“Middle age” is a complicated label for any generation that reaches it. But for a certain cohort of millennials — or, at least, this case study of one — this rite of passage feels like a particularly tough pill to swallow (and not just because of all the other supplements I now swallow on a daily basis).

We are a generation who spent the first half of our lives being breathlessly courted. Marketers scrutinized our spending patterns, our lifestyle choices, our food tastes; the media proclaimed us the political and economic force that had the power to shape America. Sure, every generation gets told some of those things, but not every generation believes it quite like we did. And we had power in numbers. Love us or hate us, there are a lot of millennials, which means our tastes are important. Or at least, they used to be.

In my early 20s, there was an entire year that I lived primarily on money earned by taking millennial market research surveys, for which the only prerequisite was that I fell in that cohort. I weighed in on car interiors, two-way pagers and flip phones like the ones that are now considered cool again because they’re “retro,” which is a phase in the cool life cycle enjoyed by clothes and accessories, but not so much by people. Those surveys paid well compared with what I was making at my unpaid internship. (We millennials didn’t demand pay for our work back then.) And they were more reliable than tips, which is what I was earning as a bartender at night. (Being a bartender: another thing that was cool … before the three-day hangover hit.)

Even once I got a “real job” in journalism, I learned quickly that mentioning my unique “millennial perspective” was sometimes the only way to be heard in rooms full of older people with power. I made sure to say it during job interviews, and placed it front and center on my résumé. I did this in part because it was effective: We were digital natives, beginning our careers at the exact moment companies were struggling to transition into a fully online world. It was digital do or die, which gave us disproportionate sway over panicked bosses and companies who were scared to make a wrong move.

But it was also more subtle than that. I hadn’t grown up in New York, or gone to an Ivy, or had an uncle who knew a guy who knew a guy, but I had something those people didn’t. It didn’t take long to make the calculation that I was not going to make inroads, or even a half-baked impression, by competing with more experienced people on their terms. But maybe, just maybe, I could sell them on something they didn’t understand.

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