Purpose as an overarching principle: Millennials’ approach to life

Article by Anna Groh | Illustration by Armadilly Comics


“Purpose is the sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness ”

– Mark Zuckerberg


Three years ago, in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg held a commencement speech at Harvard’s 366th graduation ceremony centered around one main subject: Purpose. Zuckerberg underlined the importance of finding one’s individual purpose and pointed out how fear shouldn’t keep anybody from following their very own idea of purpose. “The greatest successes”, so he said, “come from having the freedom to fail”.

He is speaking from personal experience: more than 20 years ago, he dropped out of Harvard in order to create Facebook, a project nobody else really believed in and everybody tried to dissuade him from. His determination is really inspiring: sometimes it does take much courage to listen to your inner voice instead of what society expects from you.

Especially for young adults, the pressure to succeed is, nowadays, extremely high. They get compared with each other non-stop: ‘’What grades did you get?’’, ‘’How many internships did you do?’’, ‘’Where have you been abroad?’’ Standing out and being among the best ones is crucial if you want to make it to the top Universities, and, subsequently, to the top companies.

Moreover, Zuckerberg mentioned a “generational challenge” in order to “create a higher purpose for everyone”. But how can this “new” generation be understood and how does society react to it?

Millennials explained

Mark Zuckerberg is addressing his own generation as he speaks about purpose: “Millennials”, also known as Generation Y, represent people that are born between 1980-1996. They grew up in the age of information and are therefore known as “Digital Natives”. They are history’s first “always on”-generation. (KPMG, 2017). As an article by Michael Dimock published by the Pew Research Center describes it, one could say their generation is shaped from technology as they had to adapt to social media, connectivity and on-demand communication.


Picture retrieved from KPMG, ”Meet the Millennials”, 2017


Hence, their approach to life and work is very different from older generations. According to Forbes, they are willing to bring changes and look for meaningful relationships as well ass a good work-life-balance since they place high value on self-care.

However, this new approach to life is not always appreciated. “Narcistic, lazy and selfish” is how people also refer quite negatively to the so called “Me Me Me-Generation”. It is easy to provide some examples for people’s attitude, even from personal experience. How many times my friends and I were hastily judged as being “lazy” and “phone junkies”! We’d use apps and other technological innovations for everything instead of doing things on our own.
But when thinking about the actual reason, it is easy to get to a simple conclusion: saving time. We want to be as efficient as we can, in as little time as possible, this is what critics might not see. In this rushing, fast-pacing world, we feel the need to be quicker and better than yesterday.

There is no doubt that automatization and the internet helps our lives in a substantial way. However, this does not inevitably imply that we lost our ambitions or our willingness to be self-sufficient.

A survey carried out in 2015 found that Millennials are more interested in self-improvement than any generation before. When analyzing people by generation, 94% of Millennials stated to make commitments to personal improvement, even though, as Forbes observed, their income is most likely half as much as older generations.

The workplace

Millennials also enter the workplace with a very different mindset than the generations before them: as pointed out by a research by Amy Adkins for Gallup, many call them the Generation of “Job-Hoppers” since they frequently change their workplace. Not surprisingly, the research shows that 21% of Millennials reported to have changed their job within the past year, which is more than three times the number of Non-Millennials. Following KMPG’s thorough analysis, factors like online job-searching opportunities and extensive networking enhance this behaviour.

Is this just inconsistency?

When it comes to Millennials, the internship-culture plays a decisive role, which most likely has an impact on our perception of a settled workplace later on. I can state with little doubt that almost everyone reading this has done or will do an internship: fiercely competed and currently a requirement for any good job or scholarship, mostly for several months with a set ending-date and, way too often, even unpaid.

It certainly provides great opportunities for young people to collect work experience and to find out what they really like. Nevertheless at the same time, it increases that same pressure I was mentioning above when letting your CV predetermine your self-esteem. There is some good news though: it’s not all about good grades and competition because when it comes to Millennials, one thing can’t be missing.

The role of Purpose

There are many reasons to change job. Some imposed by the company, as in the case of internships, others chosen by us. But what is the deal with this mysterious and fulfilling purpose mentioned by Zuckerberg that everyone seems to seek?

Millennials approach to work makes the job-hopping-phenomena easier to understand without risking a premature judgment. In fact, focusing on a specific purpose seems to be more essential than ever. To make sense of our life, we simply cannot work for just ‘’any’’ company, because we want to live our life the right way.

We are looking for a company that defines a purpose we can identify with personally. As a consequence, purely profit-oriented companies will have to re-design their identity if they want to win this generation over. Research supports this overarching principle: satisfaction in the workplace and company culture seems to matter much more to Millennials than monetary compensation.

As Lauren Couleman from Forbes noted, they work towards more than just a satisfying salary: they choose to make a difference and to change the world for the better. A study from 2009 reported by Hewlett and colleagues supports this statement: 86% of surveyed Millennials give priority to the chance of making a difference.

In a world where everything is constantly changing anyways, why not try to create your own impact? If a whole generation is feeling the same way, doesn’t it seem to be a great chance for everyone to go out now and do what we are longing for?

As Zuckerberg continued: ”The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose”.

Have you defined your very own understanding of purpose yet?


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