This week, I took the Pew Research quiz to see how much of a millennial I am. Technically, I cannot count myself among that cohort, which is between the ages of 18 to 33, but I want to. I have come to terms with the fact that I suffer from Gen Y envy and I’m ready to come clean.
I imagine I’m not alone. The way the media covers millennials, you would think they come from another planet. Who are these crazy kids who would throw away a friendship at work to get ahead or want apps instead of cars ? I imagine this scrutiny will reach a fevered pitch over the next few years as this demographic slowly becomes a majority in the workplace.
While I imagine every generation disparages their youthful counterparts, I wonder how much of this moaning stems from jealousy. Millennials demand all the things we Gen Xers and perhaps boomers want but are afraid to ask for, including creative opportunities, flexibility, and meaningful work. Birthdate be damned, from now on I want to embrace my inner Gen Y.
For those critics out there, a recent study by PsychTests, a Montreal-based psychological testing company, showed that contrary to popular belief, millennials are ambitious and scored higher than boomers on their desire to reach a major goal, such a making a big sale or designing an innovative product. They trumped GenX-ers and boomers with their desire to contribute something major to a field, such as making an important discovery or advancing technology. In online psychological tests, millennials also came across as strong competitors who always “keep their eyes on the prize.”
Paul Nazareth, a Toronto-based philanthropic adviser, admits that he has experienced Gen Y envy for a few years now.
“I admire [Gen Y’s] ambition and am a little jealous of the entrepreneurial environment they came into,” said Mr. Nazareth, who noted that now many awards are doled out to the 20-year olds, which didn’t exist when he was that age.
Yet, not content to just sit on the sidelines, Mr. Nazareth decided to embrace this millennial penchant for focusing on extra-curricular passions outside of traditional office hours. In his spare time, he manages four blogs, five twitter accounts, teaches and sits on five boards at academic institutions and charitable organizations.
Mr. Nazareth also counts millennials among his personal advisers and likes to remind his contemporaries that mentorship should come from those ahead of us career-wise – as well as behind us.
“My Gen Y board members have taught me how to use Google+ and Pinterest. They give me insight into the current job market, they are my eyes and ears into different sectors and companies and as they mentor under great leaders, I learn about those leaders, too,” Mr. Nazareth said.
“Whenever my boomer peers at work make me feel young, hip and with it – I hang out with GenY [colleagues] and they scare me straight. The bottom line is I help them get jobs and climb the ladder with connections and networking tips and they keep me honest, give me intel and teach me tech. Fair trade,” he said.
Technology guru and author Don Tapscott has long relied on younger advisers, starting in 1997 when he put the then 13-year-old Michael Furdyk in charge of a website development project. Mr. Furdyk was made a manager since he was the eldest (the youngest on the team was eight years old) and remains one of Mr. Tapscott’s mentors.
“I found that every time I talked to him, he thought so differently than me that I learned a lot so I got some other mentors. The other was my daughter, Niki, who is a key influencer in my thinking. Another mentor is one of her best friends. Over the years I’ve continued this reverse mentoring approach,” said Mr. Tapscott.
“These kids aren’t inert recipients, they are actors and initiators and scrutinizers. It impacts actual brain development. I find that enormously refreshing and disarming,” he added.
There’s another good reason to embrace your inner ‘’Net Gen,’ explained Mr. Tapscott. Their culture is the new culture of work and it’s one that embraces freedom of choice, collaboration and innovation. It’s also a culture of having fun.
“They think that working, having fun and learning should all be the same thing,” Mr. Tapscott said.
“My generation thinks that there is a period of the day that you work and then you come home and have a martini. Or rather, a period of your life when you work and then you retire, if you don’t first have a stroke,” he quipped.
When the options are between fun and a serious medical episode, the choice seems clear. I just wish my generation had thought of it first.
Leah Eichler is founder and CEO of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises.