Generation Y's New Age Hustle
Millennials often get a bad rap for being spoiled and self-indulgent. But today's 20-somethings are far from lazy. Meet five young artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs who are redefining what it means to work toward a dream.
"Which sounds better?" she asked me,"The Collective Muse or The Muse Collective?"
It was late one morning when my sister--a former art history major turned part-time waitress, sometimes philanthropist and freelance curator--broke the news of her latest endeavor. Adding to her cluttered list of credits, my sister now had plans to start her very own creative consulting company. Only 26, and already she's vying for a spot as CEO.
Her ambition, though not surprising to those who know her, is a prime example of the audacious attitude often attributed to Generation Y's work ethic. It's even the subject of an HBO series, How to Make in America. Set against a gritty New York backdrop, the drama explores the lives of 20-something entrepreneurs hell-bent on saying ''F*** The Man'' until they're able to be The Man. In real life, Millennials, born between 1977-1997, are often the subject of unwanted media scrutiny-- not to mention some unflattering headlines: The New York Post questions whether or not Gen Y is ''The Worst Generation?" Portfolio describes us as ''Generation Y Can't We Have It All,'' while the Huffington Post is more blunt and asks: ''Is Gen Y Lazy?''
There's a reason why my generation is under such scrutiny.
Millennials are a demographic numbering over 80 million, the largest generation since that of our parents, the Baby Boomers. Those of us over 18 accounted for roughly 21 percent of the U.S. population in 2009 (29 percent total). And by 2025, Gen Y will take over more than 75 percent of the workforce. But instead of tiptoeing up the corporate ladder, we've been catapulting ourselves toward new directions, demonstrating a penchant for entrepreneurship and, despite entry-level positions, a sense of entitlement normally reserved for the guy in the corner office.
Yet, as much as we've been criticized for side-eyeing the status quo, Millennials aren't the first generation of misfits to shake up American life. In the tumult of the 1960s and '70s, the Boomers, distrustful of anyone over 30 and cited for self-indulgence, were dubbed the Me Generation. Once Boomers aged into midlife, Gen Xers became the poster children for counterculture, slammed for their skepticism and labeled slackers. Now that it's Gen Y's turn in the spotlight, the generational divide has seemingly gotten deeper--and more complicated. Last summer, a cross-generational study done by the Pew Research Center revealed that 79 percent of Americans today (contrasted with 74 percent 40 years ago) saw major differences between the young and old, with nearly two-thirds of all blacks (65 percent) stating that they believe the moral values of younger and older generations to be ''very different.''
Three-quarters of those polled also said that those from older generations had a superior work ethic. (Another Millennial-specific study done by the Pew Center early this year reported similar data. More on that study later.) Notwithstanding the mounting data, the problem with measuring Gen Y against traditional American values, those involving work, is that the old rules no longer apply. We've grown up in a time when technology, social networks, education and the economy have been dismantled, remixed or revolutionized. So why wouldn't work standards follow suit?
There's been a ''recalibration of expectations'' for Gen Y at work, says writer and public speaker Nadira Hira. Hira, a 28-year-old Millennial, has written extensively for Fortune about how young adults will impact the workplace. She says most young workers feel that if they're going to ''put in the time and the hard work and the energy,'' it's going to be on their own terms. For black Millennials, this shifting of gears is particularly significant. In the Jim Crow past, black professionals often took the entrepreneurial route out of the need for survival; corporate doors were slammed shut to them. Today, we're choosing to go at it alone--and open our own doors in the process.
Submitted for your approval: A window into the working mind of Gen Y.
Ready, set, go (away)!
With his multi-colored, high-top sneaks and ''members only'' jacket, Darrell Britt-Gibson looks the part of a young Hollywood actor. But he hasn't hit Tinseltown. Yet. The 24-year-old actor and aspiring superstar spends most his days working retail and eagerly awaiting his next big break--which, in typical Gen Y fashion, he is certain will come.