I’m often asked to explain aspects of my generation’s culture, such as how a particular dating app works or our penchant for avocado toast — though the latter should be obvious to anyone who’s brunched. Headlines across the Internet ask “millennials” to apologize for the numerous industries we’re supposedly killing, ranging from insipid chain restaurants to homeownership. We’ve even been accused of taking down the diamond industry, but if you’ve glanced at the amount of student loan debt we’ve amassed, you would realize diamonds are not in the budget.

Sorry not sorry?

There are also sweeping generalizations espoused by older generations that I have to bat down now and then. For example, if you type “Millennials are …” into Google, the autofill results would likely include lazy or narcissistic. Those who hold that view have definitely never met any of my former college contemporaries, a group of social justice-minded individuals who would tell you that they’ve picked their respective careers not to make money, but to help others. One of my classmates carried a 40-pound jerry can around campus for six months to see what it was like to have to carry the water you need to survive — and raised nearly $8,000 to bring clean water to places such as Panama, Nicaragua and Flint, Michigan, in the process. And that’s just the work of one student.

And then there’s the narrative that our generation, as well as Generation Z, the cohort that’s just beginning to become college-age, has been endlessly coddled. It’s an argument that Bill Nemitz, a writer whom I admire, made in a column last week after he read about the University of Maine at Farmington hosting a puppy party for students to alleviate stress as they prepared for final exams. Nemitz wrote that educators should not indulge students in their anxieties about exams or essays, but rather tell them to get over themselves and just do the work. Essentially, these institutions have been babying college students and our generations is poorer for it.

As the more recent college graduate, I don’t agree with this interpretation of the facts, and it’s not simply because I think puppies are the best. It speaks to that overarching notion that younger millennials and college students are handled with kid gloves and are given treats just for doing the work that’s expected of us.

In this case, I feel compelled to defend my generation.

The real lesson that’s being taught at universities, including UMF and my alma mater, is about balance. It’s about prioritizing time for studying, but also taking time for yourself by getting enough sleep, eating a good meal and making time to exercise. Most of my millennial peers have taken that lesson into postgraduate life and live holistically. We’ve learned that work is not the be-all, end-all and that we can find joy outside our occupation. We make time for travel, to experience art, and to hang out with friends and family so we can go back to work feeling actually ready to work — and we don’t feel guilty about it.

It took me a long time to learn how to factor in my needs as a human being on top of my goals as a student and a journalist. I had to go through a scary panic attack to make me realize that I needed to make a change.

In my final semester of my senior year, I was juggling a full course load, a part-time job, a reporting internship, an editor position at our student newspaper and weekends as a baby sitter. I averaged four to five hours of sleep a night. Half of my body’s fluids probably consisted of espresso. I was perpetually exhausted and overwhelmed, but I didn’t want to admit it.

But one day while I was at work, I began to feel strange. At first, it was just an uneasy sensation, and then it turned into a migraine. Suddenly, one of my arms went numb and the apple I’d been holding just dropped to the floor. I tried to tell my boss something was wrong but I couldn’t speak. It was as though I’d forgotten the words for what I needed to say.

Panicked, I ducked into a coat room, sat on the ground and put my head between my knees. After a while I felt OK, but I knew my body was trying to tell me all was not well. I couldn’t keep going at that speed without making some time for myself. So I started to do simple things such as turning down baby-sitting offers if I needed more time to study on the weekends or asking my editor for more time to finish a story. And I would check in within myself now and then to make sure I could handle all that was on my plate.

Sometimes achieving balance in your life means taking 15 minutes a day to do something just for yourself, and that might take the form or reading a book, taking a walk, listening to music or even petting a few adorable pups.

I don’t think anyone should have to apologize for that.

Emily Higginbotham, originally from Illinois, is a reporter at the Morning Sentinel. You can follow her on Twitter: @EmilyHigg. Or reach her by email: [email protected]