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Millennials Misunderstood: The Truth About My Generation

10/07/2013 02:21 EDT | Updated 03/31/2014 11:59 EDT

There is a lot of coverage these days about the problem with Millennials. If you look, you'll find us frequently labelled as "idealistic", "narcissistic" and "entitled" in popular media. From the Time Magazine cover story on May 20, 2013 to the Bloomberg ad blaming the Millennials for the Recession, I couldn't disagree more. I am proud of my generation of changemakers born between 1980 and 1995. And while the endless selfies and high rate of youth unemployment might suggest that we are the problem, there is nothing wrong with us.

The problem as I see it is not with Millennials, it's in expecting us to pursue an outdated, one-size-fits-all approach to the North American dream. There will be disappointment if we are expected to fit our square peg selves into that round hole. The world has changed. We've been told to get a good education, get a good job, get married, buy a home, have babies, raise kids, collect your pension, and then you've earned the right to live.

We inherited this dream map from our parents, from our school system and from portrayals in the media. This may have suited our parents' generation. However, I would assert that judging by divorce rates and the decline in pension security that it didn't fit them all that well either. Alas, it is to this that we say, "no thank you" and we are misunderstood for it.

Let me be clear. What we want is a modified North American Dream, N.A.D. 2.0. you might call it. We want to be self-sufficient and financially independent from our parents. We value our freedom, we value family and community and we value a lifetime of contribution. And yes we can value all that and still enjoy taking selfies at every turn. We are redefining how we achieve the dream, in what order, and what we do along the way.

I have my own evidence that following the prescribed dream does not guarantee fulfillment, happiness and optimal health. I studied my ass off to get into a good undergraduate program, and worked full time at a major Financial Institution to graduate debt-free. Four years later, I earned a full scholarship to complete my two-year M.A. degree during which time I also worked full-time as a Policy Advisor in the Ministry of Finance. On top of that I was involved in extracurricular projects in Montenegro, Hungary and Kosovo, unpaid. Successful right? Not necessarily. By the time I completed my Masters, I was exhausted, burnt out and disillusioned with where this would lead me. Yet, I ignored my disillusionment trusting that it couldn't be so bad if millions of others were following this road too.

I bought my first condo with my then boyfriend and was hired as a full-time Market Research Associate. I dragged my heels doing that for two years before accepting that I wanted more from life then a five figure job, a condo, and two degrees. I wanted less stuff and less titles, and more freedom and social purpose in how I spent my life.

Many called me entitled, impatient and ungrateful when I sold my condo, ended my relationship and quit my job. I disagreed and still do. I believe I was misunderstood. I worked damn hard to get to where I was and I did so trusting the conventional road to the North American Dream. While I did that, I ignored my deep-seeded desire to chart my own course toward my dreams. I was raised to know my worth and to believe that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. That's when I chose to pivot.

Fast-forward five years. I turn 29 this year, met and married the man of my dreams, I am a proud entrepreneur of my second company Wedge15 Inc., and my first book BYOB The Unapologetic Guide to Being Your Own Boss launched this September. I'm free, more fulfilled than ever and self-sufficient. I don't own a condo or car now, but so what?

Here's my recommendation for the so-called Millennial problem: go do what you love and get paid for it. And when you do, be unapologetic about it. Look inside and get clear on what success and happiness looks like to you. Then go pursue that however you choose to.

If you're still exploring what you love, start somewhere. Just don't stand still. Seek jobs, internships, or a startup where you can begin to build experiences. Start a business like I did. Learn hard, explore your options and fail fast. You will discover what you're here to do. And soon Millennials, the misunderstanding will grow into understanding.

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