Live first, work second sounds like a good philosophy for life, doesn’t it? It’s also the title of a book by Rebecca Ryan that analyzes the next generation – or the Millennials. City leaders had Ryan in town this week to boost local efforts in attracting and retaining young professionals.
As a parent of two millennials (those born between 1981 and 2001) and someone who works with members of this generation, Ryan’s message intrigued me. I need to relate to them and understand what makes them tick. And to do so in the best way possible I need to be cool. According to Ryan, the coolness factor requires us to stay relevant, fresh, and limber – not PMS (Pale, Male, and Stale). Guess which group runs small town America?
Here are five Aha Moments! gleaned from the book and Ryan’s lecture:
1. Three out of four Americans under 28 say a cool city is more important than a good job.
My generation followed the job wherever the job led, without much thought to the community. And if we happened to end up in a cool place, then it was serendipitous. Today, I see evidence all around that kids are finding the place to live first and then looking for work. Last summer a friend helped her daughter and two other recent college graduates move from Athens, GA to Portland, OR. Why Portland? They didn’t have jobs there. Portland attracted them because of its beauty and what it had to offer young people. In other words, it’s a cool city.
What makes a city cool? Without going into depth, Ryan’s group identified seven indexes, which form a community’s cool hand print:
- Social Capital
- Cost of Lifestyle
- After Hours
- Around Town
2. By the time they’re 32, the next generation will have had 9 jobs.
Puts to bed my concern that my 27-year-old daughter the pharmacist changed jobs three times within a two-year time span. She’s well within the norm so far. No more working 30 years for the same company to earn the gold watch, huh? What’s more, when interviewing for her current position, she informed the hospital that she had a three-week trip to Israel in the works and would that be a problem.
“You what?!!” I wanted to screech. Luckily I refrained.
3. The Live First, Work Second ethic is a natural next step.
Successive generations are achieving greater prosperity for themselves and their children, and as parents we want that for our kids, right? We doted on this generation, and taught them to value being smart. Cooperative learning was big during their school years and as adults many prefer to problem solve and create in groups.
I plead guilty to describing this new generation as entitled. The PMS group derides them as the me-generation. But as Maslow’s chart indicates, they’ve merely reached the self-actualization stage. To self-actualize, Maslow says people have to be authentic, to be aware of their inner selves and hear their inner-feeling voices. My generation could take a page from their book.
4. There’s good; there’s bad.
Despite what the media says and despite what the Pale, Male, and Stale think, Millennials have lower rates of violence, drug use, sexual activity, and abortion than the previous two generations. They are the most socially conscious group alive. Their highest goal is to be smart and communication skills for this group as a whole are a plus. After all, conflict resolution gained momentum in the mid 80s when the first of this generation entered elementary school.
Millennials don’t want to wait until retirement to travel or drink fine wine or pursue a new hobby. They want the good things in life now, which isn’t a bad thing. But they are big spenders and they don’t save money, which is not a good thing in this age of disappearing 401Ks and stock options. And they’re stressed and anxious due in part to their over schduled, high-expectation lifestyles. This generation consumes Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, or Wellbutrin in increasingly high numbers.
5. Empty nest Baby Boomers want the same cool communities that young professionals want.
Baby boomers, with time on their hands and more money in their pockets now that the kids are out of school, are being lured to high-end loft and condo projects by savvy developers. Retirees are the fastest-growing segment of our population and guess what appeals to them? It’s not a rocker on the front porch or a view of the golf course. It’s vibrant downtowns, thriving bars and restaurants not of the chain variety, population density, farmer’s markets, cities friendly to bikers and joggers, and multiple means to plug into learning.
Live First, Work Second is short but filled with wisdom. Charts and tables exist alongside entertaining case studies. This subject should be boring but Ryan’s presentation of the data is engaging and so filled with insight that you’ll say, “Aha!” over and over again. I like her even more because she has the uncanny ability to sneak in the unexpected. I laughed out loud more than once. Here’s an example as she explains her reasons for studying the next generation:
“We do it because we need the next generation to work in our companies, buy our products, participate in our government, live in our cities and patronize the causes we care about. We need Next Gens to bring us booze and cigarettes when we’re in the old folks’ home.”