The American Dream is being redefined right in front us. Not by the media. Not by schools. And certainly not by the financial institutions seeking to maintain the status quo. Marketers give them names like GenY or Millennials, but make no mistake, the American Dream is being redefined by the young people who have inherited an obsolete idea. This is the generation weaned on digital and their dreams have no physical borders. The new American Dream is largely global and fluid. The need to own a home will be replaced by the desire to live abroad – multiple times. The need to lay down roots will be replaced by the need to remain mobile. This impacts everything from transportation, to dwellings, to the pursuit of higher education.
Personal experiences are the new assets. Individuality is the new wealth.
Working on (or as my UK friends may charmingly say ‘looking after’) a number of brands that serve the younger generations of Americans, more often than not, you are presented rather alarming data about kids of the future. Things like: The kids being born today will be the first generation of kids that do not have it as good as their parents. Or: The recession is forcing entire graduating college classes to sit out of employment, and be passed up by younger grads once the economy turns around. A lost class if of you will.
Photo of Taj Reid, of WeJetSet.
As dismal as it may seem, I also think that as a society and marketers, we are looking at these kids through the lense of the now antiquated American Dream. People are resilient. If the passion is there, or a drop of ambition, I am confident that these kids will redefine the American Dream – make it a global one, relevant – and make it work for them.
I have had the very fortunate situation, in my opinion, to have had a taste of the old American Dream, and now what may be a new one. I went to school. Got a job. Bought a house. Dogs. Marriage. And it really did not even suck. It was all I knew. Most of my friends are living that very dream right now. Many probably assume that some day they’ll sell their house at a great profit, or better yet, simply strike it rich. Either by the hands of some benevolent corporation, or by the equally likely winged horse that will fly from the sky to deliver them that big pay day. Somewhere along the way, probably as a Texan living in New York during a time our country divided down the middle politically and rationally, I realized it was time to adjust the mirrors and clean the windshield. I have found myself in this somewhat migratory/nomadic lifestyle that I personally find pretty goddamn amazing. I am not rich. I don’t even own a car. But I am free in every imaginable way – a feeling I don’t ever recall as an adult. A blank canvas. A GPS waiting for an address.
There is a statistic that measures the number of kids that have moved back in with their parents in their late 20’s. The number is high. People who read the stat sit back in their conference room chair and chuckle at the prospects. I actually think of that scenario – the act of moving back with you parents – as the ultimate gesture or better yet, middle finger to the old American Dream. It is not a bad a thing… those 20-somethings will emerge poised to take on the world from a new perspective. The biggest mistake they could make would be trying to jump back into the old rat race. It is the ultimate opportunity to rethink your place in the world. Read books. Dream big. Volunteer. Start over. It is a beautiful thing. People that move home now will be the pioneers of the new dream. Embrace it. Marketers should not write these people off, but instead seek to understand the great potential of these individuals. They are the ones starting revolutions in food. Social entrepreneurs. They are highly educated with nothing to lose – a powerful dynamic that I don’t recall in my lifetime.
When I wrote the quoted text above for a project I was working on, it was rooted in the observations of the young people I meet, or their blogs that I read. Perhaps not their actions, but certainly their aspirations. I am beyond confident they will figure it out. I hope they let an old man in on what they have cookin’.