Often-Criticized Generation Is Remaking the American Dream

Personal Finance
millennials american dream

By Jeremy Office

Learn more about Jeremy on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

Millennials are narcissistic. They are the “me-me-me” generation. Their helicopter parents hovered over them and turned them into helpless and entitled children, giving them generic awards for sports and activities based on participation, not excellence.

This sense of entitlement has stayed well into adulthood for this generation, now in their 20s and 30s. These Peter Pans never want to grow up and get real jobs, so they sleep on basement couches in their parents’ homes.

This pampered generation is our future.

Wow – what a depressing, common depiction. Only it’s not true.

Millennials are probably one of the most misunderstood generations to date, and for every lazy stereotype, a host of admirable qualities doesn’t get nearly the same attention.

This generation is tech-savvy — technology is nearly part of their DNA. Yes, they can multitask, in ways that drive baby boomers crazy. Millennials talk, text, listen and type when they are walking to the subway. Millennials also are smart, resourceful, highly educated and well-traveled.

And be prepared to understand this generation, because by 2030 they will outnumber baby boomers by 22 million.

Why is there such a chasm between the image of millennials as a coddled, overly sensitive generation and the reality of a capable, intelligent and adaptable one?

One reason is that the American Dream has changed. For baby boomers, the trajectory was go to college, get a job, work, work, work, climb the corporate ladder and then retire. So that is what they expected of millennials.

But the boomers have to understand that the millennials were one of the groups hit hardest during the Great Recession. They had a hard time finding jobs out of college and saw friends get laid off. They saw family members who had worked at companies for years get laid off and have their pensions eradicated. So much for company loyalty! Millennials were a part of perhaps the greatest real-estate bubble in this century as well.

As a result, millennials have different expectations. This generation was welcomed to the “real world” by unemployment or underemployment, which isn’t a great return on investment for the time and money they spent in college.

So what is a millennial to do? Sixty percent of millennials are turning their backs on a traditional career path and instead consider themselves to be entrepreneurs. They have the ideas (driven by the desire to do something meaningful), the capital (thanks to hard work and supportive parents) and an understanding of marketing and business plans.

Of those who landed a job in corporate America, 71% would prefer to quit and work for themselves, and of that 71%, 60% said they will likely do so within two years!

I am excited about the millennial generation. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in them. They will be a force for change in many aspects of our everyday life. They grew up with all sorts of technological innovations, so they will continue to push us along the innovation curve. More than 60% of millennials believe the government is not helping startups and small businesses, so we will see a push for change there.

Only time will tell how this entrepreneurial generation will evolve. But one thing is for sure: The way we think about entrepreneurship will change and become more mainstream. This generation of doers will roll up its sleeves to make this world a better place. Collaborative and passionate, millennials are only just beginning to reshape the American Dream.


Image via iStock.