We call them the ‘I’m not a millennial’ millennial,” says Lisa Walden, who co-wrote the book Managing Millennials for Dummies. She believes millennials are the generation most ashamed of their own age group – something she noticed when giving presentations to clients.

“We’ll ask people in the room, ‘Where are the boomers?’ And boomers will cheer for themselves, and Gen Xers cheer for themselves. But when we ask, ‘Where are the millennials in the room?’ it’s like crickets.” This doesn’t seem to be because millennials are younger – Lisa’s noticed that Gen Z appear to also have more pride in who they are than millennials.

Today, plenty of millennials wish they were Gen Z. Riikka, who’s 30 and from London, would be very happy to be confused for one. “The word millennial has a negative association in my head,” she says.

Riikka prefers Gen Z for two reasons: their inclusive social values and their less predictable sense of humour: “Gen Z gets it. They just have it. They’re raised accepting everyone. Sometimes I wish I had that kind of upbringing, with these things already ingrained in me and everyone around me.” 

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When Riikka downloaded TikTok last year she started to think Gen Z were a lot funnier than people her own age: “I love all the trends they come up with, and different terms. At one point they were all commenting ‘chairs’ in TikToks if they were funny, because if you drag a chair on the floor it makes a screeching sound, like laughing. It's weird, but it was hilarious.” 

Ebony, 31, identifies with Gen Z because she finds them more adventurous with their careers. “I definitely think Gen Zs have more balls when it comes to trying new things. They’re thinking a little more about what they really want to do. I align with that a lot more than most millennials.”

It’s easy to understand why millennials see Gen Z on TikTok and feel in awe – it takes more creativity to make any video than to do what millennials were famous for: Instagramming latte-art. But millennial self-loathing doesn’t solely revolve around Gen Z’s cooler online presence. After all, millennials have been pretending they aren’t millennials since long before the zoomers arrived.

Remember when detailed lists of insults about lazy millennials were everywhere? Walden reckons more negative “clickbaity” articles have been published about millennials than any other generation. “Our generation had the bad luck of entering the workplace and being newbies as the internet experienced its adolescence, so we had the spotlight on us,” she says. 

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Riikka never really enjoyed being called a millennial, and disliked how they were described as self-obsessed, extremely materialistic avocado-eaters. “We’ve been screwed over by everyone – no one likes us. Everyone's just giving us shit for whatever we do,” she says.

Sometimes, Riikka felt the criticism was warranted – for example, when millennials lapped up some new gimmicky bar – but other times it was unfair. “In 2017 or whatever, everyone was like, ‘Oh, millennials can’t buy a house, millennials can’t do that, this is the reason the planet is going to shit. And it’s like: ‘Well, you created this market for us. You were able to buy a house for 25k.’”

Has Gen Z escaped the bullying? And if so, how? Ebony thinks Gen Z are piled-on far less than other generations because they seem more clued up.

“Millennials were seen as unruly. I think there was uncertainty as to when we would grow up. I don’t think Gen Z gets the same rap, I think they’re considered to be more business savvy,” she says, adding that people used to be excited about millennials, AKA the world’s first digital natives, but they didn’t live up to expectations. “I feel like there’s a little bit of a comparison between what we didn't do and now what Gen Z are doing,” she says.

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Nothing stays cool forever, and maybe today’s babies (Generation Alpha) will soon be calling Gen Z cheugy. But it’s hard to imagine – Gen Z seem too tough to be ridiculed. When boomers tried to bully them, they were shut down with two words: OK, boomer. Two words that millennials never thought of.

Poppy, a 19-year old Gen Z, thinks her generation have thicker skin than millennials: “Sometimes I think, ‘Oh, I could be upset about someone calling me a name, but also the world is on fire and I should be a little bit more stressed out about that,” she says.

Poppy thinks her generation are tougher because they’ve been online from a younger age. “I remember having Instagram way before I should, and I just had to deal with the rolling hate comments. I think maybe the difference between our generations is that millennials didn’t grow up with a lot of online attention.”

CJ, 18, was surprised when she saw millennials online wishing they were Gen Z. “I feel bad that they feel bad,” she says. “We grew up with millennials online, they were the first to use the internet to talk about political issues. So they shouldn’t be so angry at themselves.”

CJ also appreciates millennials for not repeating the cycle of making fun of younger generations: “The older generation definitely did take the mick out of millennials a lot more than millennials take the mick out of Gen Z.” 

So it seems the millennial denial complex is a millennial problem. The older generations have been unforgivable to us, but we need to forget it. We’re our own worst enemy, we share unrealistic memes comparing ourselves to our parents and make jokes about how miserable our life is. I mean, sure, we’re apparently the unluckiest generation in history, but according to at least one person I spoke to for this piece, we’re also pretty cool?

@bethankapur