Keeping up with the millennials: Big expectations, fierce anxieties
They're called "innovative," "narcissistic," the ones who are going to change everything. At least that's the expectation of the 80 million people known as the millennial generation or Generation Y.
They're called "innovative," "narcissistic," the ones who are going to change everything.
At least that's the expectation of the 80 million people known as the millennial generation or Generation Y.
No pressure, right?
As the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit concluded Oct. 22 and some of the nation's youngest movers and shakers said their goodbyes to Philadelphia, it was the eve of Beverly Thomas' birthday, and she was miserable.
Naturally, she took a selfie.
She posted the picture to Instagram, captioned "Tomorrow is my birthday and I'll be 23. I'm starting to hate my birthday. Every year I feel like I'm so unaccomplished for my age and I should be doing so much more."
One hundred likes and 19 comments later, Thomas realized she was not alone in her sentiments.
She's a senior marketing major at Temple University, an intern at fashion retailer Sneaker Villa, and the featured model of a few of their storefronts in the city. Yet she says, "compared to what I see, I'm not doing enough."
The image of millennials in the media "might just be a lot of hype," said Anna Kegler, 31. "People think of the TV show Girls when they think of millennials and how we are career-wise and in our love lives."
Kegler is a part of the marketing team at RJMetrics, a tech start-up in Philadelphia. She says millennials are "portrayed as middle- or upper-class college students or recent graduates."
"There's tons of millennials that don't have what I have," said Kegler. "If you don't have all this stuff, I don't think you're thinking of creating your own start-up.
"Maybe that's where my stress is coming from," said Kegler. "What higher purpose am I going to find in all the things that I've been given?"
To be sure, much of the stress on millennials derives from a very tough employment market. Writing for Atlantic.com, Jordan Weissman points to a 2013 Pew Research Center report showing that 25-to-32-year-olds faced a higher unemployment rate than did previous generations. And yes, there's the cliche of the college grad living in his/her parents' basement. But the numbers suggest that's overblown: 15 percent of millennials, according to the Pew survey, lived at home, compared with 12 percent of baby-boomers in 1986. A small difference, though today the competition for jobs is fiercer.
Speaking of fierce, Thomas works 40 hours a week on top of her internship and classes, yet she feels pressure to be doing and accomplishing more.
"Everyone's like, 'Everything's possible! Look at this 5-year-old with her own business," said Thomas.
Exactly: Right behind the millennials, and going even faster, is Generation Z.
The CEO of Mr. Cory's Cookies is 10-year-old Cory Nieves of Englewood, N.J. With the help of his mother, Lisa Howard (who is also his COO), he learned to bake. He experimented with cookie recipes, and now sells almost 1,000 cookies a week. He recently had to move his business to a commercial location, telling CBS News, "we incorporated the business into an LLC corporation."
To be sure, some millennials take inspiration from such achievement.
Eighteen year-old David Rubies Rivas, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, volunteered at the Forbes summit.
"I was feeling down in school," said Rubies Rivas. "I came back with a rush of energy like I could change the world."
Originally from Sacramento, Calif., Rubies Rivas was struggling to find friends in a new school and city. At the summit, he found many who shared his interest in start-ups and venture capitalism. He said that Sean Rad, 27-year-old cofounder of Tinder, was one of his favorite speakers.
"Everybody wants to be one of those guys in the future," said Rubies Rivas.
Mark Kaloko, career coach at Temple University, says he's beginning to see more and more freshmen coming in for career advice, resume-writing, and interview tips.
"There's an attentiveness that students are having now that they need to start earlier," said Kaloko.
He says parents and students are asking smarter questions about life after graduation, including work and further schooling. "It's not going to be enough to get a degree," said Kaloko. "You need to get practical experience outside of your major."
Whatever their economic status, millennials have a major advantage over previous generations: Technology is literally in the palm of their hands. Eighty-three percent of smartphone owners are between 18 and 29.
Such connectivity has its pros and cons when it comes to a millennial's psyche.
Alex Jordan, clinical and social psychologist, teaches at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. He was the lead author of the study Misery Has More Company Than People Think: Understanding the Prevalence of Others' Negative Emotions. Jordan says that if young people spend more time on social media and less interacting in person, "then they may be more prone to unrealistic comparisons that leave them feeling inadequate."
Thomas can relate: "I feel like I don't even know what average is any more."
Jordan says that some of the pressure might be a result of the way many millennials use social media: They tend to select only positive images of themselves.
"This can create the illusion that others' lives are nothing but vacations to exotic places and adorable moments with their babies at home," said Jordan.
Thomas did the opposite: She posted her Instagram photo and caption in a moment of honest distress and shared it with everyone. She says she "was tired of pretending that nothing is wrong." For her, success is stability. But she wonders, "Do I not want enough? Am I small-minded?"
The mind of a millennial is full of surprises. For most, despite frequently nontraditional career paths, their values are largely traditional. In a 2010 Pew survey, 15 percent of millennials called "having a high-paying career" a top priority. But larger proportions pointed to more traditional goals and aspirations. Thirty percent said they valued "having a successful marriage," and 52 percent said the same about "being a good parent."
To Kegler, the current tensions surrounding the millennial generation aren't new. She says, "we always hope that the next generation is going to save us."