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Archive for June, 2009

Why Millennials?

Live Like a Millennial is addressed to the Boomers who have suddenly found their retirement plans moved to the back burner even if they were looming close before. Boomers are looking at many more years in the workplace with a group of co-workers who are looking more and more like their children and less like their peers.

Growing up in the Sixties, we knew we were cool, hip and with it. We were the Youth Generation and our size made us a formidable demographic. Now we have moved to a new era and while we think we are still that cool person we remember, we increasingly feel out of touch or slightly behind the times. How did this happen to us? What do we need to do to be up-to-date and contemporary? My premise is that we need to live more like our children, the Millennials, born in 1980 or later. They grew up in this time and for them it is natural. It is what they know.

How are the Millennials different? In three major ways they are part of a new way of life.

1) They are up-to-date and comfortable with technology.

2) They live in a global, inclusive community.

3) They thrive on disruptive change—change where what you knew before won’t help you deal with the new situation.

The blog will look at both examples of how Millennials are living these new ways and how Boomers can adapt to do the same. Written primarily by a mother and son team, we invite you to add your comments, thoughts, and personal stories below.  Are you living like a Millennial?

The Self-Starter

Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz once said, “The two great things about youth are looking cute and being able to travel.” Whether that’s true or not, there’s wisdom in that statement that goes beyond the literal. Looking cute can include much more than appearance; it’s about having an innocence, ambition, looking to the horizon. It’s about having a future. And to travel: To have the freedom to explore, whether it’s a locale or an interest, a love life or independence, a skill, a hobby, a passion – it doesn’t matter. Traveling, in its most basic form, is growth. Does this mean that you need to be young to have these benefits? Of course not.

To the confusion of many older adults, perhaps even to their dismay, I avoided a traditional college education. Since the ripe age of fifteen I felt that there was something incompatible, something uneasy between myself and standard scholastics. I simply didn’t want to learn things that A: I did not enjoy, and B: had no relevance to what I wanted to do with my life.

There are times when I wonder if avoiding the post high school status quo is, in a way, a sign of cowardice. Then I remind myself of the extensive amount of work I’ve done in my areas of interest, how devoted I’ve been, and realize that it probably takes even more courage to break free from the predictable and tread an unknown path leading to an uncharted mountain.

My reluctance to pursue a college existence did not result in me dismissing the process of learning; I went to a digital film making certificate program and had a great time, gaining more than I was ever prepared for. The Center for Digital Imaging Arts is a glimpse into the future of educating those in a specific field: complete immersion in your craft with emphasis on developing and executing projects on your own. Everyone is supportive and yet no one holds your hand.

A couple years after film school, interests changed, passions evolved, and I found myself swimming in new waters, uncertain as to whether there were sharks beneath me. I wanted to be a writer, not a filmmaker; a stunning choice to my friends and family. To “abandon” my famous obsession seemed like a practical joke, a silly stint that would only momentarily distract me from my next cinematic adventure. After all, I went to school for film and film alone – why give that up?

There was a validation to such concern; I had no formal training (high school doesn’t count) in writing anything besides screenplays, and I couldn’t exactly change my major to suit my new infatuation. At first I devoted myself to reading books about writing and practicing the art every day, but, for someone as feverish as I am, that could never satisfy the hunger to learn.

Online classes – that was where the gold was buried. They were a perfect fit to my situation and style of learning. It’s all about independence. Sure, there’s the usual reading, assignments, discussions, projects, but you complete these in your own home at a pace you can set yourself. You need to be motivated, that’s the key, and that motivation has to come from inside.

Now, I couldn’t be more thrilled about where I’m going and what I’ve gained through my own initiating. Writing is my world, and this desire and this pursuit has spawned from within.

I am a genuine self-starter, in that virtually everything I’ve done regarding writing this past year, the classes I’ve taken, the pieces I’ve written, the submissions to publications/contests, has come completely from my own enthusiasm. If something’s going to get done, I’m the one who’s going to do it. This demeanor is rather common among Millennials – we see opportunity in areas that older generations might dismiss. The last thing I want to do is give the impression that Millennials are superior to others in all ways when it comes to education, that’s clearly false. However, we are brilliant at achieving our goals on our own terms; it seems almost imbedded in our DNA. There’s one unarguable truth: We’re a generation that doesn’t need permission to learn.

