Recently, Tomi Lahren appeared for an interview on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. At one point, Trevor referred to Tomi as a “conservative”, to which she replied,”Well, I’m a Millennial, so I don’t like labels.”
I’ve heard this more than once. Textbooks say it. My generation says it.
I hate it.
I once had a boss that came back from a conference and proudly announced that he had learned all about my age group. I was curious, so I asked what he had learned.
“First of all, you’re called a millennial. And you hate labels, but you want trophies for everything you do,” he said, matter-of-factly.
And that was the end of that conversation.
I was a little insulted. I’ve never found much value in participation trophies, and I’ve always prided myself on going above and beyond to outperform others. I’ve always felt that I’ve deserved the accolades I’ve received, as anyone would. I felt like he was discounting some of those accomplishments simply because someone told him that my generation likes trophies and awards.
But more than that, I felt like he was labeling me, which was precisely what he was telling me he knew I would not want him to do.
Maybe it is true that Millennial’s don’t like being labeled. But, Millennial is a label too, and we’re happy to claim that. Why is one label more acceptable than another?
I think that the “Don’t label me, I’m a Millennial!” battle-cry stems from a fear of being stuck.
We fear being stuck at a dead-end job, stuck in unhappy relationships, stuck in one city (one country?), or stuck with the stigma of a stereotype that someone has assigned to us.
Here’s the rub: humans need labels. We assign labels to each other as a way of processing all of the information we receive. We need to call her “Becky with the good hair” to distinguish her from “Becky from homeroom” and “Becky who works at the bank” and “Becky from that Sir Mix-A-Lot song”.
And guess what. Labels aren’t all that bad. There’s even evidence that having a “label” helps us know how to behave and interact with others in society.
Labels are also dynamic. If you don’t like your labels, then use your voice and your actions to change them. But know that some labels are much harder to change than others. That’s why it is so important to choose what labels you give the opportunity to land on you.
You won’t be labeled “hardworking” just by showing up to work and hanging around the people who do work hard (at least not for long). But you also won’t ever get that label without putting in some type of hard work first.
You won’t be labeled successful by a single project. You won’t be considered kind with only one small act. All of those good labels you really have to strive for. But it is your alignment with those labels and your effort towards those goals that make it possible.
So choose your labels. Embrace them. Or change them. It’s up to you.