I promise this blog is not another stinging critique of Joel Stein's recent Time magazine article decrying the millennial generation (again). In fact, this article expands rather than constricts the dialogue and brings every generation into the picture.
First and foremost, I am a millennial. Despite my peers claiming themselves as '80s babies, I won't lie to you -- my earliest memories situate me firmly in the 1990s. My mental map begins with Bill Clinton, wanders through Nick at Night, and ultimately lands me with a post-college career that began in the mid-2000s.
That said, as a millennial, I'd like to start with a thank you to Joel Stein and to his generation and to my parent's generation and to my grandparent's generation. In fact, I'll extend my gratitude to all the generations that came before us and to all of the authors of the parenting books of the late 1980s and 1990s. Thank you for instilling in us a sense of inherent self-worth and purpose. Because of your willingness to love us differently, you did something radical and created a generation of individuals who are not merely dreamers. We are doers, and in many ways, you have allowed us to become pioneers, and therefore it is inevitable that we are misunderstood.
In many of the recent articles on millennials, there is a critical narrative that has emerged and has lead to what I believe is the beginning of a cultural zeitgeist, and that narrative is about purpose.
While it's true that the recession has lead many of my peers to experience a "delayed adulthood" during which we seem to not be accomplishing many of the storybook tenants of the American dream, we are making more gains than any previous generation on a much more critical underpinning of the American dream.
We've been raised and encouraged (both explicitly and tacitly) to ask for something more from our lives and all of it's components. As fewer people are aligned with a specific religious affiliation, we see the search for purpose evolving in new directions.
And leading that charge are millennials, who are seeking purpose and attempting to redefine success, as Arianna Huffington recently suggested, by aligning their passions with their day-to-day existence.
I've seen the theme emerging not only in dinner parties and late night storytelling sessions with friends, but in various sectors beginning with the vast world of social entrepreneurship. Take, for example, the work of Echoing Green's Work on Purpose program. Echoing Green's program provides a variety of opportunities for people of diverse generations coming from a multitude of sectors to engage in the reflection necessary to clarify their purpose and then translate it into a career with impact.
At a time when our society is in total tilt, the emergence of a paradigm shift centered around joyfulness is a phenomenon that we should be paying serious attention to. This isn't just a hippie ideology reincarnated in millennial "entitlement." Joy is an economic force that makes sense. Innovative companies are expanding their definition of profit and are making tangible investments and partnering with groups such as the Kantian Advisors, a consulting firm established by millennial co-founders Alexandra Douwes and Nellie Morris to help integrate purpose in their work because all signs suggest that purpose is the future.
A brighter future is something that we all are hoping for. Studies show that there is a correlation between purpose, well-being, and happiness, and I would venture to say that that we haven't yet maximized our potential as a society, in large part due to the lack of meaning (and subsequent engagement) in many of our lives. This isn't simply an assumption: According to a 2011 Gallup Poll, Americans had reached all-time happiness low. But I think we millennials are on to something.
Purpose is not a millennial desire. It is a human need. And rather than ask "who will save us all," maybe there's an opportunity for us all to save ourselves and make a life of purpose, meaning and fulfillment the new status quo.
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