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There is nothing more heart wrenching than those parenting moments when your child is consoling you for the pain you caused by missing a special moment in his life. For 20 years, the same 20 years I married, birthed three children and took on new roles as wife and mother, I also built, nurtured and expanded my career. It seems a bit unfair that our bodies only last long enough for us to have to couple so many of life’s important moments into the same time frame. But, alas, adulthood presents us with many options, and we need to take on as many of those as we can handle or that we deem important. And sometimes, later in life, we think we may have chosen a wrong path.
Last week I wrote about some of the colleagues I am meeting in the consulting world. This week, I wanted to expand on what I am seeing in their work that reflects a bigger and more important change in the way that we choose to live our lives. While I am the epitome of a Gen X’er, I want to tip my hat to Millenials. According to the latest statistics, about 38% of Millenials freelance, compared to 32% of the remaining Traditionals, Boomers and Gen X’ers*. Many of us look at the younger generation (born 1977 to 2000) and see something much different from ourselves. Some want to call it selfish. Some say they are self-absorbed and privileged. From where I sit today, I see a very smart generation that knows that life’s greatest fulfillment comes from balance and from the ability to be involved in things that are personally meaningful.
By becoming a consultant and learning that I probably grew weary of the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. workday long before three months ago, I also am introduced to the freedom of choice, schedule and creativity that freelancing affords. I have now lived in three states where I hired virtual agencies to support me in my university jobs. Each of these consisted of young mothers and fathers with amazing talents in writing, strategy, design, photography and research. But unlike myself, they found a way to nurture families and grow careers. They earn good salaries and enjoy the work they do because they choose their projects carefully. All I met tried to live the traditional career/work lifestyle and were quickly miserable. Unlike me, they weren’t afraid to take the giant leap to consulting and the lack of security it could bring.
As a Gen X’er, I am concerned that we are the most divorced generation. We are burning out at record high rates and younger – now saying around the age of 45 that we just can’t continue the pace. As I venture out, I am hearing many of my generational colleagues say that they admire my decision to consult and to try to achieve more balance. They know they have acquired the skills to do it, but fear holds them (and until recently myself) back. My generation can be cautious, having grown up in organizational careers and steady paychecks. We have lived through recessions, housing market crashes and escalating tuition costs for our children. Dipping our toes into the independence of freelancing is a bit more daunting than for our younger colleagues.
I want to salute those Millenials who are unanchored by “expectations” of what a career needs to be. In fact, I want to acknowledge that I am learning from them. Their values, often interpreted as selfish, is actually showing promise to right size American values. Instead of being critical, through my consulting and meeting many young professionals who are very successful in their ventures, I see a real hope for the future as this new generation teaches us to relearn how to live fulfilling lives.
* Fast Company, April 1, 2015, http://www.fastcompany.com/3044478/the-future-of-work/why-millennials-understand-the-future-of-work-more-than-anyone-else