The Power of Now: What Sets Gen Y Apart

July 11, 2007

It seems like the more I read, the more I see people my age blogging about work, careers and how we’ll face the challenges and opportunities we know are coming. As a part of the conversation myself, I’ve been very interested in how workers in different generations view this topic of our generation. Today, over at Brazen Careerist, Ryan Healy touched on this a bit in his column, TwentySomething.

The conversation about and among different generations in the workplace is pretty interesting. I read everything from bewilderment to incredulity to agreement with the insights of my peers. Some tell us that we’re no different than any generation before in terms of what we want. Some say that our sights are set too high and we’re going to have to pay our dues like everyone else has before us. Some share their insights, encouragement, advice and camaraderie.

It’s a great conversation. It’s made me think seriously about what really does set Gen Y apart. The answer: it’s all about timing.

What sets our generation apart from the rest of the generations is what’s always set generations apart from one another – when our lives are taking place and what’s happening as they are. For example, we’re entering the workforce now, as opposed to any other time. What else defines us? Here’s a view from the inside.

  • We were told we could become anything growing up. Most of us believed it. Some of us got a false sense of self out of the deal, and others just pushed ourselves to do everything we could.
  • We were born to Boomer parents and kept a watchful eye on the Gen Xers closest to our age. We saw our parents sacrifice their lives to their careers and don’t want that for ourselves.
  • We saw Gen X rebel against traditional structures our parents followed, and their garage start-ups became billion dollar companies, not to mention the best places to work . Doing things ourselves seems like the ticket to many of us, too.
  • We grew up with computers and now fuel the user-generated, social media technologies of today, as opposed to more gatekeeper-controlled mediums of the past.
  • We have unprecedented access to technology and education.
  • We may not all be “risk-takers” like Gen Xers, but we don’t have to take as many risks. Our Boomer parents have our backs. For longer than ever before. That can be debilitating or empowering.
  • We are used to immediate gratification thanks to things like the microwave, movies on video and shopping online.
  • We were told the job market was stellar and we’d get an awesome job after college. This was true for some of us. Others of us are putting off finding a job by going to grad school or traveling. The rest of us are waiting, rather impatiently, either for a great first job or a great promotion. (See the above point.) In the meantime, many of us want to do something about it.

These all lead to some fundamental shifts in the way we view, interact with and anticipate the world and our lives, as it often goes with all generations.

These factors have helped set the stage for us to join a very powerful conversation. It’s the one defining our values, our work ethic, our expectations and even our results. Who we are as a generation is being defined right now, and we know it.

That’s why I love the dialogue between all the generations on this subject. But there’s more to it than that. We’re realizing the power of the conversation. We are not just asking questions. We are not just aware that we’re being defined and letting other people write it down for us. We are responding to, participating in and even instigating the conversation. We are helping write the definition for our generation by adding our voices to the mix.

And to me, that’s what it’s all about. That’s what I mean about timing. Our generation is different because we’re out there en masse, now, in our youth, taking advantage of technology, timing and the conversation. Stirring the waters in a forum that didn’t exist during the formative years of the other generations. Maybe it’s a new incarnation of an old rebellion. Blogging might be the new underground newspaper – with wider reach and more people contributing. And that’s already making some interesting things happen. Even if it’s just in the form of a well-read conversation or interesting debate. You know what Seth Godin tells us about good ideas. They spread. Like a virus. And eventually, they change things. That’s the hope of bloggers like me who are joining the conversation that is defining who we are. We’re embracing the power of now.

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27 Responses to “The Power of Now: What Sets Gen Y Apart”

  1. Ryan Healy Says:

    Tiffany,

    This is an excellent post. The most interesting thing you touched on is that we are joining this conversation, and thanks to innovators like Penelope Trunk we are allowed to lead the conversation. This type of “reach” as you call it could not have been attained in the past. Sure, there were books and a few articles in TIME or Newsweek about Gen X, but even if the Xers wanted to join the convo there was no forum for them to do so. Now we have the forum, and we have young people recognizing that we can contribute to the conversation.

    And that’s pretty cool!

