What Gen-Y (Really) Wants
I’ve noticed something different about Gen Y. We’re really ambitious, and we need our work to be meaningful. Something about slaving away, just for the money, doesn’t feel right to us. We’ll absolutely crush it when we are doing things that matter, but you can count on us to start looking for other opportunities if things get too routine.
I see this trait in my friends as they’re deciding what to do after they graduate from college. Everyone talks about how important their work is going to be. No one talks about their pension plans. I wouldn’t hesitate to take a pay-cut to work a more meaningful job, and I think most of my friends would do the same. We just want to make enough money to live simply and comfortably. Everything after that is nice, but it’s less important than doing work we care about.
The distinctive quality of importance is that it’s so intangible and relative. We don’t know exactly where to look to find it. There’s no map that lays it all out for us.
When we buy into that narrative of chasing success, we’re telling ourselves that we have to go other places to do work that matters. Worse, it tells us that we as individuals lack significance.
Understandably, many of us set our sights on exotic locations like D.C., or Silicon Valley, or Chicago. It’s practically an American tradition by now: bright-eyed Midwesterner goes off to the big city to chase his or her dreams. If you go into it with the right attitude and understanding, then it can be really rewarding.
There is, however, a problem with the way some people think about it. When we buy into that narrative of chasing success, we’re telling ourselves that we have to go other places to do work that matters. Worse, it tells us that we as individuals lack significance. We can only become important if we go to the places where important things are happening. Once we get there, we’ll meet big people and they’ll show us the ropes, and one day, if we’re lucky, we’ll become big people too. We can’t create any importance from scratch. We have to go elsewhere to claim a share of some pre-existing importance.
I beg to differ. We can make our own importance. We don’t have to ask permission. We don’t have to wait.
That’s what the “talent retention” enthusiasts don’t get. We don’t want to be retained. We don’t want to be tricked into staying in Michigan or distracted by a cool downtown area just to work some job we’re not really into. They’re trying to make Michigan cities into cheap replicas of other “important” places. Sure, there has to be a certain level of support, but we want to build things. We want to be founders. We don’t want our hands held, and we don’t want you to make plans for us.
We just want to do meaningful work. We want to be remembered for doing big things and making the world better. That’s what we really want.
Nathan Bashaw (@nbashaw on Twitter) is a junior at MSU majoring in Political Theory & Constitutional Democracy. He is working on a start-up idea having to do with the future of books, and blogs about it at nathanbashaw.com. He is also a policy researcher for the Rick Snyder for Michigan Governor 2010 campaign, and works as an international business consultant for the Michigan Export Growth Program.
- The Great Job Myth (December 22, 2009)
- A Convergence of Higher Education and Quality of Life (May 17, 2010)
- Editors and Image Makers: On Photographing Detroit, part 1 (November 12, 2009)
- You Come and Go, Michigan Stays With You (November 10, 2009)
- Lansing’s Entrepreneurial Revival (February 26, 2010)