What Got Me Started

While attending my 35th college reunion (really who could be this old?), I sat with three other alumnae of Bryn Mawr College and as each one gave us a snapshot of our lives in the last 5 years, I became aware that I was completely out-of-date with today’s world. I was someone who prided myself on being cutting edge and my edge was suddenly very dull.

First was Victoria, who had sold her actuarial business and was designing websites. Her everyday world was filled with twenty-five year old men. She showed us her online site selling specialty exercise videos made by people who were completely different from her and her background. She used her iPhone to show us her website, pinching and flicking to move around the internet.

Then Cathy says, I can see an iPhone in my future but only when they add a GPS system (who knew that cell phones could have GPS systems in them?) Cathy had just taken a new job where she used her journalism skills to create the online presence for the non-profit she had just joined. She also said that her daughter had set up a Facebook page for her and friended her. I knew enough to know that would never happen to me.

OK, maybe two other people were more up-to-date than I was but surely Janet who had been a stay-at-home mom for the last five years wouldn’t show me up. Instead she talks about how she loves to do research on the web and that she reads the New York Sunday Times online on Saturday.

I, who used to work in the IT division of a major corporation and sat in on every technology update for two years, could not be so completely out of it. But I was. At the same time each of us talked about our Millennial children and what they were doing. The contrast with my life was stunning. They were all following their passions and their dreams. I was continuing to do what I had been doing for the last twenty years—sure it was in different companies—but I was feeling very stuck. So it came to me—if I could live more like a Millennial, I could deal better with this ever-changing world.

Are you feeling stuck?

XBox and England

They never called me Ian and they never treated me like a stranger. I, too, addressed them not by their names, but by their Xbox Live Gamer tags. “Hello, Quiet. Hello, Lethal,” I said to the couple when they picked me up outside the Birmingham Train Station on a cloudy April day. “Hey, you alright, Smoochy?” asked Lethal, grinning. We had known each other, electronically, for five months. We talked and video chatted almost every day. We were gamers, united by the 21st century’s most addictive hobby.

The woman at customs at the Manchester Airport had a serious problem with the way I’d met my hosts, as I’m sure many people might.

“You say you started talking to them… while play computer games? So you’ve never actually met them before?”

“That’s right,” I said, smiling.

“You’re visiting them from America and you’ve never seen them before?”

I nodded enthusiastically, still excited about my arrival, while she looked me over skeptically. I had the feeling she wanted to accuse me of some offense, but instead she shrugged and told me to enjoy my holiday.

The very first thing we did upon arriving at Lethal and Quiet’s suburban residence was drink tea and eat toasted crumpets, to instantly give me the true English experience. I hauled my suitcase upstairs and looked out the window at the little garden. Here I was. Who would’ve thought that shooting digital terrorists with digital assault rifles would lead to a 3,000 mile journey with blood pudding for breakfast and fish and chips for supper?

I slept in a ragdoll’s Eden, their daughter’s bedroom, a metropolis of stuffed animals and flowered wallpaper. Ten days in a rather uncomfortable bed, but I had no intention of complaining. How could I when people I’d never met were allowing me into their home, into their lives? Quiet was considerably pregnant, they already had two hyper children, and yet they were thrilled to have me. Lethal even took the week off work as a truck driver to spend time with me. “Cup of tea, Smooch?” I was asked multiple times a day. This was hospitality at its most basic.

Being twenty-years-old means no legal alcohol in the U.S. However, it does mean I’m college age: ripe for keggers and beer pong and promiscuity. I can drive, vote, get married, and die for my country, but I can’t have a sip of champagne on New Year’s or even set foot inside a sports bar to watch a baseball game. In Great Britain, the alcohol flows freely and with little hesitation. And so Lethal took me to a local pub, rugby and football on the telly, where I got to feel very adult and take turns buying rounds. No need to worry though, we walked home.

I showed them my award-winning short films, which were well received. We went to the cinema, to Warrick Castle, to an arcade (billiards and bowling), explored Stratford (Shakespeare’s birthplace), bought chocolates and a Union Jack t-shirt; we played video games; we drank; we laughed. It was a brilliant ten days, a trip that Lethal later said confirmed me as a “true friend.” There aren’t many individual words that come to mind to describe my visit, but there’s no doubt, I had a helluva lot of fun.