    -Ryan


  2. Thanks, Ryan. As always, I appreciate your thoughts and insights at Employee Evolution and Brazen Careerist.

    I truly believe that the power of joining this conversation is what will ultimately set our generation apart in the long haul. It’s exciting to see it all forming and growing, even as we speak!


  3. This is a fabulous post. Great summary of Gen Y and I think the idea of “power of now”, and creating a vision is right on target. I wonder if we know what kind of vision we are creating or want to create. Sometimes I feel as if our generation is split between two groups, those who care and those who don’t. Hm.


  4. Very impressive post. You have a great perspective of now and where now may be taking us. I appreciate the time and quality of your writing. I constantly find myself saying (and thinking) that this is perhaps the most exciting time to be alive.

  5. Adam Ray Says:

    Nice column! I think your observations of “now” are pretty accurate. Modern media has afforded us the opportunity to voice ourselves like no person in history has been able to do. Just responding to your column on this webpage gives ME a potential WORLDWIDE audience… I agree with you that we are not so different than our predecessors in that it is probably just a “new incarnation of an old rebellion”. I look forward to seeing OUR generation change media, society, etc. How long before we can change something in our country’s government? It’s still run by babyboomers… Do we have to wait until we’re OLD to make a difference there?


  6. Tiffany,

    Your blog is great! I particularly appreciate your bullet points, which are very insightful, into the factors which differentiate Gen Y from the rest. One point I would like to elaborate on is your first point about growing up and being told you could do anything. As a Xer women not only was I told the same thing in the 1980’s but we were also told we could “have it all” which included both a family and a successful career. I think that is why today the media is so saturated with articles, video segments and blogs about women trying to find “The Balance”

    As you pointed out so well, Xers were the rebellious generation as we were trying to define new ways of conducting our lives and business with the evolution of technological advances. Plus, since we were always presented with so many options, both personally and professionally, we didn’t want to spend all our time in Corporate America with life passing us by. We wanted a new work environment where we could develop ourselves and feel successful within our careers however; still invent ourselves as individuals and participant with our families. The managers and leaders we were rebelling against are the Baby Boomers and Silent Generations. They have very different perspective of how work should be conduced – thus the struggle to find “The Balance”.

    I look forward to continuingly read your blogs!

  7. J.T. Says:

    Tiffany,

    It’s my first time reading your blog and I like it very much.

    I recently moderated a live debate between the generations in the workplace. Amazingly, the feedback at the end was that the Baby Boomer participants still couldn’t see what the younger generations were talking about. The sparks really flew around the concept of ‘work-life’ balance. The older generations even shared that they were actually annoyed by the term!

    So I pose the question: Should Gen Y rebel against them, or perhaps strive to help them understand the benefits of a life that places less emphasis on career as a way to create a personal identity?

    In many ways, I think Baby Boomers are just hurt by the fact that the children they’ve raised to enter the workforce don’t want to be like them. Let’s face it, every parent wants their child to admire and respect them. Now an entire generation is telling them in many ways that what they did was wrong. Ouch! I have my own thoughts and answers – but I’d love your perspective..

    Thanks again for a great post.

  8. Tiffany Says:

    JT,
    Thanks for your question. To me, there are a lot of ways to answer what Gen Y should do to help further the cause of work-life balance in the workplace. I think that it’s encouraging that we are beginning to talk about what we want, and I think that’s one way to address it. Rebellion may look a bit different for Gen Y, so maybe the answer is that we “rebel” and we try to help people understand at the same time. Many of our Gen X co-workers and bosses are already on the side of balance – and many of them are beginning to assume decision making positions in corporate structures, or they’re next in line. But, in the corporate world, I don’t know that we’re all going to be willing to wait for the Boomers to finish retiring for things to change – we want balance now. So how we go about getting it will be interesting.


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  10. Very well written and thoughtful post, Tiffany. You’ve just helped me make a connection between a couple of ideas I’ve been kicking around, so I’d better hurry up and get those thoughts down before I forget them! Much appreciated, and I look forward to following your blog!


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  24. [...] surprised to learn that women and men are switching roles. I see examples all around me of women embracing the power of now to lead the next generation. The more young women that get others to not only look past their age, [...]


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