Observations by Shelly Tan

Lazy, obese, and pampered. A few choice myths bandied around about my generation (Millennials). And, of course, then there’s reality. Our latest round of CultureQ (December 2012) reveals we’re actually a pretty earnest lot. Because we’re so uncertain about our futures we’re intent on staying healthy, completing our education, doing our best and working hard towards getting a job. So based on the insights I’ve gleaned so far from our Millennial panel I thought I’d let you know some of the things that are really going through our minds.  Keep your eyes open because there are more insights to come….

1. Health and Sickness

Generation Y’s overall health is marked by obesity, with figures such as Michelle Obama decrying the health issue as a “national security threat.” However, despite this epidemic — or perhaps because of it — many participants of our CultureQ survey named personal health as an important goal of their lives. Almost 20% of both females and males aged 16-30 cited weight loss, exercise, or simply general fitness as a goal.

“My goal is to lead a healthy lifestyle, by not eating fast food or drinking soda at all.”

Gen Y, also known as the Millennial generation, has grown up in the information era. With access to comprehensive product information thanks to the Internet, Millennials have the ability to find the best services and items to promote a healthy lifestyle. Millennials’ age and life stage are also likely factors in their willingness to participate in fitness pursuits. Many of them are are high school and college students and therefore have access to team sports, free campus gyms, and an overall active lifestyle unburdened by 9-5 jobs.

“I hope to play football next year. I have no idea how football works but I want to try something new, perhaps I might get even more buff.”

On the other side of the coin, Gen Y also fears a lack of health, both personally and familially. Many fear never becoming healthy and being trapped in a lifestyle that threatens to cut short their life spans, which adds to their goals to achieve fitness. At the same time, Millennials are reaching an age where their family members may become at risk for sickness.

“I fear losing a family member, my grandfather is very sick and doctors say there is little chance of survival but he’ll be with us for a couple of months.”

This combination of health issues may possibly be what pushes Millennials to aim for healthier lifestyles. Though they cannot control the sickness of their grandfathers or grandmothers, they can take charge of their own lives. For a generation marked by a need for control, that ability to choose to be healthy is invaluable.

2. Scholastic Achievement

Millennials, having grown up with schedules, mounds of activities, and an emphasis on expecting success, often define themselves through their accomplishments. They filled their free time with clubs and sports in order to pad resumes. It therefore comes as no surprise that a large number of CultureQ participants named scholastic achievements as a prominent goal. Members listed perfect GPAs, getting into schools, scholarships, etc., as major hopes.

“I hope to become the valedictorian of my high school by studying, doing my work, and paying attention.”

Though this generation is stereotypically portrayed as pampered and lazy, many Millennials we’ve spoken not only want scholastic success, they want it to the highest degree possible. Rather than simply graduating from high school, they want to be ranked number one. Rather than simply passing classes, they want to “get all A+’s, no A’s.” And rather than simply getting into college, they have already planned to graduated within the “top 5% of law school.”

It therefore comes as no surprise that Millennials name scholastic failure as a major fear. Overwhelmingly, Millennials view success as a necessary part of their lives; the possibility of never achieving it is a horrifying thought. In this current age especially, college acceptance rates are at an all-time low. In fact, this past year, Harvard University posted a record low acceptance rate of 5.9%. As a result, being rejected from dream schools, not doing well in classes, etc., all loom in front of Generation Y. Raised with unrealistic expectations, Millennials have a difficult time reconciling the dreams their parents have instilled with them with the harsh realities of current society.

“I fear that I’ll not be able to prepare myself sufficiently for living on my own before going off to college.”

3. The Global Economy

Along the same vein as scholastic achievements, employment and financial stability are both the major goals of and the driving fear behind Millennials. Raised in an age of economic turmoil, Gen Y is highly concerned about the future of the global economy. The world seems to be falling apart. Economic problems are reflected by social conflicts (gun control and violence being a major one) The result is an overall sense of trepidation and what seems to be a growing cynicism toward the “American Dream.” Millennials, both male and female, overwhelmingly place an emphasis on finding a job and making money.

“Especially in this economy, money prevails all. Without money, there is a lot of things that you can’t do; and I am speaking from personal experience. I would work on my business constantly so I can get as much money as possible.:

Gen Y does not have the luxury to explore creative interests despite a thriving interest to learn about other cultures and to see the world. Rather, thanks to domestic issues and social conflicts abroad, creative endeavors like reading, writing, or cultural experiences are relegated to the role of hobbies or “free time” tasks in favor of concrete jobs that can give security. This is a task-oriented generation that has adjusted its expectations for a future of economic instability.

“A government position, be it federal or state, provides a small modicum of better job security. The benefits that come with government jobs are also appealing.”

Thanks to the combination of the economy and of general awareness of social events, Millennials seem to sympathize more the poor because they now see themselves reflected in the downtrodden. Events such as the Occupy movements mirror the growing discontent within Generation Y with the global economy. However, despite their desire to change society for the better, Millennials are still marked by a decided selfishness. They will not compromise to better the state of living for others. Rather, blame is placed on the government and on politicians.

“Politicians are the most ignorant, red-tape obsessed, people to walk the face of this earth.”

As a result, few Millennials seem to have a plan for achieving success in this arena. Unable to reconcile their belief in their own unique specialness and the harsh realities of the world, Millennials continue to fear financial instability and place money-making, a cold, hard way of counting success, above all.

“I worry that this country, as amazing as it is, is going to continue to acquire debt and not pay it off. This country is going to be in serious financial trouble if we don’t get it figured out.”