To My Fellow Millennials: Let’s Redefine Our Generation and Entrepreneurship

Millennials. Generation Y. The Internet Generation. Generation Me. However they label our generation — people born between 1981 and 2000 —most of the time they are doing so in order to judge us in one way or another. Jean Twenge, author of the book Generation Me, claims that Millennials have strong attributes such as confidence and tolerance, but in contrast we also have a sense of entitlement, narcissism, and rejection of social conventions.

In other words, we make great entrepreneurs.

I became an entrepreneur in order to take responsibility and action for the benefit not only of my generation, but also new generations to come. This is my call to action for a generation of movers and shakers.

I grew up in a small town called Moosic just outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania. The pressure to be socially accepted in a fast paced Internet-driven generation was intense. Myspace was the Internet sensation of my high school years, and if you didn’t have the newest iPod every six months you weren’t cool. From a young age I was fascinated by the Internet and technology. I remember my father taking me to computer fairs and coming home with more RAM or a new CD burner. AOL was our service provider of choice and dude we absolutely had to get a Dell.

As I dove deeper into the Internet I discovered communities and message boards of brilliant designers and hackers. I felt accepted in these communities, surrounded by mature, smart, positive individuals who were changing the status quo. By the time I graduated I was still confused on about “what I want to be when I grew up.” I started my freshman year of college as a double major in Philosophy and Political Science.

The plan was to go to law school and open my own firm. During my sophomore year I looked around at my peers and the position of the global economy. The job market, housing market, and stock market were in shambles, something that was of no fault of our own. According to Pew Social Trends, “46.1% of 16-24-year-olds were employed in September 2009, the smallest share since the government first began collecting such data in 1948.”

To me it was more than just data; it was real life. Many of my older friends who had already graduated struggled to find work. For the first time I realized that it was going to take more than a degree to find a job that I loved.So what did I do and what can we do as a generation to create positive change? Become entrepreneurs.

Image credit: Alexis Ohanian

Entrepreneur is an interesting word. Depending on who you are talking to it can be said a number of ways, but I think the context bias applied to the word is “business owner.” In order for our generation to take action on big world changing ideas we must first clear this bias and start with a new perspective on entrepreneurship.

The French word “entrepreneur” means “one who undertakes.” French economist Jean-Baptiste Say described an entrepreneur to be one who “shifts economic resources out of an area of lower and into an area of higher productivity and greater yield.” In 1934 Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter expanded on this and described entrepreneurs as innovators who shatter the status quo and use creative destruction to establish new products and services.

“Creative destruction” — that could very well be the motto of the Millennial generation.

Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. An entrepreneur can be someone like myself who creates a business; or a social entrepreneur like Hugh Evans, Co Founder of The Global Poverty Project; or someone that is referred to as an Intrapreneur, one who creates new innovations within a company, organization, government, or university. There are as many types of entrepreneurs as there are Millennials, but just like us, each has several qualities that they share in common.

Entrepreneurs need to have confidence.

If you’re not passionate about your world changing idea and confident about the execution to bring that idea to life, then don’t waste your time and find a day job. But, if you’ve been told your expectations for your life are “unrealistic” by some adults, chances are you rank with almost all Millennials, nearly 90% of whom in Pepsi’s 2008 Refresh Optimism survey said they’d describe themselves as “confident.” Just don’t let that confidence become arrogance; remember to accept advice and be grateful for success when it comes.

Entrepreneurs need to be empathetic.

Building something great isn’t going to be easy. There will be haters. There will be bad times. You need to be able to tolerate different people and circumstances if you’re going to make it. According to Pew Social Trends, “Twice as many Americans see young people as more tolerant of different races and groups as say so about older people.” Be willing to work with anyone who believes in you and your idea. What matters is excellence in production and execution on those ideas.

Entrepreneurs have a right to feel entitled.

Leading a movement or organization requires complete commitment and energy, so entrepreneurs have a right to feel entitled to making decisions about the organization. Twenge did find Millennials to be more entitled in her study, and I think our entitlement is often misunderstood. Are we “evil” for aspiring to have a fulfilling career after spending thousands of dollars and four years of our lives getting a degree? Perhaps we come off as lazy spoiled brats, but I think that would be a gross over generalization. We are willing to put the time and work in. As a generation we need to leverage this sense of entitlement into positive energy and focus on the task at hand. We should be focused not only with creating our own job, but jobs for our peers as well. Motivate yourself to produce change by creating something bigger than you or anyone else involved.

Entrepreneurs have a strong sense of pride.

This pride comes from pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into your project. Being proud of yourself is not a bad thing. The key is like anything else in life—you need to have a proper balance between pride and humility. I believe Millennials balance this pride with our desire to help others. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 21% of Millennials said that “helping others in need” was one of the most important things in their lives. Making money is not a bad thing, but it’s important for us to remember to give back and help our global and local communities. Some of you may even decide to take up a social entrepreneurial venture, which doesn’t necessarily need to be “non-profit.”

Entrepreneurs seek to disrupt the status quo.

This is the key trait that all entrepreneurs have in common. We all seek to change the way the world works and solve problems in new ways. And so do Millennials. Viacom’s team for “The Next Normal” project heard over and over again from Millennials that, “My age group has the potential to change the world for the better.” Another sample from Pew shows that 89% of Millennials said they “don’t have enough income now, but will in the future.” This shows that we as a generation are optimistic about the future, but now is the time to take action and make that future a reality. This starts with an innate desire to disrupt the status quo.

According to Pew, 57% of Millennials watch an hour or more of TV per day and 32% of us played video games at least once in the past 24 hours. If we dedicated this time to a world changing idea, we could lead the way with the innovation and change that our world needs. That being said, the majority of us do care about other helping people significantly. 57% of us said we did volunteering sometime in the past 12 months. Why not start a new volunteer program or a software company that builds tools to organize volunteers?

What are you doing to create change and take charge of not only your future, but the future of your peers and future generations? Now is the time to start thinking big and working towards a goal. It’s time for our generation to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and find a way to create new jobs, innovation, and change. We were born to do this; it’s our personality as a generation.

My journey started at a Startup Weekend in Columbus, Ohio. In October 2011 I had nothing but an idea on a piece of paper. Today I have a successful growing business. I sacrificed a lot to get where I am, and I have failed multiple times; but you can’t fear an opportunity to gain wisdom and go forward with a stronger sense of motivation and passion.

Find a problem and fix it.

That’s essentially what entrepreneurs are— problem solvers. If we come together as a generation and step up to the plate we can make big things happen. Entrepreneurship may not be for everyone, but it seems it is perfect for many of us Millennials. Someday soon everyone will need to develop the skills of an entrepreneur in order to maintain their position or support themselves.

Let’s redefine the word entrepreneur — and the perception of our generation while we’re at it.

Dr. Alan Brumagim, professor at The University of Scranton, defines entrepreneurship as “as process of: embracing focused opportunities, providing value to someone, innovating, managing risks, acquiring needed resources, and proactively positioning oneself for the “possibility” of reaping benefits, all with a mindset of determination and integrity.”

I want to take this further and say that entrepreneurship is a lifestyle. Living, breathing, and thinking like an entrepreneur does not necessarily mean you have to drop everything and start your own business tomorrow. What we need to do as a generation is realize that we have these skills at our disposal and put them into action to make the world a better place.

Title Photo Credit: flickr