(Older) Millennials Will Change the World
Going into trading on Wall Street right in the midst of the ’08 Crash, I was like the last passenger clamoring to board the titanic. Wall Street was the Millennial’s gold rush. I remember what my goal used to be back then — make as much money in as short of a time as possible. I clawed and scratched my way to earn a front row seat to what turned out to be the systematic gutting of the entire industry. Wall Street was the de-facto starting place for guys like me with so much misplaced ambition. I wanted to do something great — I just didn't know what it was.
The initial startup zeitgeist three years ago swept me up completely. Passion over Employment. Customization over Assembly line. Innovation over Economics. The whole thing was brilliant.
The startup culture redefined what ambition meant to me. It reminded me of that Oscar Wilde quote:
“People chase their entire lives the image that first entertained their soul”
At the core of Startup culture was the notion of living life to leave a legacy. Through it, your work would become your higher power. With life and work aligned, one could find purpose. In short, Startup culture was the Millennial answer to the question “What is the meaning of life?”
I remember going to my first Startup Pitch event and seeing an array of genuine oddballs. But talk to any one of them and you were drawn to their frenzied confidence — they weren't pitching anything, they were just talking about the cool thing that they wanted to build. More importantly, they were talking about the thing that gave them purpose. I badly wanted to be one of these people.
Then, something happened. At the most recent pitch event, the vibe was completely different. It had been taken over by the new Millennials. They reminded me of myself when I first got started on Wall Street — not sure why I was there, just that someone had told me that it was the place to be. Clamors of “disruption” and “passion” are thrown around carelessly like mantra. I saw a lot of doey eyes, the same eyes that I had when I first started trading on Wall Street — rudderless, pedestrian, and high on FOMO.
Honestly, I didn’t even know that I was a Millennial until last month when I actually looked it up: Apparently, if you’re born from 1980 to 2000, you’re in. I don’t feel comfortable being grouped in with people who don’t remember payphones. I feel the need to speak for my generation here and say that there’s a clear demarcation between the Older Millennials and the Young Millennials.
In my very self-serving opinion, I think the world is paved for Older Millennials.
In fact, to my fellow 27–35 year olds, I want to talk directly to you for a second. I want to say that I know your struggle. We were too old to be swept up by the Startup zeitgeist because we were already working a corporate job. Now we are constantly restless because we live in a world that we did not build, but rather merely inherited from our parents and grandparents. It doesn't fulfill us because its values are not ours. We spend an hour (or 5) every day at work obsessing about the metaphysical question of what we “should” be doing with our lives instead of what we actually are doing. Every day is of restless productivity punctured with ennui, a daily 9 to 5 of voyeurism where your contemplating half watches your worker half working away. Unapologetically speaking, we can’t help it — we had no Great War, no Cold War, no Counter-Culture movement. We are the product of a people that by and large, have civilized itself.
I’m here telling you that this spiritual ache is a great thing. The ache allows for the possibility of wisdom. Our obsessive struggle has given us context and conviction, two things that younger Millennials haven’t had the opportunity to earn. Like a fractured bone that rebuilds itself to be stronger, we are the hinge between the old and the new.
The world is on a razor’s edge. To quote a friend, this generation will be THE generation that brings the world to the point of beyond recognition. This has happened before, but the difference today is that we are aware of how rapidly it’s all happening. People in the 1800s who witnessed the first steam engine probably couldn't foresee it leading to the iPhone. Today, we are all witnessing the rise of A.I as they invade our cars, homes, and our jobs. To rephrase, we are witnessing ourselves in the process of building our successor in the evolution chain (as far as we know, anyway). We are deep in the process of digital globalization, a process that may lead to the “cloud-ization” of mankind itself. Raymond Kurzweil, the famed author of The Singularity, characterized it as the formation of a unified mind, a mega organism consisting of all human consciousness. Unlike the industrial revolution, this will happen in exponential time, in our lifetime. We will either succeed in getting there or fail utterly. For the first time the future is no longer a distant misty ship in the horizon but a speeding train in the wind tunnel rushing at us. I believe we, the Older Millennials are the people to take us there.
This, as they say, is OUR time.