11/19/2013 09:41 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Millennial Life is Not Like Retirement

A couple weeks ago a friend shared this New York Times story and I can't get it out of my head. Inspired by his son, the author, Jim Sollisch, of the baby-boom generation, writes, "I Want to Be a Millennial When I Retire."

Sollisch, like many in the Baby Boom Generation, is clearly the proud parent of a Millennial kid-turned-adult who is trying to make his way in the world by working part-time jobs to support his music career.

Stringing together part-time work, while following our passions is a typical story for Millennials in Canada too, but this is not what I picture for retirement.

Sollisch describes his friend with the six-figure salary "working his tail off to someday afford a life without the trappings of success."

To be clear, Millennials still face these "trappings of success" and we aren't making six figures. We live in a world where our parents, teachers, and professors of the c-suite generation still hold us to these traditional measures of success.

Our research on this generation has found that despite the unemployment rate consistently dragging well behind that of the average working aged Canadian, and despite the rising cost of owning a home, Millennials still, for the most part, seek the same things in life as our parents did. Things like getting married, having children, buying a home, being successful in a career and retiring comfortably -- most of us haven't done these things yet and a lot of us don't know when we'll get to.

Upon reflection, Sollisch said that he wants to go back to what he was doing when he was in his 20s. What he seems to miss, is the life of the average 20-something is very different today than it was 40 years ago.

I work for an organization whose flagship property, StudentAwards, provides a resource for students who are looking for help in affording the costs of post-secondary education. We have 2.26-million members in our student community in Canada alone with over 218,000 new Millennial members joining in the past 24 months.

Largely, the students on our member-panel are working overtime to write, mail, and track applications to competitive programs and employment opportunities, often while maintaining a part-time job.

Today post-secondary students are graduating with more than $26,000 in debt, on average, and with bleak employment prospects for students graduating with a Bachelor's degree or other post-secondary school diploma this is cause for concern for many Millennials affected.

This is a far cry from the rosier prospects that those in the Baby Boom generation saw when they were in their 20s. Today a 20-year-old on the hunt for a meaningful career needs to be a constant networker, continuously seeking opportunities for professional development and most importantly, must be very creative. This is not a vacation. And quite the opposite of what one would typically expect from retirement.


  • The constant networker
  • Continuously seeking professional development
  • Required creativity

Millennials are often managing part-time jobs or contract work to stay afloat even into their late twenties. Still for many, it is not easy and in many cases, not possible for Millennials to live a life of financial independence just yet.

Many Millennials are falling short of their own career success goals. For those of us who are unemployed or underemployed we know that this is not the lifestyle of a "millionaire retiree."

When we asked our StudentAwards membership on our 2012 Young Influencers Survey about how satisfied they felt they were when it comes to different aspects of their lives, 39 per cent said that they were satisfied with their job. Comparatively, 69 per cent said they were satisfied with their home life and 73 per cent said they were satisfied with their performance and life at school.

On average, are Millennials still trying to achieve traditional measures for success? Yes. Do we consider Max's career a success so far? Yes. Do I expect that people in my age group will be continually striving for more? Yes.

At StudentAwards we have found that Millennials are looking for help in continually evolving their education and experience to build their careers; they aren't looking to retire. In September StudentAwards President & CEO Rob Henderson talked about how companies that help students at this age will become lifelong trusted brands.

Will we create our own definitions for success?

It is clear that most Millennials in North America still hold themselves to the Baby Boomers' measurement of success. The generational gap hasn't changed what we want, but our road map to get there will be different.

Many still are working part-time jobs with unusual hours, but not because we want to. The stresses many face while working part-time, applying for other jobs, internships, or other opportunities like further post-secondary education does not make for a comfortable and relaxing retirement lifestyle.