Have you ever noticed how generations seem to have “personalities” like people do? Along with those personalities often come stereotypes. For example, the baby boomers were “free spirited.” Their kids, the Gen X-ers, are often considered cynical and negative. Then, of course you have those lazy, entitled millennials. We’ve all heard these. Stereotypes survive because people perpetuate them and believe them to be true. So, what if a generation wanted to change its image or redefine itself?
I suppose before you can redefine anything, you’d need to clearly define it in the first place. Let’s start with the word “millennial”—who is a millennial? Well, Generation Y (as they are also sometimes called) typically includes anyone born between 1980 and 1995—those who came of age with the new millennium, so it can range anywhere from those currently 20 to 35 years old. At 27, this puts me smack dab in the center of the generation.
We’re normally looked at as the stupid, shallow, and selfie-obsessed “worst generation yet” who can’t put down our phones long enough to have a real conversation. In the workplace, we’re considered lazy, entitled job hoppers who expect a trophy just for showing up. However, you may be surprised to learn that while most of these preconceptions are inaccurate, they are actually creating a disconnect among generations that is slowly changing the face of business as we know it.
In 2015, millennials surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce at 53.5 million strong. By 2018, we’re on track to eclipse boomers in spending power at $3.4 trillion, and by 2020 we’ll make up 40 percent of the electorate. Scary? Not if you consider that millennials are actually on pace to become the most educated generation in history. As of 2008, 40 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 were enrolled in college, an American record. Believe it or not, we also read more. Eighty percent of those over 30 have finished a book in the last year, while 90 percent of the under-30 crowd has done the same. Millennials have also shown to be more tolerant and racially diverse than previous generations—a key quality in the ever-evolving national and global economies.
While these are big stats, there is one thing about our generation that is changing the landscape of the business world more than any other—our fundamental desire to make a difference. Eighty-four percent of millennials surveyed agreed with the statement: “Knowing I am helping to make a positive difference in the world is more important to me than professional recognition.” We don’t care as much about climbing ladders. It was found that the most important thing young adults ages 21 to 31 wanted in a successful career was a sense of meaning, and three-fourths stated that their ability to excel in their job is contingent upon deriving meaning from their work.
So what does “meaning” mean, exactly? The business magazine, Fast Company, found that meaningful work allows one to share their gifts, make an impact in the lives of others, and live their desired quality of life. Unfortunately, less than half of the millennials surveyed reported feeling that they actually get this sense of “meaning”—indicating that the current systems in place by most organizations to motivate millennials are missing their mark. That’s why more and more of us are striking out on our own to create our purpose and meaning by starting innovative businesses.
Fifty-four percent of millennials surveyed either want to start a business or already have. Even in our younger age, our generation has already created twice as many businesses as the boomers, and to great success. Gen-Y business owners are leading bigger teams, seeing higher profit margins, and having a bigger social impact than previous generations. In fact, 61 percent of millennial-owned businesses reported increased sales over the past six months versus only 41 percent of small business owners overall.
Seeing this trend, Forbes Magazine has named us “The True Entrepreneur Generation.” As more and more millennials are innovating and creating meaningful work through their business, we are starting to see jobs so satisfying and congruent with lives that the two are almost indistinguishable from one another. You don’t have to “punch out” when you’re doing what you love.
So what is it about our “entitled, tech-obsessed generation” that makes for successful business owners? Let’s take a closer look at some of those stereotypes.
“Entitled.” A lot of millennials come off as full of themselves, but that can also be viewed as confidence and a strong belief in themselves and their abilities—crucial qualities to have in the entrepreneurial arena.
“Obsessed with technology.” Okay, that one is true. Our generation was born and raised with technology. We were there when dial-up, AOL and MSN Messenger were things. We drooled over the Razr and wanted a Blackberry so we could go online on our phones! That constant evolution of technology throughout our lives has resulted in our generation becoming very tech savvy and quick to adopt new technology. As a result, we’ve developed a firm grasp on these tools for things like building relationships, promoting our businesses, crowdsourcing solutions, and researching information on demand. Our generation also gets called “delusional” and “unrealistic.” I’d say, yeah that’s probably somewhat true, but not in a bad way. Delusional and unrealistic are the types of qualities that lead to innovation. Our fresh perspective has introduced new solutions to old problems. As Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
One trap we need to avoid as a generation, however, is thinking that we have all the answers. While we may be great with an iPhone, we don’t have the knowledge and wisdom that only comes from running a successful business through economic ups and downs, personnel changes and unexpected challenges. This is where the generations ahead of us will always have us beat—experience. The good news is that they are willing to share it. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our business is find and connect with those who have been there before—to mentor us, answer our questions and help us avoid the mistakes they made in business and in life. So millennials, don’t be afraid to reach out—and to those older, please don’t be afraid to help us!
No matter where you fall within the generations, if there is something you don’t like about our world, change it! So many people are quick to post a status, but often fail to take any real action. The world will be changed by our example—not by our opinion. Each and every person within each generation has the capability to create a better life for themselves and those around them. By working together, we cannot only re-write our story, but also that of our generation.