I grew up benefiting from lessons learned by the Greatest Generation, watching Baby Boomers
build, and as a Gen Xer, making my own path. Every generation suffers stereotypes and creates
its own collection of new ideas, perspectives and hardships to overcome.
One thing every generation seems to have in common is collectively thinking that everyone in
the NEXT generation is half-crazy and that their ideas will never work.
Millennials get lots of jabs. People call them lazy, uncommunicative and slow to join the “real
world.” Older workers claim these young creatives are impossible to work with because they
are married to their technology, and then rant because their parents seem to let them live at
home in their basements for years on end.
Jokes aside, I promise this is not another article bashing millennials. In fact, it is the complete
opposite. Recently, millennials I work with have encouraged me with their knowledge and
insight relating to investments, saving habits, financial decisions, and their focus and
commitment to the future. I hope to share this sense of inspiration!
What is all this talk about different generations and, in particular, Millennials?
With people living and working longer, we have more distinct generations in the workplace
than at any time in previous history. First, a quick table showing currently defined generations.
(Everyone seems to define this a little differently, so this is my combination)
• Greatest Generation or Traditionalists—Born before 1945
• Baby Boomers—Born 1946 to 1964
• Generation X—Born 1965 to 1979
• Millennials (sometimes known as Gen Y)—early 1980’s to early 2000’s
• Those born since early 2000’s do not have a definitively named designation yet have
been called Gen Z, iGen or Centennials
Not surprisingly, no two groups give exactly the same timeline defining the boundaries of this
generation. The generally accepted range of birth years for the Millennials is between the early
1980s through the early 2000‘s.
Why are they so different from us? (and who is “us” anyway?)
Through my work, I cross paths with clients and friends from all generations. Recently, what I
have seen firsthand with Millennials does not necessarily match up with what pop culture says
or with media rants about the loosely structured, directionless, and selfish generation.
You may be saying to yourself, “Of course a financial advisor would meet the overachieving
members of this generation.”
Well, I will give you that, and also suggest that every generation runs the full spectrum.
Whether Baby Boomer, Gen Xer, and even the most recent Unnamed Group, some members of
any group will be more driven toward achieving goals and building wealth and some will not.
We all know people of all ages from both categories.
What makes Millennials tick? How can I understand their thought process?
You might ask, “Why are they so different?” What fuels their different behaviors, ideals and the
way they view the world? Because every generation is at least loosely defined by what was
happening the world as they grew up, let’s take a look back.
This generation was in school, growing through their formative years during the “lost decade”
that included the 2008 financial and economic collapse (see NOTE) and the repercussions that
followed. Many watched family and neighbors struggle to keep their jobs and maintain financial
stability. While those who grew up in Oklahoma may not have seen this up close, everyone
watched it happen in the United States and it colored their perspectives on what stability
looked and felt like.
Guess what? Growing up during one of our nation’s worst financial periods made a permanent
impact on this generation. So, if these young adults seem aloof, skeptical or opinionated, it is
not hard to understand why they might have those feelings when they are put into context of
(NOTE: Some Millennial clients I work with are not from Oklahoma and they tell a drastically
different story from Millennials who spent their school years in this part of the country, which
in many ways took a lesser hit than non-oil/agricultural states.)
Below, a few common grumblings I hear about Millennials and my responses.
They aren’t buying houses and will rent for the rest of their life.
Probably not forever…
But why do they feel this way? Some Millennials watched their parents lose the family home
during the financial crisis and even if they didn’t lose the home, the fact it wouldn’t sell
prevented many families from having the flexibility to move to make a new start. Member of
this generation may equate homeownership and the debt of acquiring a home as an obstacle to
maintaining flexibility in an ever-changing world, rather than the way previous generations
perceived buying a home to settle down and establish a home base.
They hate capitalism and big business.
Some do… But again, why?
Millennials watched parts of the world crater during the financial collapse and do not have a
bigger picture yet to understand that life is long. Many of them saw their parents downsized,
pensions eliminated etc. and they witnessed one of the ugliest times in recent history, filled
with greed, corruption, excess and the near-failure of our economy and markets.
Is it any wonder they may lack loyalty and admiration for big business? Is it a surprise they
scorn the ugly side of greed and capitalism? Millennials often do not despise profit and
companies; but rather they value relationships, transparency, and loyalty. The appreciate doing
business with someone they know, and with an entity that acts conscientiously. This can be
celebrated and makes me, for one, appreciate their views.
Millennials are lazy.
Some are… Some aren’t… no different than any other generation before them or after them.
Rather than being lazy, Millennials I work with appear dedicated and successful when working
for purpose. Millennials take the time to discover who they are and what they want before
putting down roots and making longer term investments.
And, yes, sometimes to a fault, at least from some observers’ perspectives. I, for one, envy their
intentionality (when that is indeed what it is). How much more productive could our country
be two decades from now if this generation is thriving in their professions rather than punching
clocks at positions they resent because “that is how it has always been done”?
Finally, when will these young people grow up?
What does “grow up” mean anyway? Maybe a better question is how can this generation
contribute to make our world better?
The world in which they grew up, and quite frankly, the
world they will be living in, is much different than even 50 years ago.
Technology changes weekly, college tuition has skyrocketed, medical technology means we can
replace things that wear out that we never dreamed we could replace… This generation, the
mission-driven Millennials, will be the group driving much of this change. They, and their
inventions, will be caring for us as we age.
We take note of their sometimes-poor communication, we lament the days of early home
ownership and more savings, but we have much to gain from their creativity and intentionality.
Let’s work to ignore the Millennial bashing, give them a chance, cheer them on and even learn
from their perspectives. They will find their way like all other generations and may surprise us
as they grow into successful leaders, loving parents and productive fellow citizens.