Talking About My Generation, Part 1: Gen Y... Gen Why Not?
Today, it seems that news headlines about Generation Y (Millennials) are everywhere. Generation Y (also known as Millennials, Digital Natives, Generation Me, Generation Rent and Echo Boomers) are the generational cohort born roughly between 1980-2000. Millennials have been referred to as fragile, narcissistic, selfish and apathetic. Ouch. These news headlines don’t exactly paint a pretty picture of my generation. In part 1 (this blog) I’d like to propose an alternative nickname for Gen Y: 'Gen Y Not?!' or 'Gen Why Not?!' (for the more grammatically-correct-inclined of us). In part 2 I'd like to go through each of the above claims and provide an alternative point of view. Buckle up, enjoy the insights of one millennial and let me know what resonates with you in the comment section below.
Is Gen Y an apathetic generation? They’re supposedly spending all their MONEY on smashed avocados on toast and doing Netflix and chill!
Apathetic is a word in the popular press sometimes associated with millennials. The definition “showing or feeling no interest, enthusiasm, or concern” describes the opposite of the millennials I’ve met. While Netflix watching is a great way to unwind, it does not seem to be a priority for the thousands of 18-30 year olds I’ve had the privilege of meeting over the last decade or so.
What about some evidence on the priorities of millennials to back up my claim? The University of Otago October 2017 Magazine helped me out here. It turns out that in 2011, the eight New Zealand Universities launched the Graduate Longitudinal Study (GLSNZ) which is "a comprehensive study of the graduating cohort of that year - a 21-year-old graduating with their first degree in 2011". "Among other things the survey asked our graduates - two years after completing their studies - how important various goals and aspirations were to them". The top 10 results? Spoiler alert: taking selfies is not in there!
- Being in good health
- Having a family-friendly work/life balance
- Working ethically
- Having a long-term partner
- Having children and a career
- Making a difference
- Contributing to environmentally sustainability
- Being culturally responsive
- Being unselfish
I love Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne's comment that "this list doesn't look like it was generated by a narcissistic, selfish or apathetic generation. ...these goals reflect a strong desire to be connected to the world and a desire to make a difference". Truer words may not have been spoken.
Just doing a 9-to-5 job, working out and drinking the weekends away is no longer the norm. Side hustles, looking after our physical and mental health and volunteering are the new norm. We’ve learned very early on in our education that just having an expensive piece of paper no longer cuts it in the world of work. Now, work experience, networking and other skills are required to get most graduate jobs. I’ve personally found that job opportunities have opened up for me based on the volunteering, connecting and personal projects I’ve done in my spare time. Not only does it show initiative but volunteering or creating opportunities for ourselves means we have skills that we would not otherwise get in a full-time job.
Are you ready for a whole bunch of inspiring examples of millennials flipping the script? Let’s go!
Side-hustles and pivoting career directions:
One friend worked full-time while doing modelling and starting a cleaning business in her spare time. She’s now pursuing her dreams of representing New Zealand at Miss Model of the World 2017 and will be retraining to be a real estate agent when she returns.
Helping to solve socio-economic problems:
Another inspiring friend who I met on the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards programme noticed a problem in New Zealand of females in lower socio-economic situations sometimes missing school due to not being able to afford sanitary items. So, she co-founded Dignity NZ that provides a buy one give one model for sanitary items in New Zealand. Organisations can pay to supply their employees with sanitary items and, in return, their payment pays for lower socio-economic schools being supplied with these essential items.
Starting social enterprises:
Other friends have gone down to part-time work or quit their jobs entirely in order to start their own social enterprises based on problems they’d encountered in their lives and/or travels: for example, social-enterprise Nisa that employs women from refugee backgrounds to make organic cotton underwear or Indigo and Iris who have created a BEAUTIFUL mascara where 50% of the profits go to curing avoidable blindness in the Pacific through the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ. Both have Pledgeme/Kickstarter campaigns going that I highly recommend you check out!
Changing societal and cultural perceptions:
Or, take three inspiring ladies coming from mental health support and theatre backgrounds who are on a mission to change the perception of mental health in New Zealand by generating a fitness/gym culture for mental health. These amazing ladies co-founded Coliberate and gave a TEDx talk earlier this year! They’ve recently become accredited to deliver New Zealand’s Mental Health First Aid certificate programme, so watch this space for what they do next!
Tackling transport problems in climate-positive ways:
How about an organisation that’s tackling the issue of transport in a climate-positive way? Mevo! They’ve introduced climate-positive car sharing by providing app-based, on-demand access to electric vehicles. You can reserve a vehicle up to 30 minutes before you need it! If you’ve been looking for an alternative to driving around town or your traditional commute, why not check out Mevo?
Being innovative about traditional office set-ups:
And, what about the whole ‘sitting-is-the-new-smoking’ problem? There’s an answer for that too! Why not try out ‘Limber Office’! This team of inspiring guys has created the ‘limber setup’ to unlock a new, smarter office. They’ve created the Limber Setup which is an environmentally-sustainable office setup that moves more, allowing you to go from standing to sitting on the floor and anywhere in between, quickly and easily. They’ve even created a Limber Stool (which I’ve tried) that makes sitting on the floor surprisingly comfortable.
All of these inspiring organisations were started by millennial New Zealanders who saw a problem and wanted to make a difference! If anything, they’re the opposite of apathetic. In short: it’s not all Netflix and Chill. The above millennial examples are inspiring, hard-working and I’m lucky to call a number of them good friends.
Why ‘Gen Why Not?!’
Why? Because, from what I've witnessed from having hundreds of conversations with 18-30 year old members of Gen Y, there are themes of asking why something can’t be done, or, experimenting with a solution and asking for forgiveness later. Essentially, we've been raised by our parents and educators, rather than 'to be seen and not heard' like in previous generations, but to ask questions, to problem-solve and to use our creativity collaboratively.
While older generations may bash my generation for spending money on smashed avocado on toast and not being able to buy houses, when I look at my generation I feel an overwhelming sense of HOPE. We're being curious by asking 'why not?!' when we're told we can't do anything about ‘the system', we're creative and collaborative problem solvers and we’re aware of the importance of our physical and mental health in the midst of an unprecedented stampede of change. Funnily enough, these three characteristics are what Digby Scott (a Wellington-based leadership development expert) described in his white paper ‘How to Play With Fire’ as being the leadership character needed for the future.
So, while we may have some so-called negative characteristics that have been focused upon by the popular press, we also have overwhelmingly positive characteristics that older generations are relying on us to use to solve current and future problems. I’ll leave you with a positive message, delivered by our current New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern who, being born in 1980, is also a millennial: “let’s do this” and let’s “bring kindness back”. Don’t worry future generations, we’ve got this!