I am surely not the only “millennial” who is mildly amused (it’s more enjoyable than being mildly offended) by the proliferation of articles over the last couple of years written about my generation.
Many of the articles are by folks from the same generation that raised us, and are written in the tone of a National Geographic TV special describing the daily habits of a recently discovered bird species:
“The young males and females of this species tend to cluster in groups and exhibit strange communication techniques and irregular mating patterns. They remain mostly nomadic in their nesting tendencies, but some can be found still residing in the stick-and-mud shelters of their mature parents. Scientists believe this is not due to a shortage of nest-building materials, but rather to the fact that these young birds are just inherently lazy and are too busy taking selfies for Tinder so they can have non-procreative sex with other birds.”
Okay so I may have mixed narratives there a bit, but you get the picture.
[Another take on this: the Snake People Chrome Extension. Check it out, you won’t regret it.]
So who are these “Millennials”?
Well, as a native of this mysterious species, I’ll tell you what I see.
I see compassionate people whose constant and easy communication with the “globalized” world around them makes them not narcissists, but rather powerful empaths who are made profoundly aware every day that they are not alone on this planet of ours, and that they have the capability to leave it at least a little better off than they found it.
I see employees and entrepreneurs who work passionately and with nearly inexhaustible energy, but who are unwilling to sacrifice the things that are important to them in the work environment, because they can see what the corporate inefficiencies and profit-hoarding of their parents’ generation has contributed to the world. They believe that it’s not wrong to aim higher.
But how to make a living while also making a difference? Do I have to be a martyr, earning pennies while working for a charity, in order to do something good for our world?
The answer is no.
Many people, millennials and non-millennials alike, are finding what they’re looking for in the field of social entrepreneurship.
The concept of social entrepreneurship puts a twist on traditional business models, designing them to solve problems in our world that are truly problems — not just a method of extracting money from consumers.
Business is an incredibly powerful force in our world (if not the most powerful), with brilliant minds behind it, creating unimaginably intricate structures, organizations, and networks to meet the needs of certain market segments. Why not channel that force into creating the solutions that our world actually needs, for problems faced by market segments not yet being served?
As you can imagine, for many millennials, this idea clicks. We don’t think it’s naive to believe that we should push for a higher standard for our world, and we believe that doing good is not mutually exclusive from doing well.
So while traditional management struggles to compute how young people can rank work-life balance and working toward a larger purpose as equally important as salary (are they lazy??? are they hippies??? who raised these brats?????), a generation of people are joining together across industries, ages, and backgrounds to redefine what it means to work with purpose.
The field has grown enormously in accomplishments, opportunities, and breadth in the last ten years, with new local ecosystems sprouting and blooming in communities all over the world. It’s being reshaped and expanded every day by new perspectives, new ideas, and new possibilities.
There is no “typical” career path, meaning that despite the fact that the ladder is not laid out in front of you, you can choose, edit, backtrack, and explore your own path according to your own strengths and goals. In part due to the Recession and the near-disappearance of the traditional vertical career track, millennials have become exceedingly good at doing this anyway! And luckily there is no shortage of options with which to take your first step, as new opportunities appear every day, for nearly any profession, all over the world.
As millennials have come of age, we have seen many serious global economic, social, political, and environmental crises come to a head. The world that we know is not one where work is separate from personal. It is not one where, during our 40 hours a week in the office, the rest of the world is not going on.
We get by-the-minute updates of world events; we read personal accounts by normal people, not just press-sponsored journalists; we see photos of everyday life in places and cultures that are not our own.
We are often blamed for our refusal to separate “work” from “life”. Critics say it’s a reflection of our inability to concentrate, to work hard, to make sacrifices.
But what if this blurring of the lines is exactly what the world needs?
Maybe the world needs a generation who sees their own lives as irrevocably tied up with those of people on the other side of the world. Even — *gasp!* — between the hours of 9 to 5.
Maybe the world needs a generation who envisions “doing good” as not just volunteering a few hours a year, but as a way of life, all week long.
We want to work on important stuff full-time, and believe me, there’s plenty to be worked on. And if we have to help build an entire new concept of business to do it, then that’s what we’ll do.
If all of this is, as the critics say, because we got too many trophies in youth soccer, well it sounds like our parents didn’t do so badly after all.
More importantly: are you with us?