By Gabriel Grant (Co-founder and Mentor of the Byron Fellowship)
As a Byron Fellowship mentor and founder, I have the pleasure of living inside a bubble of change agents inquiring into how they can maximize their contribution to the world. I’m left profoundly inspired by the people around me, they are my representation of humanity, and thus, I’m constantly inspired, moved by, and have a profound faith in – humanity. Over the past few years, albeit inside my bubble, I’ve begun to hear others remark that millennials, more than any other generation, are seeking purpose. I’m watching other programs like Byron, that support social entrepreneurs, emerge and more often at larger and larger scales. Purpose building curriculums and courses are showing up in universities across the country. Corporations are beginning to invest in purpose, both those we’d all expect e.g., Ben and Jerry’s, and many whom we may least expect, e.g., the big financial services companies (PwC, EY, and Delloite). Some people are saying that we’re entering a purpose economy or era. This is profound and inspiring and I want it to be true, but is it?
At the same time, there is evidence to support the idea that U.S. culture, in particular, is the most individualistic, narcissistic, and materialistic of any culture in history. There are two competing millennial narratives, GenMe and GenWe.
Full disclosure, I was born in 1980, which puts me on the outer most edge of what people refer to the millennial generation. I get to sort of choose whether I self-identify as millennial or not, and I do call myself a millennial. I call myself a millennial because from my perspective, they inspire me, and I want to belong in their (our) tribe.
But really, are we the most individualistic, narcissistic generation to exist, or are we something else? And how might we know? If we were committed to transforming ourselves from GenMe to GenWe, how might we measure our success? These questions were posed to me by Linda Kay Klein, director of Echoing Green’s Work on Purpose program. At first, admittedly I laughed out loud. I thought they were unanswerable and that we didn’t have the data to ever know. But, they stuck with me and I finally shared a response.
We’re both. We were born into the most individualistic culture, possibly to ever exist, and we’re transforming it. As if we’ve reached the bottom of a collective existential crisis, as a society we’re searching for purpose like never before. We’re also reversing a 200 year old trend and reorienting away from individualism and back toward collectivistic values. So, they’re both right. We are the most individualistic generation the world has ever seen and we’re pursuing purpose and contributing beyond ourselves like no other generation who has come before us. We’re creating and witnessing a profound shift, an unprecedented interest in purpose-in-life co-emerging with the millennial generation. We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for. The complete paper is available here.