Rosie the Riveter Wanna-Be’s: Why Gen Y is the True Reincarnation of the Greatest Generation

My last post referenced a comment from senior vice president of the global advertising agency jwt, Marian Salzman from 2007. She said to the Christian Science Monitor, “Gen Y is the most difficult workforce I’ve ever encountered, because part of them are greatest-generation great and the other part are so self-indulgent as to be genuinely offensive to know, let alone supervise.”

Dwelling on the greatest generation ,and how Gen Y is similar, I made a pitstop at Wikipedia:

Rosie defined a generation of women.

Rosie defined a generation of women.

def. Greatest Generation: The generation of Americans[1] who grew up during the deprivation of the Great Depression, and then went on to fight in World War II, as well as those whose productivity within the war’s home front made a decisive material contribution to the war effort. Some of those who survived the war then went on to build and rebuild United States industries in the years following the war.

Exemplary members include: JD Salinger, Walter Cronkite, and Joe DiMaggio. Key values are duty, honor, courage, spiritual strength, love of family, love of country, and responsibility for one’s self[1].

I can argue those seven commonalities in an instant. I can’t explain why only some of Gen Y are great, but the translation from those born in 1924 and 1984 become more plausible when you consider the kind of parallel war-torn worldview and economic turmoil impacted both Gen Y and the Greatest Generation.

  1. duty: Gen Y had career parents. We grew up on the success bandwagon, and we know what was expected. Work hard, play harder, win. We don’t question the ultimate American duty to be individuals and pursue our own definition of happiness.
  2. honor: The “trophy generation” doesn’t really have an issue being proud of our accomplishments. But honor is a little more than that. Our grandparents are WWII or Korea vets, parents are Vietnam vets and friends are in Iraq right now. American patriotism is still alive and well in Gen Y. But, we were raised on stories of corporate corruption, limitless credit cards and sex scandal in the White House. More contemporarily, we wince as as Hollywood starlets around our age flash their body parts, their drug use and their blatant materialism. While the lines of traditional morality may be gray, dignity and desire to do what’s right are defining characteristics of Gen Y.
  3. courage: After the disaffected latchkey Gen X kids and the protesting Boomer generation, a tipping point was reached and rebellion isn’t as necessary for Gen Y. We have another kind of courage not bound in rebellion, but in acceptance and honestly: To live our lives in the spotlight in a way no generation has before. To be upfront about our sexual orientation, physical appearance, culture, religion, heritage and goals. Lambasted for vocally declaring and asking for what we want, clarity of vision and mission demonstrates the honest courage of Gen Y.
  4. spiritual strength: In an era of the mega church, religious war and thousands of faith-based organizations, Gen Y has spiritual strength, but in a way not bound by traditional religion. A Pew study said, “Conversely, young adults ages 18-29 are much more likely than those age 70 and older to say that they are not affiliated with any particular religion (25% vs. 8%).” Spirituality is on an uptick, though strict boundaries of religion may be rejected by Gen Y, who are influenced by the violence between Muslim and Christian world and Catholic priest scandals during our formative years. “Attendance at religious services decreased dramatically for most students between their freshman and junior years, the students’ overall level of spirituality, as defined by the researchers, increases,” said a report on a UCLA study of college students’ religious practice.
  5. love of family: Gen Y guru Penelope Trunk said it best: “Over 65% of college grads move back in with their parents, and they are not particularly unhappy about it because they have a great relationship with their parents… They are used to their parents’ friends helping them, their coaches and tutors, and every time there’s a problem, a parent talks with an adult involved and fixes it. So Gen Y loves authority—it has always been good for them.” Gen Y has seen Gen X hurt by lack of parental affection and attention. We value family time and connection beyond even career growth. It’s not unlikely for a Gen Y-er to regard a parent as a best friend, confidante and mentor. (Read Trunk’s piece in Business Week – every word is gold.)
  6. love of country: Whole new flocks of soldiers, civil servants, volunteers and activists have impacted the military, the Obama presidential campaign, AIDS research and urban development. Gen Y is proud of who we are, our national heritage and the rights we have as Americans. As one of the most worldly generations, through travel either in person or online, we have an expanded worldview and cultural awareness that taught appreciation for the privileges of living in a free and affluent society.
  7. responsibility for one’s self: Gen Y knows corporate America won’t take care of us. We know we’ll be taking care of aging parents while simultaneously raising our own families. We can’t count on mass media to serve news and information, but we are experts in seeking out and filtering information. Social Security sure won’t be around when Gen Y retires, and we’ll be lucky if the stock market shakes out in time to make it worth it to invest in a 401k. Ambitious and independent, Gen Y will find its own formula for success.

Very few will argue against the idea that the entire world is in a period of dramatic and revolutionary change. The Internet has brought the idea of transparency and dialog to a new fever pitch. We’ve reached a tipping point economically, nationally, politically and spiritually.

The Greatest Generation knew what it was to sacrifice. Gen Y will have to face new sacrifices in the form of debt, difficult reform and violence to fix the issues created by those before us. Greatest Gen members were builders, titans, economists and thinkers. Now, the next generation’s mission will be to turn the status quo heyday years of the past three decades by confronting change with the same qualities that served the Greatest Gen so well. Gen Y will lead the world into a modern, rational and open world society. That’s the new definition of Great.

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