Millennials, redefined: Meet Generation Grit

Strawberry generation? Millennials are anything but the easily bruised, fragile fruit of the oft-mocked stereotype.

I am not a millennial, I might add, but 40 and facing an oft-mocked "M" stereotype of my own - middle age.

But over the past two years, I have met several millennials who inspired me with their grit and guts, and that sparked a new series that The Straits Times is launching, called Generation Grit.

I found that those I spoke to were more willing to discuss and pursue their hopes and dreams, fears and concerns than the generations before them. Refreshingly, they are less hung up about material success. What matters to them is finding meaning in life.

And they are a lot more willing to share their experiences, and make a difference. Several left a deep impression on me.

For example, Miss Lisa Loh, 28, is deaf and slowly going blind. But before she loses her sight completely, she is trying to help herself, and others like her, cope with living with two devastating disabilities.

Together with the Singapore Association for the Deaf, she is pioneering support initiatives for those who suffer from a plight similar to hers.

Or Ms Jaycie Tay, 33, who bravely opened up about her troubled past. She is a twice-divorced mother of four who has been jailed twice for drug offences.

But she met a kind mechanic, Mr John Shu, who sponsored her fees to pursue a diploma and who provided his firm friendship as she turned her life around for her children's sake.

It is not easy to talk about one's ugly past or failures, but through her sharing, Ms Tay has showed that change is possible and there can be second chances in life.


While there are various definitions of when a generation starts and ends, according to the United States Census Bureau, millennials are those born between 1982 and 2000, making them between 17 and 35 years old now.

Born into an era of affluence and opportunity - which are all relative to their parents' generation - millennials have been labelled soft, self-centred and spoilt.

In the Mandarin-speaking world, millennials are known as the strawberry generation, who are easily bruised, like the fruit, and who cannot take hardship.

Ms Jaycie Tay, a twice-divorced mother of four who has been jailed twice, with Mr John Shu, who helped her turn her life around for her children's sake. ST FILE PHOTO

As for me, I belong to Generation X, babies born in the 1960s and 1970s, and sandwiched between the more conservative Baby Boomers before us and the more liberal millennials after.

But guess what?

As the lyrics of the 1988 Mike and the Mechanics hit, The Living Years, go: "Every generation blames the one before."

The Pew Research Centre, an American think-tank, has been studying millennials for the past decade.

Miss Lisa Loh, 28, who is deaf and slowly going blind, is trying to help others like her cope by pioneering support initiatives. ST FILE PHOTO

Its survey of over 2,000 American millennials found that the one trait that makes their generation unique is their savvy use of technology.

Millennials are also the most open to change. But, to a large extent, the study found that the things "millennials value mirror the things the older generations want. Family matters most, with fame and fortune less important".

However, something they value more than the generations before them did is work-life balance.

Indeed, a global study of 17,000 millennials in 43 countries done by Universum, Insead Emerging Markets Institute and the Head Foundation found that about half of those polled would consider giving up a well-paid and prestigious job for more work-life balance.

The problem is that this desire for work-life balance can be seen by some members of the older generations as laziness.

But through my conversations and interviews, I learnt of the remarkable grit and grace in millennials when they deal with life's blows.

Inspired by those I spoke to, I went in search of other millennials who have overcome - or are dealing with - major adversities in their young lives.

Be it a grave accident, a disadvantaged family background or a troubled past, how did they cope? What helped them to cope? What lessons did they learn in the process? How has adversity shaped them?

As a society, we still focus too much on the results and not the journey; on the outcome, not the process. While achievements are often celebrated, we don't talk enough about the journey to get there. The journey of growth, resilience and transformation.

I spoke to a young person who became paralysed from the chest down after a diving accident. Then, he was an undergraduate but, despite his severe disability, he graduated with honours in July.

I met a convicted drug trafficker who made a dramatic turnaround after finding God behind bars. He left his gangster past behind and now helps others as a social worker.

I spent some time with an entrepreneur beset with health problems, who almost killed himself, but steeled himself to deal with the challenges and now reaches out to students who may be suicidal.

I will be telling their stories in the coming weeks. I hope you will enjoy reading their stories as much as I did in interviewing them. Many millennials are tougher than you think. They are not your strawberry generation.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2017, with the headline Millennials, redefined: Meet Generation Grit. Subscribe