To My Fellow Millenials: Can we Really Follow in our Parents’ Footsteps?

“The boomer mentality goes like this: get a good education. Get a well-paying full-time job. Find a stable partner. Buy a house and a car. Preferably, have a child. Failing any stage of this process is a reflection of your self-worth and indicates a lack of moral fibre.” – Eleanor Robertson (The Guardian)

I think all of us (speaking to my fellow Millennials) hold the expectation to have the life our parents did.

We barely even question it, it’s just assumed: we grew up watching as they enjoyed for the most part good steady jobs, a detached house, a few cars; summer vacations to California and winter vacations to the ski hill. My parents didn’t have a lake cabin but fortunately I was able to tag along with friends whose parents owned that luxury.

Expecting this for our lives is based on the assumption that this brief history will repeat itself. But we’re in deep uncharted territory; the world has never changed this rapidly before, ever. Globalization, exponential population growth, climate change, mass urbanization. We’re operating on fantastically new ways of thinking, learning, working, connecting and getting around; and yet we still seek to emulate our parents’ lives to a large extent.

The Power of Nostalgia

The power of nostalgia is incredibly strong. It’s easy to conjure a scene of dad working on the old Corvette in the driveway, while you chase the ice cream truck down the street on a lazy summer day, and mom is in the backyard pulling weeds.  ‘I want that!’ we collectively demand.

But then you blink a few times and your eyes focus back on the condo listing that’s in your price range. Or the small house with a Walkscore of 0, next to the busy arterial. The summer weekend lake cabin? Fahgetaboutit. So the result is obvious: we feel a sense of frustration and maybe even failure.

“With regional variations, millennials have absorbed our parents’ world view. We consider these expectations reasonable, and we blame ourselves for not living up to them.” – Eleanor Robertson (The Guardian)

The allure of nostalgia explains the effectiveness of slogans such as “Make America Great Again” that trigger those fond images of the past. Our brains tend to hold on tighter to positive memories, and those will always look ideal next to the unknown reality and uncertainty of the future.

But to that I say 1) the good ol’ days actually kinda sucked, and 2) the world is not the same place, and it never will be… sorry.

So this is your e-slap in the face. Instead of pining for the past, it’s time for us to buck up and accept that our lives will be different.

But of course that doesn’t mean for the worse! The baby boomer age represents unprecedented consumption, doubling and tripling in house size, and the gobbling up of massive tracts of land and causing insane amounts of pollution. And the result? Turns out we weren’t really any happier for it.

Home Ownership and Stuff

Just look at the typical family home. These large single family houses were built for car ownership and storage of stuff like books, CD’s, tools and sports equipment. But why would I need that sort of space when all those things can be stored or acquired using my smartphone?

Why own a huge mass of metal and wheels when I have transit, bikes, car share and Uber?

Why own tools that I have to maintain and store when I have access to community tool libraries and workshops?

And who the hell still has CD’s?? I quite literally have access to the entire history of music, literature, science, and the internet from something that fits in my pocket.

There is a growing misalignment with the supply of space and what we are demanding. Here in Vancouver, developers are still pedaling ‘luxury condo towers,’ these fancy-pancy high end glass boxes targeted at the busy, cash a-plenty lawyer or broker. But here condos are the new family housing- Andrea and I just applied for a small 3-bedroom condo that we intend to fully raise a family in.

Vancouver is obviously an extreme case of non-affordability, but I think it’s the canary in the coal mine. Truckloads of people are moving to cities and so what we expect from family housing really has to change.

Jobs and Careers

Seth Godin says that the most successful form of business today is selling connection and information; not widgets and products. Just look at the biggest companies today: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb… these companies are collectively worth hundreds of billions of dollars and yet there’s no item they sell that can sit on a shelf.

Seth continues to suggest that we need to create art rather than create products on an assembly line:

“Creating ideas that spread and connecting the disconnected are the two pillars of our new society, and both of them require the posture of an artist” – Seth Godin

The other amazing opportunity is the decentralization of self-promotion and business creation. It used to be that you had to work hard and then wait until a record label, book publisher, financial backer or manufacturing company ‘picked’ you.

But now to become a singer or kick-start your e-bike company or distribute your eco jewelry line, the only limit is your own initiative. Sites like Youtube, Etsy, Kickstarter, and WordPress blogs have handed us the tools to become a successful artist or entrepreneur.

“Our cultural instinct is to wait to get picked…No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.” – Seth Godin

Our Shifting Dreams and Aspirations

While our core expectations and desires from life are the same (self-worth, happiness, friends and family, security), we’re looking for it in different places than our parents. For instance, security came for them in the physical form of home ownership. But 25-year mortgage only made sense when people stayed in one place and worked a steady job.

Our generation has a collectively different mindset: “I want to go live in an ashram in India,” “I want to travel in a van for a year,” “I only want to work as much as I need to,” “I want to start a dog clothing online store,” “Maybe I don’t want kids, just lots of cats.”

The option for flexibility is more highly coveted compared to a grass lawn backyard and ample basement storage space.

Obviously these are generalizations, many of my friends have successfully followed our parents’ lifestyle for the most part. It’s a completely admirable endeavor; but it’s important to understand that overall how we live and work will (and already is) fundamentally changing.

And if we go along willingly in to the great unknown, the future holds absolutely incredible possibilities.

1 comment

    Speaking as someone who has very closely followed the path of education, homeownership, and kids (minus a year of Dean’s vacation) I can FULLY attest to the pressure that exists to buy the “forever” home. The home with multiple bedrooms, detached, parking for 2 cars, and space for an RV. It’s there and it’s real, and it is definite struggle to resist the 25-year, 400k+ mortgage.

    Central Alberta isn’t in the same spot as Vancouver, in that you CAN get the same things your parents did. But the difference, as you mention, is do you want that? Of have to just been socialized to want it? Lots to think about in this blogpost.

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