Curious, how a generation gets its name. The current prevailing definition of “millennials” is the generation born between 1981 and 1996. But that definition has shifted over time, and other terms have risen and fallen in popularity—though none has captured the popular imagination as the millennials label has.
I am an older millennial. Old enough to remember when members of my generation were called Generation Y, though other names for us so-called “cuspers” (a microgeneration born in the 1980s) have included the Oregon Trail generation and Xennials. When I was growing up, my baby boomer parents referred to me and my younger sister as “baby boomlets.” In 2006, when I was in college, psychologist Jean Twenge described millennials as “Generation Me.” In 2010, when I was living at home and working a part-time, minimum-wage job, terms like “echo boomers” and “the boomerang generation” were gaining traction. Between 2011, when I started a job as a copy editor for a Chicago start-up, and 2016, when I finished my master’s degree in English, “millennials” kept ascending. Five years later, it seems to have edged out the rest.
People often think of language as static, absolute. As an editor by trade, trained to ensure consistency in diction, tone, grammar, and style, it’s tempting to draw a hard, prescriptive bright line between right and wrong. There is comfort in knowing the rules, in following them, in enforcing them. But words and definitions are fluid. A linguist friend once told me that everyone is attached to the version of their language that existed around the time of their birth.
Then, too, the members of a birth cohort hardly move in lockstep. Even when speaking with my husband, a fellow older millennial, about the larger forces that most influenced our personal and professional development, it’s clear to me that it’s impossible to make broad generalizations or draw definitive conclusions about any group of people. True, we agree on some social inflection points, such as 9/11 and the growing ubiquity of the internet and smartphones. We also share a fondness for certain cultural markers. But the Great Recession, which I experienced as a profound shock, barely affected him.
Every group has individual members with aspirations and identities as distinctive as their fingerprints (both analog and digital). No generational portrait can be complete or representative. What is possible is to tell individual stories that add richness, complexity, and nuance to the overall picture.
Our latest issue’s feature section, Millennials Rising, showcases the stories of cover star Hassan Bouadar of FedEx, guest editor Adraea Brown of Harley-Davidson, and seven more in-house counsel who have forged diverse career paths as young leaders in law. The Modern Counsel team is excited to share what these remarkable millennial lawyers have already done—and look forward to seeing how they continue to shape their industries in the future.