It’s become enormously popular to publicly lecture 20-somethings. I’m not a 20-something, but my regular interaction with the Millennial generation as a college instructor leads me to conclude that we may have more to learn from 20-somethings than we have to teach them.
Here are 20 lessons in LIFE, WORK and MONEY inspired by the Millennial generation:
Nobody responds well to being lectured. Despite the ineffectiveness of self-righteous bombast, it seems never to be in short supply. Insisting that someone else sees how wrong they are may guarantee that we will feel more right—but it doesn’t necessarily make it so. Even if you have good intentions, the best time to teach someone something is after they’ve asked for input.
Life needn’t be so strictly compartmentalized. Work, family, leisure, service, worship and artistic expression are elements of life that remain segregated for most. But this schizophrenia of roles leads to inauthentic living in one or more of these venues (and drives us crazy).
We should give ourselves permission to be more of who we are and less of who people want us to be. There’s an externally successful business owner who shows up at my gym for his morning workout dressed to the nines in a suit and tie. He didn’t come from a meeting—he just thinks it’s important to send a message everywhere he goes that he is successful (and he’s happy to announce it). The Millennials’ refusal to engage in such posturing is often mistaken for aloofness or apathy, but it’s really more about a healthy yearning for authenticity.
Being miserably busy is not a good measure of self-worth. Busyness is no virtue. It leads to forgetfulness, distraction and tardiness. And it’s exhausting.
We are human beings, not human doings. We tend to explain who we are by listing what we do for work and what we have accomplished professionally. Millennials are more comfortable in their own skin and more capable of enjoying time that can’t be measured in terms of productive output.
“American” is not actually a language. Millennials are the first generation in decades who don’t take American pre-eminence for granted. They’re expanding their personal and professional horizons with international travel and picking up a second or third language.
Traditional education is overvalued. While Millennials are known for having overpaid for higher education, their dissatisfaction with what they got in return—fueled by their angst over the loans that now burden them—are serving to ensure that they and their children will spearhead the biggest education overhaul in a couple centuries.
Being a slave to work is no badge of honor. Being the first in and last to leave may send a message to the types of people who value an ascetic work regimen, but it will also send a message to your family and close friends that your work is more important than they are. Which message do you want to send?
We’re not all productive in the same ways and at the same times. Sure, there are advantages to being an early bird, but the best employees will figure out where, when and how they work most effectively, and the best bosses will encourage them to do so (to a mutually beneficial end).
Work and life aren’t something to be balanced, but instead something to be integrated. That we must balance work and life implies that they are seemingly opposed forces incapable of being effectively blended, but the most effective leaders and satisfied employees find ways to bring work to life by inviting more life to work.
Success is overrated. Boomers have made an art form of becoming successful, or at least appearing so. Success certainly isn’t a bad thing, but when the visible representation of success (more impressive titles, bigger houses, nicer cars, granite everything) takes precedence over those for whom we supposedly became successful to serve, we have a problem. This isn’t even a generational thing. It’s never really been true that reaching the pinnacle of success is what ultimately makes our lives fulfilling—it’s really significance and meaning for which we hunger. Millennials seem to have a better handle on that.
You don’t have to “get settled down” right away. Financial planner, Roger Whitney, told me “[Millennials] are getting married later in life [than Baby Boomers] which gives them time to mature and be more financially secure when entering marriage.”
Money shouldn’t be a taboo topic of discussion. 30-something personal finance writer, Arielle O’Shea, finds Millennials to be more open about money. Even if it’s because they’re more cynical about financial security, having seen a couple bubbles burst and many of their parents split over financial issues, Millennials seem to be more open to discussing their personal finances (to good effect) with each other and in public.
We don’t have to own everything—sharing is ok too. Having to own everything we touch in this lifetime may be good for auto and home improvement companies, but it’s certainly not the most efficient or inexpensive way to do things. Airbnb allows users to swap living spaces, Lyft offers a network of drivers when you need a ride, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in the growing sharing economy. Millennials are making and saving money with services like these, according to Forbes writer, Maggie McGrath.
The acquisition of real estate is overrated. Creating stability, building equity and getting tax deductions are all good things—but losing money and depriving yourself of the freedom and flexibility to be mobile are not. Millennials haven’t abandoned home ownership, but we all need reminding that it does have its drawbacks and shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion for everyone all the time.
We can and should embrace the role of technology in our financial lives. The financial services industry is known more for hindering progress and clinging to antiquated, high-margin practices and procedures. Millennials, however, are creating and “using websites such as Mint, You Need a Budget or Manilla, which not only help to track spending, but serve as accountability partners with e-mail alerts when spending limits are exceeded,” according to Mary Beth Storjohann, founder of Workable Wealth.
Youth isn’t a license to embrace reckless investing. Carmen Wong Ulrich, host of Marketplace Money on APM says “[Millennials are] less likely to want to risk investing their money in the markets, but that also means they’re more likely to stay away from the financial products (and marketing) that burned their parents.” Indeed, losing money isn’t a good strategy, regardless of your age.
Experiences are more valuable than things. David Burstein, Millennial author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaping Our World, acknowledges that 20-somethings are spending more than any past generation on travel and eating out, but it’s because they place a higher value in deepening interpersonal relationships and creating lasting memories.
The “traditional” notion of retirement isn’t necessarily an ideal. Millennials tell me that they expect to be working a long, long time. They don’t expect pensions and don’t trust Social Security, leaving them with little choice, but they also don’t idolize the notion of full-time feet-in-the-sand retirement. They plan to work longer and enjoy themselves more along the way, many of them hunting more for a calling than a job.
You can do well and do good at the same time. Profit or charity—take your pick? The Millennials have invited us to consider that we don’t have to choose between Robber Barron or do-gooder. In addition to Google’s unofficial motto—“Don’t do evil”—companies like Toms and Warby Parker give one pair of shoes and eyeglasses (respectively) for every pair sold.
Every generation finds comfort in the norms it helped establish and relishes in the norms it helped deconstruct—but the outgoing generation tends to not-so-quietly mourn when the incoming generation does the same. Pew Research calls the Millennials confident, connected and open to change. Yes, it’s a little scary that 20-somethings are changing the way we live, work, play, invest and worship—all without even asking our permission! But it’s not necessarily a bad thing.