According to most, I would be considered part of Gen X, or Gen Y (if there really is such a thing as Gen Y). According to others, I am on the cusp of being a millenial since I was born just 6 months before the start of the generation. This recent article talks about the ambiguous space between Gen X and millenials and raises some interesting points about how those born in the late 70’s and early 80’s saw a technology transformation that really shaped us in a unique way. It doesn’t mention that we also experienced 9-11 in our college or early working lives – which is a significant fact.
The book I helped to write a few years ago touched on some of these themes in the introduction, but I think the ideas are coming into focus more, so I will share just a few thoughts here. For the purpose of this post, let’s just say that I identify with millennials a lot more than with Gen X.
Disenchantment and the New-Old American Dream
I joined the military before 9-11, in one sense, to escape from the stigma of Gen X and to be a part of something larger than myself. 9-11 happened during my senior year at the Naval Academy and that changed everything. We graduated into war. Over the past decade I have suffered loss and walked alongside others who have lost much, not just because of our generation’s wars, but also because of the housing bubble, the recession, and a tough job market. Some of my veteran peers transitioning out of the military, have had a hard time figuring out how to present their unique experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan as a direct value add to corporate America. Sure, there are plenty of successful transitions, especially back into the military-industrial complex as veterans trade uniforms for contractor cargo pants. But the bigger picture to keep in mind is that veteran millennials doubt that large institutions can provide a safety net or job security. As a result, the best safety net is good old-fashioned entrepreneurship. Sure, entrepreneurship is risky, but so is everything else. There is nothing as comforting as the knowledge that you could lose everything, start over with nothing but your own work ethic and ingenuity, and be ok with that. That is the millennial veteran entrepreneur zeitgeist, at least in the podcasts I follow.