Inheriting the earth may not seem like such a great deal to Generation Y. Frankly, the place is a mess. But with big problems come big opportunities. And if you 80 million Millennials populating these united states can get your acts together, you have a shot at giving ‘the greatest generation’ a whole new media-saturated meaning.
“This is a baptism by fire for Gen Y,” says Jeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking. “They are seeing that it is not always gravy. But then again, if they band together, they can elect someone like Barack Obama. Change things.”
Certainly, our culture–political, business and otherwise–needs some switching up. The financial meltdown, the Iraq War and the less-than-rapid response to global warming have our lights flickering like a house on the brink of a black out. We need Gen Y–aka the Millennials–not just to light a candle, but to reboot the system. “It’s time for the current leaders of the world to move to an advisory position,” says Dwayne Waite, 23, of Charlotte, a banking boomtown slowed by the economic meltdown. “The current state of mind is no longer working.”
This re-wiring starts with those born between 1980 and 1995 for no other reason than you are among the least short-circuited by the economic crash. Most 24-year-olds aren’t struggling to pay off McMansions and Hummers. You’re free to take a shot at something new and bold. And that call to action seems particularly well-suited to your mind set. “We are a freedom-minded, science-minded and technology-minded generation,” explains Marty Beckman, author of Generation S.L.U.T.
Take Brittany Laughlin, 23, a financial services staffer in New York City. She wants to keep her job, but has an entrepreneurial adventure in mind if the axe falls. “I would use money I’ve saved to move abroad where the exchange rate favors the dollar and I could do more philanthropic work,” says Laughlin. “When I came back, I’d pursue plans to work on a green collar company.”
Yes, sustainability and corporate social responsibility are firmly rooted Gen Y priorities. And at this point, even Gordon Gekko would find it tough to argue against a broader social consciousness on Wall Street and elsewhere. So fight for it. Use social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter to share information and organize. Make the business case that a company can do well by doing good. And use your youthful enthusiasm to sell sustainability programs as morale boosters amid the hand wringing.
But don’t stop there. “Generation Y isn’t motivated by the same carrots and sticks as other generations,” says Sarah L. Sladek of Minneapolis-based research firm Limelight Generations. “They are accustomed to instant gratification, customization, diversity, freedom and opportunity.” Flexible schedules, telecommuting, increased vacation time, loyalty to individuals rather than organizations and lateral mobility within organizations to pick up new friends, new skills, new thrills are among your favorite carrots. Take these proclivities and preferences and start a revolution.
Imagine a workplace in which a diverse collection of folks mold their job descriptions to fit their personal needs, yet collaborate with more energy and efficiency than ever. Where managers are less task masters than collaborative coaches. Where much-touted corporate principals come to life not just in press releases but in the actions of each individual. Imagine a culture in which budding entrepreneurs use their increased vacation time and work hours alloted for personal projects to better not just themselves and the bottom line, but society. Companies like Google are already proving that the approach works (cloud computing, anyone?).
All this could come with your ascension, if you make it happen. But be careful not to trip on your own pricey baggage. “In my world, it is unheard of not to have ‘the staples’: an iPod, iPhone or Blackberry, a laptop,” notes Stephanie Martin, 25, a real estate pro in Scottsdale. “Now, here we are, a bunch of spoiled twenty-somethings and teenagers, dealing with a rotten economy. Some of us will get laid off, we might even have to pack our lunches and forgo Starbucks… In as many ways as the downtown will hurt us, I believe it will help us, too.”
Since the Millennial’s first sentient minutes, zealous parents and other caretakers have been there to praise and pump. Coddled? OK. Stuck up? Sometimes. But now’s the time to fire up the flip side–the experimental, energetic, idealistic and, yes, tough side. You are the generation schooled by 9/11, school shootings, corporate corruption and global warming. You’ve seen a lot. Now, we want–we need–to see you step up and take charge.
Greg Behr, Gen Y, and Billy Warden, Gen X, run boutique marketing shops in Raleigh, NC. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.billywarden.com.