Millennials, risk and the economy

Does the 'entrepreneur generation' have it right?

October 10, 2013

Above is a Google hangout between fellow WBEZ blogger Britt Julious and Afternoon Shift host Niala Boodhoo, discussing how millenials are taking risks in today's economy.

Oh, those millenials. Generation Y, made up of people born between the late '70s and early '90s, is often called the "entrepreneur generation," due in large part to the plucky startup models, risk-taking mentalities and personal branding strategies that have come to define success at work in the new millennium. Rapidly transitioning from one career to another also has emerged as a frequent practice for Gen Y, and "sidepreneurism," the increasingly popular trend of employees creating and running their own businesses while still engaged in a full-time job, is perhaps even more common. 

However, millennials of the Internet Age also have been dismissed by think piece writers, political pundits, and baby boomers ad nauseam. They have been labeled lazy, bratty, pretentious, entitled and self-absorbed. Framed in a stereotype, the millennial's fingers are perpetually glued to an electronic device, watching life go by through the glow of a smartphone screen. 
 

I am 24, and clearly a millennial, but not a single one of the condescending "kids these days" stereotypes applies to me. I was raised to work hard, take responsibility for my actions, embrace change, and never burn bridges. I spend more time reading books then scrolling through filters on Instagram. I also have learned that failure—big, crushing, spectacular failure— is often a necessary pathway to success. 

So, which scenario carries more risk for millenials in today's economy: starting a business from scratch or climbing the corporate ladder? Personally, I would relish the opportunity to work my way up at an organization that fulfills my needs as a young professional— especially since post-grad permalancing, while popular among the twenty-something set, is not the most financially stable of pursuits. Health benefits are frustratingly difficult to come by, and nearly impossible to obtain as a freelancer. Any semblance of job security? Even less so.

Still, I find myself drawn to the romance and excitement of innovation. I am propelled by Chicago's recent crowning by Forbes as the new "hot spot for entrepreneurs," and inspired by the dream teams who came before us. I think of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak building the first Apple computers in Jobs' Los Altos garage, ushering in a new wave of startup culture and a new generation of people working to elicit powerful, meaningful, and life-altering change from their own backyards, and on their own terms.

Perhaps millennials need to learn how to fall down in order to get back up again: to create, innovate, and try with boundless enthusiasm. After all, isn't putting ourselves out there—at least being able to say that we tried, that we didn't settle—better than remaining frozen in stifling, unfulfilling work environments for the rest of our lives, wondering, "What if?"

Leah Pickett writes about popular culture for WBEZ. You can find her on FacebookTwitter and Tumblr.