Observations by Lance Pauker

“What truly has value is what’s differentiated. And sadly these days, just having a college degree doesn’t exactly differentiate you.”

The quote above, extracted from our CultureQ study, offers an interesting take on achievement. Achievement defined by the “get good grades so you can go to a great college so you can get the job of your dreams” narrative that has often dominated contemporary ideas success. While there certainly are many positive results from living in a society that values merit-based, track-oriented accomplishments, it’s safe to say sunny days are not always the norm.

Much of our research with Millennials has demonstrated that, even despite the current economic climate, Gen Y has an optimistic outlook on its long-term future, especially older Gen Yers. That, when all the dust clears, they will have accomplished what they set out to conquer.

In other words, we think we can do anything. We have the idea that our individual merits, or lack-thereof, are worthy enough to carry us through whatever obstacles come our way. Many Gen Xers, Boomers and even those from the post WWI generation interpret this as an unfounded sense of entitlement, or sometimes even narcissism.

I believe, however, that it may actually be something else that defines this; something much deeper, more nefarious, and pretty darn eye-opening.

We think we can accomplish our goals in the long term, but with the current economic crisis, we’ve seen a lot of our siblings, friends, classmates, etc. fall quite short of their grand life schemas. In other words, by and large, we are a generation unfulfilled. And, with a psychological preponderance towards an “I can do anything” attitude, this lack of fulfillment may be quite dangerous.

For a Millennial who has spent his or her entire adolescence meticulously polishing every last character and corner of their resume, ambition has always been on auto-lock. Leisure, therefore, is often not for leisure’s sake. Millennials don’t have fun, they achieve fun. Fun simply isn’t that productive, so there’s really no use wasting our time on it. Unless, of course, it gives us an opportunity to stand out. To put a real game-changer on the bottom of that resume.

Take music, for example. I think it’s safe to say that for many, playing music is a leisure activity. I know and have spoken to a lot of people who make music to express themselves - their petty sentiments and sometimes even their intellectual or political views. Music can be a series impromptu of jam sessions in a garage or a late night playing the piano, pounding the keys incessantly to channel the rage of an extremely harsh breakup. (Ok, maybe that’s a bit much.) All in all though, it’s just a bunch of you expressing you. Sure it could turn into a song on YouTube, an album or even a career, but, sometimes, music is simply noise for the sake of making noise.

We GenYers, however, have tremendous trouble with the concept. Having run the resume marathon all our lives, we don’t always have time or even the incling to take a step back and jam in the garage. It’s a step back, after all. And, from what I’ve seen in our research and heard through my CultureQ conversations, we’re just not too interested in doing that.