Generation Why

What makes me happy? And why would I do something that does not make me happy? These were the core questions of our generation, a generation that – due to the present financial crisis – has become a defined group of people born approximately between 1980 and 1990. Raised by parents that liberated themselves from the law-abiding preceding generations, we were taught to always follow our heart and do the things we like. Parents that wanted their kids to choose for security by studying law, economics or medicine were terribly out of date. And with the pleasant economic tide on our side, our generation could linger around and keep contemplating about what, how and why. It sounds like a beautiful dream, which it definitely was for some, but for others it was more like a curse.

It must be made clear that this introduction mainly regards the kids of white, middle-class parents. Without too many exceptions these kids developed a strong individualistic slant, a lightly narcissistic personality and a strong urge to be special. To make it in life, it was no longer sufficient to find a job and to buy a house. The yardstick of success became whether you found a job that you liked, that made you happy. Turning your job into a career always was the exception, but became the standard for our generation.

This upbringing, that was self-evidently right for our parents, came with quite a downside. Not meeting this standard of happiness resulted in a feeling of failure for many. Finding a job that ‘totally fits you’, in which ‘you can lay your heart’, a job, in short, that makes you happy is not as easy as it seems. And a feeling of failure obviously causes unhappiness. And being unhappy in a world and society that has given you all the chances feels like failing again. Here, see the circumstances that resulted in our generation’s invention of the quarterlife crisis (since life could always be more perfect).

Generatie WhyWhile this is definitely the dark side of being part of Generation Y, it luckily isn’t the end of the story. Crazy as it sounds, the present crisis may come to our rescue. As terrible as the crisis might turn out for some of us, it does provide us with the much needed mirror. At once, the paralyzing stress of not being able to make the perfect decision is gone. The question is no longer what kind of job you will take, but whether you’ll find a job at all. This situation brings back the perspective in lives that were previously marked by infinite possibilities.  The typical Generation Y-dream of doing ‘something creative’ suddenly seems way less attractive. Many ‘Generation Y’ers’ now experience being satisfied with what they have achieved or are able to achieve, instead of continue searching for a holy grail.

There are more reasons for optimism about this generation. Notwithstanding the negative sides of our typical upbringing, it also has many positive sides. Who would deny that it is very important trying to find a job that makes you happy? And how can it be bad that bosses no longer get to treat their employees like a doormat? And isn’t anyone happy if someone appreciates their opinion? Yes, many of the Generation Y experienced a quarterlife crisis, but a midlife crisis is far less probable.

In fact, the emphasis of this generation on the quality of life instead of economic status is, in principle, only healthy. And it is very likely it will lead to better employers and employees. Trying to ‘find yourself’ may sound woolly, in essence it is a sign of progress and self-emancipation that could benefit anyone. Knowing your negative and positive sides can only lead to improvement of more than just your social skills. For many of our generation the ingrained narcissism has lost its sharp edges. What it leaves society with is a workforce with strong social and communication skills, an instinct for self-reflection and a hell of a lot of ambition.

The challenge of this generation is to remain loyal to these virtues, without neglecting the qualities of the previous generations. It is up to the older generation to utilize these qualities to the best extent possible. A few pointers: a Generation Y’er prefers deliberation over receiving orders, having responsibilities over an unimaginative desk job, equality over hierarchy, pitch-perfect over just-fine, and first and foremost a professional but relaxed work environment over stressful tiptoeing.

Let everyone beware of and profit from these typical Generation Y-qualities.

By Tom de Boer