My parents grew up with the idea of stability: Find a job, nurture a family, and be happy. They were raised by the Post-War Cohort: A group which came of age in great instability, economic crises, and, well, war times, so to speak. To counteract the fears and extreme living situations they went through, their offspring were to experience a better life, in the form of stability, wealth, and rigidity. Financial splurges such as spending one’s hard-earned money on cars, houses, and other things were once again a focal point and had taken on a whole ‘nother dimension.
As the post-war generation was unable to offer much to their families except for the notion to make something durable out of their lives, people born in the late 40ies to the early 60ies pretty much lived up to their parents’ expectations. Now more than one family member could have a car, and buying electronic gadgets was about as feasible as weekly grocery shopping used to be. A company kept their employees for years and years, offering great benefits, retirement plans, and even a severance.
While the degree of rigidity found in the Baby Boomers’ lives is, of course, also culturally defined, I’ve seen similar characteristics in both countries: Germany and the US. With the same priorities evolving among this generation: Work, home, family. Yes, even in a city as chaotic as New York. Nothing too much out of the ordinary; spending most of one’s life at work and aiming towards a good retirement fund.
Somewhere after this, past the almost unnoticed hippie Generation X, a new group had formed: The so-called Generation Y, also known as Millennials. While theories vary, most likely the most representable would be to define this group as born from the early 80ies to mid-90ies. The children of the Baby Boomers, so to speak. And what makes this generation so different from the group they were raised by? Anything but rigidity or stability.
As if opposites were always to skip around each other and make out one generation after another, Generation Y has seen it all: The advent of the mini playback shows and the destruction of a celeb’s life through paparazzi. Divorces after 30 years of “happy” marriages and divorces after 5 years of “unhappy” marriages. The workforce gearing up to computer-adept, internet-savvy, and multi-tasking individuals willing to work several different gigs at once while living off a salary screaming for starvation. How Ivy League schools don’t necessarily land the dream job and how tuition fees can basically destroy a young career before it has even started.
The traits of Generation Y are not necessarily flattering. In her blog, Penelope Trunk explains why they will be bypassed by the next generation because they are non-confrontational individuals, who do not like to stand out, want to be led, and do what their passion is. Of course she doesn’t summarize it as bluntly as this, so make sure you visit her blog post before you read on with this.
But aside from these rather weak traits, what makes out the magic of Generation Y is the following: They have seen that nothing is impossible.
Such as dropping out of college and starting a business that will earn you billions (Zuckerberg’s Facebook was just one of many). Some 20-somethings are not even considering the possibility of advanced education but starting their own businesses directly. Without having the 10 or 20-year-corporate experience and that MBA everyone was urging them to obtain. No wonder when, at the same time, the news are full of stories on how college grads are struggling to find work they are “overqualified” for.
Generation Y also senses that, although they still actively participate in it, bullsh*tting is no skill highly recognizable because, alas, they’ve grown up with marketing their so-called “skill” set of hobbies, music, and sports activities as something “so special” it should have made them pop out of the crowd of the other 1000 skateboarders, ballerinas, and singers who also wanted to make it at some point in their lives. But it didn’t. And therefore people who only have the flaking going for them, do not count. Unless they can show what they are really made off.
On top of this, Generation Y is also the generation with the best opportunity to travel the world. Be it going global through a company or just randomly deciding to take a year off for travel plans. No matter if it is right out of high school, right out of college, or even right after entering the corporate world – I’ve never met so many travelers than with this generation. There is a good reason for this: Gen-Y does not want to end up as zombies with an unfulfilled life. It wants to see how other nations live and it does not want to see this on a TV podcast only. And perhaps here is where its weak trait of passion comes in. But global traveling has also become easier, cheaper, and simply more feasible the more people do it and share their adventures. It must have been their role models of Gen X inspiring them when they themselves were backpacking 20-somethings who explored Thailand and Indonesia back in the 90ies.
Right on track with being internet-savvy, Gen-Y constitutes the first of all groups whose lives are displayed online. Starting with their first myspace account, a facebook page, Linkedin, tweets, and blogging: They are the pros in over-communication and over-sharing – straining many people’s nerves when it comes to this medium. Plus the benefits of blogging and sharing yelp opinions on oh-so-crappy restaurants. What better ways to warn other Gen-Yers, right?
Returning back to the corporate world, Gen-Yers are possible the first singled-out generation to actively criticize and take criticism. To their bosses and from their bosses. It’s not a form of disrespect but rather a healthy outlook on how to earn an employee’s respect rightfully. Now Gen-Y wants to be flexible, especially when it comes to family time and having some days off, because after all, work by itself is not too fulfilling when there are so many other opportunities out there. Perhaps a better job execution invented for them is freelancing or tele-commuting – spending half of the time at home and the other half at work. Work places will change and they’ve already done so quite a bit due to technological advances. The generations to follow will surely want to take advantage from what the current one is trying to implement.
With all of this flexibility going on, the old-school question of “Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?” makes absolutely no sense to this generation. 5 years ago the world was utterly different than from today, how would anyone know where they’d stand in 5 productive years from now? Is it for sure whether or not you will meet Mr or Mrs Right and have a family by then? Or that you will receive a job offer in China or spend most of your life traveling? Who can predict what new technologies and job niches would have opened up by then? No one knows. The interviewer certainly does not. Neither does Gen-Y. The past has opened up many doors for the future to embrace. No time has ever been as unpredictable as this time.
And back to Penelope Trunks’ theory: Well, I am not so sure about her opinion. I rather think that Generation X has been kept a bit too silent. You know, that group who was raised by the only true hippies. Whose parents were all about freedom, peace, and flower power (or pot-smoking at Woodstock, for what it’s worth). I have seen much significant change from the irresponsible generation, the middle group making out the bridge between Baby Boomers and newly-defined Generation Y. But for some reason they have a hard time being accredited. All the hard times they went through, fighting for being accepted as individuals, traveling to Timbuktu, forming theories on world’s creation. And even in building up their businesses at a fairly young age. But Generation Y just swooped in and got all the credit for nothing. Boy, Gen X must be pissed…
For more fun readings, I’ve come across this great blog about all things Generation Y. I highly recommend checking the author and her page out – she has a very positive attitude towards life, self-fulfillment, and juggling the cards dealt to her. She is a full-time student and worker, just trying to deal with the hassles of an over-achieving life. Gen Y Girl can be found here.