Co-written by Alexa Rosenthal
Everyone's talking about them. We've been talking to them.
For the past two years, our crew has traveled around in a 1978 RV, interviewing hundreds of millennials about what it's like to find a sense of identity and direction post-Recession. So much information out there is negatively spun about our situation. We've found millennials are using that muck to transform social norms and redefine success. There are as many ways to navigate your 20s as there are 20-somethings.
Here is what the next crop of human potential has working in its favor:
1. We know we can change the world. 85 percent of millennials want to work somewhere improving society. We crave meaning over money. 58 percent of students say they would take a pay cut to work at an organization they feel ethically aligned with. We don't want to live in cognitive dissonance by doing anything else.
2. There are an estimated 2.5 billion of us across the globe. That's more people than all active military members in every country combined. This is our millennial army, and we are not satisfied with the state of the world.
3. Entrepreneurism is our religion. 70 percent of millennials want to start their own business. We've been bashed for job hopping, when really, most of us are studying our employers. We have a plan. We see entrepreneurship as the best way to create opportunities for ourselves and others, share our gifts, solve international problems, and finally achieve a sense of autonomy and conscientious interdependence.
4. We're all about growth. 77 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds agree emerging adulthood is the time to figure out who you are and what you want to do. We prioritize personal development. That's why we travel across the world to stick ourselves in situations foreign, absurd, and sometimes reckless. Experimenting with partners, professions, and lifestyles is how we discover our likes and dislikes, the parts of ourselves that persist in any environment, and the aspects of tradition that truly feel authentic.
5. We create our own rite of passage. The line between being an adolescent and being an adult has never been so blurred. Biologically, we're adults, but not based on past social indicators like finishing education, buying a home, getting married, and having children. Gen Yers initiate themselves into adulthood by being bold enough to pick a path and take responsibility for the consequences, regardless of what others think about the decision.
6. We hate/love our options. Millennials have a global playing field to compete and find our niches within. Young women are closing the income gap with men. There are thousands of options for our future, which can be viewed as a sign of progress and privilege - but it also makes us want to vomit. Millennials can do almost anything (except, perhaps, affect political policies). But we slowly learn we can't do everything. It takes a while, but once we move past analysis paralysis, get over the crises of confidence, and channel our dreams down to one (or two), we are willing to exhaust ourselves in any effort to succeed.
7. Our best assets are qualitative. Millennials are leading the wave of Americans who think the American Dream is dead. We have adapted to our economic circumstances by basing our self-esteem on less tangible aspects of life that can't always be monetized like creative expression, the strength of our social networks and friendships, our ability to constantly change and stay optimistic.
8. We are open to living alternatively (and we own it). The search for utopia lives on with the modern youth. Off-the-grid homesteads and eco-friendly permaculture communities are being championed by millennials who can't make ends meet within the system and crave to live more sustainably without exhausting their ardor fighting bureaucracy. Our desire to feel support from others and tread lightly on nature has us banding together to see if we can create hyper localized societies together.
9. Our entitlement speaks to our ambition. When a recent college grad acts like they deserve to be CEO in their first week on a job, and you find yourself wanting to kill them, remember this. Millennials may lack experience hacking away in the trenches of the working world, paying dues like you did. We may abandon prudence in our attempts to seize opportunities in an environment where they seem scarce, but it's because we're hungry. Sharing ideas, being heard, feeling like we have a purpose, and getting rewarded with a living wage for our contributions are signs of self-respect and worker rights we believe we deserve.
Millennials are resilient. We embody a joie de vive and live according to a moral compass, despite all our trials and all our errors and all of our uncertainty.
Photography by Ali Kaukas