An Advocate for Gen Z


I’ve read a lot recently about generational differences, perhaps motivated by self-interest and curiosity about my own "Millennial" label, but also perhaps, as a school designer, I'm more and more curious about the real lives of students I'm designing for. 

I've spoken out before about the disgust I feel when reading about these generational differences in the workplace- headlines like HOW TO MANAGE A MILLENNIAL and "it’s not just pingpong tables and nap rooms..." 

I also know that every generation that emerges into the workplace gets a helluvalotta heat from their predecessors as they negotiate and adjust with one another. It's a sad, sick cycle of shaming young people, scaring them into submission, and ridiculing them when they talk about change. 

I recently heard the word "perennial" used to describe a person of any age, who is on the pursuit of self-improvement, curiosity and passion. It seems to encompass all the adjectives a woke creative would aspire to be. 

The Perennials. We are ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who live in the present time, know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages. We get involved, stay curious, mentor others, are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded, risk takers who continue to push up against our growing edge and know how to hustle. We comprise an inclusive, enduring mindset, not a divisive demographic.
— Gina Pell, Medium

Rather than argue about the labels we give one another, I want to use this time to talk about how to become an advocate for young people. And yes, I am also young, but this is not a competition of who has more experience to offer or who is more deserving. It is about putting aside your own ego and need for validation and giving it away freely to GenZ and beyond. 

Let’s end this hierarchy and exclusivity, the competition of who can be more esoteric, exude more wisdom, who can stand their ground. Sometimes we need passion, we need people whose naïveté will lead to different solutions. We cannot afford to discredit someone who is willing to go out on a limb because of their age or inexperience. These people are the most ripe for engaging conversation and teasing out exciting new collaborations. Lean into their unknown and rather than dominate the discussion, see where it will go. Learn to follow. Perhaps this is a moment to create a co-mentoring relationship- where learning goes both ways. It requires humility and compassion and resisting patronizing phrases like “when I was your age…” because an authoritative voice is not conducive to community building.

When do we transition out of being perceived as the young new person into a respected seasoned professional? The career arc is long and winding, from aspirational to experiential in the early years, to worrying about new applications, and concerns about legacy approaching retirement. Is it possible to be good at what you do yet keep the ego in check long enough to always be new, always be learning? Isn’t that what we all secretly want to be, but are too afraid to look stupid?

*photo is of Carter Kingsley, a trans student co-mentor of mine, as we discussed gender inclusive toilet designs for his school.

Emi DayComment