Millennials often get a bad rap. Much of the time, I don’t even like being identified as a millennial. We are regarded by older generations as having unrealistic expectations in life, hopping from job to job, focusing on pursuits that don’t bring financial stability, and not being great with our finances.
Before you say, “I’m not a millennial,” and click away, according to Gallup, if you were born anywhere between 1980 and 1996, you are a millennial.
And, if you are not a millennial, please read this and remember it the next time you are tempted to make fun of us.
Six months after I graduated from high school, in December 2007, America hit its most recent recession, and in 2012, when I graduated from college, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy still had still not returned to normal.
I was fortunate to have nominal student loan debt and to have lived at home during my college years – but many of my peers were not so lucky.
It seems that, as a generation, a lot of our big life decisions have been delayed as compared with our predecessors. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, only 25% of millennials were married in 2012, and 36% of American adults ages 18-31 were living with their parents that year. The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2015 that in some states, the rate of 18-34 year olds living at home was as high as 45-54.8%.
We are by far the most educated generation in American History, and yet, on average we make about $35,000 a year, about $2,900 more a year than the baby boomers when they were 18-34, and only a little over $100 more than our parents’ generation made at our age (Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta)!
To put it one way – for millennials, the struggle has been real.
And yet, as a generation, we value purposefulness, engagement, and development above pay – check out what Gallup has to say:
Like all employees, millennials care about their income. But for this generation, a job is about more than a paycheck — it’s about a purpose. Despite the financial constraints many millennials are experiencing, they still place jobs that allow them to grow, develop and do what they do best over jobs that supplement their income.
This is something my husband and I definitely wrestle with as we make decisions together about our future.
Sure, money is great, but what point is it to make a lot of money if you become a slave to a soul-sucking job for the rest of your life?
On the flip side, what is the point of pursuing your passion all the way to the poorhouse?
So how do we reconcile the need for money with a value system that places purpose above paychecks? Here are some things to remember:
You have more time than you think.
As millennials, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the feeling that anything that isn’t our passion is a waste of time. We don’t want to be like some of our predecessors, giving their entire lives to a job they hated and praying for retirement to come. We realize that we only have so many years to live, and we want to spend those years doing something we love, are good at, and that makes a difference.
But this can create a false sense of urgency that paralyzes us and wastes more of our time than would have been “wasted” had we just taken a job. My dad recently gave me a great piece of advice: A job is just a means to an end.
At first, that offended me. I didn’t want to waste my time at a “job”. But you know what? Sometimes, it’s okay for a job to just be a job. And sometimes, it’s okay to have just a job for awhile.
Living at home indefinitely isn’t the best option, and it isn’t healthy. Few things will waste your life faster than a lack of independence and financial freedom. The important thing to remember is that you have the time to build these things into your life, and then, from a place of independence and financial freedom, build your dream.
Building your dream will take hard work and sacrifice, period.
Like I said before, if your job is soul-sucking, quit. But don’t quit before you are in a position to quit. If you want your dreams to happen, you’re going to have to work at it. You won’t be able to live off your income as a photographer/freelance writer/entrepreneur overnight. You might have to take a job you don’t love in order to position yourself to build a life you do love. You might even have to work a couple of jobs, and on top of that, invest time and money into your dream.
A house built with no foundation won’t last.
You need a foundation to build on. Start with the small things you can do right now. Change your spending habits, get a better-paying job or take a second one, move out on your own, and learn skills you will need.
Build a solid foundation of responsibility and independence, and then build your dreams on top of that. There are few scenarios in which you will be able to do what you’re passionate about and make a lot of money at it – at first. Even if this does happen, it is the exception, not the norm. Don’t expect that your dream will come easy to you, or that it will automatically pay the bills. Chances are, it won’t.
If you want your dreams to work, you have to build them on a good foundation.
Passive income = the freedom you didn’t know you were looking for.
As you build income from your job, begin to invest in passive streams of income. Make it your goal to have multiple streams of passive income that exceed your living expenses. This will not only give you financial security in case of job loss, illness, or other events that may prevent you from working, but it will also give you the freedom to pursue dreams that may not initially bring in enough income to support yourself or your family.
What are passive streams of income? They include things like traditional investing, owning rental property, or becoming a silent partner in a business, but there are many different kinds of passive income. Do your research and start with a few that you are comfortable with, and can afford.
Valuing purpose over money is nothing to be ashamed of.
Don’t let anyone diminish your desire to be passionate and purposeful in what you do. Money isn’t everything. But instead of letting your inner conflicts keep you from moving forward, let it motivate you not to stay where you are. Yes, you do need a job. No, it doesn’t have to be the most perfect amazing job that you’re amazingly good at and makes you feel like you have an impact – right now. But also don’t just stay somewhere because it makes you a lot of money. Just like a job is a means to an end, your income is a means to an end. Use that income to lay the right foundation, keep moving forward, and build the life you love.
Most of all, if you are a millennial, don’t be discouraged. Give yourself a break, but don’t feel like you have to sell yourself short. You don’t have to do everything at once. You don’t have to shoot to the top. It’s okay to take a job you don’t love so you have the income to build a life you do love. Don’t abandon your values, and don’t give up on your dreams. Work, but work toward something. Live intentionally. Focus on good stewardship of your time and your money, and remember that no job has to be forever, and nothing, if it gives you the tools and resources to pursue the dream you are passionate about, is a waste of time.