More and more people, not just from my generation, are meeting up through video games and the internet. This may still seem strange to others, especially to Baby Boomers and beyond, but it is very real and very common. The idea of meeting virtually can be hard to grasp when you might have trouble adapting to technological and communicative advances on your own. It can, believe it or not, actually be comforting to get to know someone before coming in physical contact with them. There’s a lack of pressure, of uneasiness that being in someone’s presence for the first time can bring. You don’t stand around with your hands in your pockets mumbling about the weather; you talk to them in a safe environment where you can explore common interests, past events, future ambitions, and whatever else comes to mind.

I’m living proof that not only is meeting someone digitally a promising and beneficial act, but it can lead to greater things; such as traveling to another continent to gain a lifelong experience, one that you might never forget. Who knows, maybe you’ll make yourself a “true friend,” and maybe, just maybe, you’ll have some fun while doing it.

How People Reacted to My Idea

As I researched information about Millennials, I found quite a lot of Millennial-bashing. Some people were very resentful of these younger folks who had not paid their dues and who wanted to work differently and be rewarded differently and who weren’t willing to sit around and wait for their turn.

Then I found others who valued what Millennials could do that was so hard for older folks. At least one researcher described similar values between the generations that played out in different ways.

When I told people anecdotes about how the Millennials that I knew were living their lives differently, I had interested faces and lots of questions. For example, I told how my son, Ian, had met people from Birmingham, England while playing online massive multi-player video games. (See previous post XBox and England.) He became such good friends with them that he went to visit them for 10 days having never seen them in person before that. The scandalous looks that said, “How could you let your son do this?” were replaced with sheepish looks when I pointed out how difficult it would be for us to do something like that. Occasionally I would get told a story back of how someone had reached out across global boundaries to build a friendship.

This pattern of stories that showed how Millennials embraced today’s world and how the rest of us could take baby steps to join them sparked lots of interest in my listeners. I realized that a blog that captured these stories and had other useful links could be very successful. However I worried that the very people who most needed the information wouldn’t find it because they read books to learn rather than used the web.  So is there anyone you could share this site with who might find it of  interest?  Or are you an agent who would like to get us a book deal? 

Circus Animals and the Computer

After I check my email for messages from family and friends, newsletters on various forms of writing, proper grammar and character study, I check my email again.  The send/receive button is clicked like a drum beat and I text away on a cell phone’s miniature keyboard.  Should the time come when I have to slide into my compact car, the GPS is turned on before I leave the garage – even if I’m driving to the grocery store up the street.

Technology on a day-to-day basis as a Millennial means a routine of activity.  We are constantly living in the rapid-paced present without knowing so, for we are always focused on the future, on the next big thing.  When does the new iPhone come out?  When will Facebook upgrade to a different format?  When will my wireless router be faster?  Despite a conventional belief that this viewpoint is detrimental to savoring life, the truth is quite the opposite.

Though my sustenance may occasionally be focused on the sensitivity of a touch screen, I’m concentrating on intangible success, in the form of efficiency, in romance and in happiness.  And that is what being up to date can help with, the contribution to happiness.  It’s not about cutting corners, but rather shape shifting to an evolving society.  To be held back in the modern world means missing out on opportunities to improve your life.  Nothing wows Millennials anymore.  Nothing knocks us on our knees in humility to a technological advancement.  It’s possible to be impressed with implanted microchips and virtual reality, but we’re just not going to be in shock from innovation.

To older generations, the sight of an original room-filling computer must’ve been like a crowd beholding the first circus.  They were observing alien creatures, never seen outside picture books or imagined beyond stories.  A mystical white tiger leaping through fire, or a chimpanzee collecting nickels in the stands was something out of a dream, inspiring awe.

No computer could do this to a Millennial.  Even the most revolutionary improvement is like witnessing something as simple as a mutt dragging its owner down a city sidewalk, lifting its leg against an imprisoned tree.  It’s all customary.

Now, I video chat with other gamers from England; I network with long lost friends; I use satellite-based maps to navigate perplexing roads.  And I digitize my existence with an awareness that translates, ultimately, to progress.


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