One of the hardest adjustments that society is forced to make is that every 20 years or so the next generation defines success and happiness differently. When the children of the 60’s abandoned the structure, stability, form and function of their parents, hearts everywhere broke. They told the people in power to chill out, sit back, inhale something organic and appreciate art, love, and anarchy. Their kids didn’t buck the man, they became the man; working harder than ever, abandoning their families to get ahead, they found success in the jet set lifestyle complete with a well-formed line of cocaine sucked off the hood of their fully financed Lambo. Their kids grew up alone as success and divorces put families into the background. As their kids began to have families, they didn’t have great examples to follow, but were certain they would ‘actually’ love their children enough to make up for the countless nights they micro-waved their dinner and watched MTV while mom and dad defined happiness somewhere other than with them. This recent generation, the millennial, has decided that all that junk their parents sacrificed their families to buy is nowhere near as valuable as actually having amazing experiences.
I’ve watched a few good trainings on this new generation as I find myself trying to motive and manage a workforce that is nothing like me. One “expert” stated that millennials are unique because they don’t want stuff and they aren’t motivated by the ability to buy more. When someone is obsessed with buying a bigger house, faster car, and better clothes they find a bigger salary and job stability essential to make their dreams come true. To the contrary, when a person is completely satisfied with their very small studio apartment, 15-year old Subaru, and thrift store inspired wardrobe, they aren’t in need of more cash. Time becomes the premium as they look for ways to be involved in their adult kickball league, Trivia and micro nights, and an upcoming trip to Belize. At first glance, I get super uncomfortable with this way of thinking. What about ten years from now? Don’t you want to start establishing a place for your kids to come home for Christmas….don’t you want kids? Did you really just pick that job because they have a Frisbee golf course on the campus?
However, as I’ve been forced to absorb all this new thought, I’m discovering something…a little bit of envy. I was raised in a culture where you pay a little more to get the gold trim package because it makes your ride look like you’ve got your own parking space. I’m watching the new generation be willing to say, “that extra gold does nothing…I want a bike rack instead.” As the boomers shut the lights off at the office, finishing that extra project they couldn’t turn down, the Millennials are sitting around a bonfire telling lies about their snowboarding trip.
I remember almost 10 years ago I met a surf bum who lived in San Diego. As we talked about our lives, his story intrigued me. He found a place by the beach, a job that paid enough to make the rent, and the rest of his life…well he spent that doing what he truly loved, surfing. I walked away with a weird mix of jealousy and criticism. He wasn’t worried one bit about what I was doing; he found happiness and balance doing what he truly loved. I fought back my covetousness by reminding myself that his retirement would be fraught with dissatisfaction…. right? What if this dude spends most of his life doing what he likes, forms great relationships with the people he cares the most about, and then eases into retirement watching the sun set over the same ocean. Without much effort I start feeling less like this guy is unmotivated and lazy and instead wonder if I should be careful about only seeing life through the materialistic lens invented by my parents generation.
So, what am I going to do with these conflicted thoughts? Well, to start with, I’m going to keep driving that car I just paid off. About three years ago my wife and I did the math and realized that we could get entirely out of debt before I hit 45. Our dream isn’t a trip to Hawaii, but a month without a single payment. And my job, well I actually really love my job. However, rather than working extremely hard so that I can fill a storage unit with things that used to be fun, I’m working really hard to change my mind about the stuff that defines a well lived life. I have an amazing wife, kids I actually enjoy and thousands of miles of road and trails I’ve yet to show my bike.