How do Millennials define success? What kind of consumers does this make them? I’ll start my answer by describing a trend. There is a word that has recently become popular among 20-somethings, and I think using it correctly is actually counteractive to what they want to say. The word is “adulting”. When a young person accomplishes something that is considered the task of an adult versus a parent-dependent child or teen, they proudly claim that they are “adulting”. When it comes to making meals, doing laundry or paying for car repairs (I did that today #adulting), they may exclaim, “Adulting is hard!” Granted, becoming independent is difficult, but it seems backwards to brag about it using slang that smacks of illiteracy. When discussing the behavior of the Millennial generation, it would be unfair of me to imply that its oldest members are proud of themselves for “adulting”. However, the trend itself is very characteristic of the generation as a whole. Success is at once about enjoying the little things and making an impact on the whole.
According to Scott Steinberg at Parade Magazine, most Millennials exhibit 4 distinct characteristics. Comparing them to myself, I came to the conclusion that although one of the youngest, I am a true Millennial.
1. Compared to previous generations, Millennials reach milestones of adulthood (marriage, parenthood, homeownership, etc.) much slower. I am turning 21 tomorrow. I am finally going to be considered an adult in the eyes of a bar tender. I have always felt very firmly that I wanted to be old enough to drink the champagne at my own wedding, so as of tomorrow morning, I am free to get married. But, I think I want to wait on that until I am at least 25. One semester of classes stands between me and a bachelor’s degree in Communication, but in the Fall I am going right back to school for my masters. I will most likely just be getting married and beginning a full time career at the age my parents were when I (their second child) was almost 2. I don’t consider myself to be less successful for taking my time. I feel that easing into marriage and a career will ensure that I really am entering an area in which I can excel.
2. Millennials want more than money. I do not have to think twice about this one, it is definitely true for me and many of my peers. Success to a Millennial does not mean making the most money or being in charge of the most people. Success means job satisfaction. I care much more about loving what I do than how much money I make doing it. I think that most people feel the same way, but perhaps I am making that assumption because of my generational bias. Consequently, when it is feasible, I prefer to spend money on products and services that are offered by an organization that I want to support. At this point in my life, spending more to support a cause is sometimes more of an ideal than a reality. Financial realities aside, that cause-driven spirit is something that I think is characteristic of the Millennial generation.
3. Millennials are free thinkers. College-age individuals in every generation are expected to be more progressive and more liberal-minded than any other age group. In this case, however, liberal does not equal free thinking. Millennials are free thinkers in that 50% of them identify themselves as politically independent, and 3 in 10 are not religiously affiliated. I made sure to register to vote the day I turned 18, but I chose not to label myself as either Democrat or Republican. However, I am religiously affiliated, and here is where I see myself as different from my generational peers. Because Millennials will not let themselves be one of many, they allow what they consider to be critical thinking get in the way of taking advice from people with experience. I think that being a member of organized religion has made me less susceptible to that kind of hubris, but I still often struggle to remember that tradition doesn’t always need to be bucked.
4. Millennials are falling behind. Unfortunately, I can attest to this, and so can many studies done in the last 20 years. Even those with a college degree are still behind their global peers when it comes to math, literacy, and problem solving. In my collegiate level courses in communication, I have been astounded at how many of my peers lack the interest and ability to write. We have been told over and over again how important it is to be able to string a sentence together, but somehow, many Millennials are going to college without that skill. The same goes for mathematics. I have an interest in written and verbal communication but my math skills are abysmal. I would imagine that someone my age who excels in that area would bemoan me and my peers’ deficiencies as well. Moving on to problem solving, I think that it is the most dangerous area to fall behind in. Not being able to problem solve independently is a serious detriment to an individual’s chances of securing a job after college. It also produces a need to take the fast and easy route, which makes Millennials much more susceptible to being ripped off if they are not required to read the fine print.
Like any generation, Millennials have their fair share of strengths and deficiencies. As they begin to dominate the work force, their traits and habits will shape society into a reflection of themselves. This happens over and over as time marches on, but knowing what makes a group of people tick is key to influencing them and living with them. I hope that this article has given you a little insight into the average Millennial consumer and what success means to him or, in this case, her. I cannot speak for all of us, but speaking for myself, I can say that consumerism and success are about making a positive impact on the world while taking time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
Written By Emma Kinney
Emma Kinney is and intern at Sproute Creative and student at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. She will be completing her undergraduate degree in Communication and Business in December of 2016. She expects to leave with a B.A. in Communication. She plans on starting her Master's Degree in the spring of 2017 with a focus Professional Communication.