It takes just seconds of wandering around the Internet to find commentary on the most talked-about generation of our time: Millennials. You'll find some complimentary pieces about the innovation, technological savviness, and entrepreneurial drive of this generation, while others - as we millennials like to call it - throw some serious shade. When it comes to evaluating millennials, bloggers and journalists and your everyday Facebookers alike are putting all of the variations of "entitled", "self-centered" and "lazy" into play. We know by now that our society has a history of different generations pitting themselves against one another - the older crowd pining for the good old days and the younger lamenting over their elders' inability to adapt to change. But for the sake of my fellow millennials, I'd like to define the difference between being entitled and recognizing opportunity. Between being impatient and seizing the potential for innovation. Between being selfish and taking meaningful risks.
The reality is, every generation is littered with some incredible human beings and some pretty downright sh**ty ones, and we all have something to learn from one another. Yes, there are plenty of grumpy Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers who will never stop resisting change. Yes, there are plenty of entitled Millennials who want the world handed to them on a silver platter. Speaking as a Millennial, to our critics, and for my fellow Millennials, here are just a few ways to reimagine what the younger generation has been handed.
Entitlement vs. Opportunity
"Entitled" might be the most common word I see associated with Millennials in the media. It might seem that us kids can just never have enough, that we always want more, and we are never satisfied. Consider for a moment that the Millennial's desire to "have it all" has been fostered from the very beginning of our lives. We have always had more access - access to tools that make life smoother, to digital information and education, to knowledge and awareness about opportunities. The desire to have something begins with the awareness that it exists, and our awareness is heightened unlike any other generation before us. We are seeing our peers build successful companies, move across the country, or quit their corporate job to go chase a dream. We're seeing this all unfold in our social media streams every single day, and we are motivating and pushing one another to seize opportunities and become happier and more successful, either personally or professionally. It always blows my mind when I ask my mom about what her high school friends are up to these days - most of the time she has no idea. And that's okay! But it's inevitably going to create a divide in how we see our world and the expectations we have for what it gives us. I see something cool/inspiring/unique a friend is up to, and I immediately think, "There's no reason I can't make that happen for me!" And then I go after it, whatever my personal version of "it" is. Why do you think we're all running so many 5ks? We hate running! Everyone hates running! Well, I don't know…I've always wanted to cross a finish line…okay that race looks really cool…I better start training…wait…I like running?...Hold up…I LOVE RUNNING! We see ourselves in the successes of our fellow Millennials. Many of us refuse to have what we see as an average life. It might look like it's "easy" for us to get there and we might seem "entitled", but that could be because there are far more opportunities to make our dreams happen than there ever have been before. And what's so wrong with seizing them?
Impatience vs. Innovation
Another zinger critics of the Millennial generation like to throw around: instant gratification. We want everything here and we want it right now. To my Millennials: we need to let this sink in. We move fast and we often let our impatience get the best of us. It can come off as whiny, needy, and yes, entitled :/ Check yourself - are your expectations and demands ridiculous? You might need to take a deep breath, count to 10, and gain some perspective. That being said, our impatience is what makes us such powerful innovators. Throughout our entire lives, the ability to get things done has gotten faster and simpler. We can order a pizza by texting an emoji to Domino's. In less than twenty years we've seen digital entertainment go from Snake and Oregon Trail to interactive, global video games where you can ally with someone living across the ocean. We've seen how things can go from molasses to lightning speed in what feels like no time at all, and how that makes life easier. This is the reason we live in the era of the startup! If something feels more complicated or slower than it should be, we work to simplify and accelerate it. This innovation often leads us away from tradition, which can be hard for older generations to swallow. Millennial lifestyles are starting to look less and less like those of their parents, and this desire to design a unique lifestyle permeates every level of our communities - from career opportunities to daily routine to relationships and family life. As Millennials grow older, widespread societal changes will come - and those changes will hopefully make success more accessible to more people!
Selfishness vs. Meaningful Risks
As a large portion of Millennials work to craft this unique lifestyle, many decisions have to be made that, from the outside looking in, can seem self-serving. Career leaps, moving back in with parents, putting relationships behind work. A lot of these lifestyle choices are unprecedented - we really do not know the long-term impact they will have on individuals and society. The millennial willingness to take risks requires a lot of courage, and I don't think many Millennials take it lightly. In my own career, I made an exciting and terrifying decision to leave my corporate job and take this incredible journey with Moderna Muse and Pure Barre Austin. It meant less financial stability and security for my husband and I, but this decision was not just about me "following my dreams" or being more fulfilled in my career. It's about shaping our life together, exactly as we want it to be. We're thinking as far out as: "how do we design our careers in such a way that we get to spend maximum time with each other and with the kids we'll have someday?" It wasn't just a lofty little dream of mine to go work for a brand that aligns with who I am (but of course that is definitely part of the draw). It was a pragmatic decision I made to give me the experience I need to become the best human I can be for my family, both personally and professionally. Millennials are ready to fail, and fail hard, to find out if our dream of individualism is attainable. Really, we're taking one for the societal team here. We're an experiment for the next generation. Can a person have it all? Is there room in an ever-growing population and ever-changing marketplace for all of us to create our own version of success? I believe it's worth the risk of failure to find out.
The generations can spend time criticizing one another and asserting their emotional and intellectual dominance over one another, or they can come together to utilize the dynamic of diverse perspectives to their advantage. Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers have a unique position in the role of mentor to the Millennial; the younger generations gain guidance founded in realism and pragmatism, but the older generations get something out of this relationship too. They can continue to learn new ways to grow their businesses and brands from the people who grew up with the power of social sharing and technology woven into the fabric of their lives. Millennials have lived this shift, while older generations have the advantage of experience and stability. Rashanna and I felt this firsthand as we developed Moderna Muse. One of the most important elements in our professional relationship is having a dialogue versus allowing one perspective to dominate the decision-making process. It's crucial to a professional, and even social, environment that people across generations develop their ability to communicate with and understand one another to achieve a collective sense of contribution. We can start by dropping the need to criticize a generational perspective different from our own.
COO & Executive Brand Curator