The disrupters have been disrupted.
Millennials. We are the ‘disruptor’ generation; the one that birthed Mark Zuckerberg and Uber. We want to rip up the 9-5 and remodel it in our own way. We have no boss, we are the boss. We start apps, brands and activism campaigns. We reform everything from politics to periods, from how we shop to how we date, from how we watch TV to how we get a cab.
We are perennially told we are a collective generation of You Only Live Once (YOLO), a mentality of act now, think later, of life experiences over life investments, of activism and lives lived online. We are swipe-right for love, tap for food, next-day delivery on everything from dinner to sex. We are a generation of instagrammers and YouTube stars, of DIY careers and remote working; from start-ups to freelancing. We are a generation of renting over buying, spending over saving. We live for today, not tomorrow.
Our actions have made a huge dent impression on the way we all live our lives. S ocial media has utterly altered how we connect and created a unique online reality that is separate to IRl, for better or worse, and our refusal to stay quiet and accept injustices too-long swept under the carpet, has seen the breaking of taboos around gender norms, mental health and sexual harassment.
Millennials. We rip s**t up.
We are now living a new normal, under the fear of this devastating virus and, the fact is, it may be millennials who are shaken most of all. The disrupters have been disrupted.
Acting now and thinking later has not served us well at all during this time of panic. In fact, it’s totally screwed us.
On the face of it, this should suit us all fine. We love working from home, we practically invented it. And all those delivery apps? Yeah, we got this. Everything going online? Babe, we already live there. But with a disintegrating economy and the self-employed hit the hardest, this utopia of working for ourselves, becoming an entrepreneur or flitting from gig-to-gig with a dairy-free almond latte on the go is not only crumbling around us, but also blowing apart our carefully constructed attitudes towards life.
Because in ripping up the playbook handed down to us by Boomers and Gen X - the traditional job, home and pension pot -we ripped up the one thing we need now: security.
We make up 30% of the self-employed population of the UK, and 38% of small businesses are run by us. We are a generation of roughly 14 million renters. We are very unlikely to have substantial savings, many of us will never own our own home and don’t even get us started with pensions. How many of you have thought of living on one? A report from 2018 estimated that the average person will need over £200,000 to live on in retirement and an estimated 630,000 of us will be unable to pay our rent after we retire.
My friends and I should be at the pub this weekend, in Italy by a pool in June. Instead most of us are self-isolating on furloughed leave or panicking on the phone to Universal Credit. My friends who ‘lived the millennial dream’ and started their own business have never been more stressed or desperate than they are now. My self-employed friends were living paycheck to paycheck, blowing it on booze and holidays because saving for the big stuff seemed far away and impossible. Now it’s the reality of making this month’s rent that seems impossible.
We spent so much time thinking about Only Living Once that we forgot to plan for the longevity of that one life - the boring, steady things that will keep us safe in the future. Are we really going to be a bunch of skint homeless pensioners with nothing but great memories of splurged trips to Ibiza?
Coronavirus is one ugly reality check. We just took a long, hard look in the mirror and it is not pretty. And no, I don’t just mean the fact you can’t get your roots done and its Day 402 of not using foundation.
I mean the fact that our lifestyles and means of work have made many of us exempt from any substantial government help- it's made us vulnerable. Many millennials will now, for the first time in our lives, be surviving on Universal Credit. Many more of us may not even qualify for that. It has laid bare the terrifying realities of working for yourself, of being boss-free and nomadic. The stability of the 9-5 that Boomers and Gen Xers clung to- and we rejected for being too safe and boring- has never looked more tempting than it does now, as we look down the barrel of our new COVID-19 reality.
Before we lay into ourselves too strongly, the fact is, a lot of this is to do with the economy, job landscape and housing market we inherited. We may be ‘Generation Snowflake’ but we did get handed a fairly depressing lot to complain about; houses we can’t afford and wages stagnating as the cost of living rises.
Our YOLO attitude is actually a direct consequence of being priced out of stability. The jobs that our parents had, may not just have been unappealing to millennials, but actually unavailable. Most find that only zero-hour contracts and freelancing gigs are up for grabs, that renting is the only fiscally viable option, that savings pale in comparison to that trip to Ibiza. Because if you are priced-out of more sensible long-term investments, why not cheer yourself up with something you can afford in the short-term? YOLO, right?
We are trapped in a chicken-egg dilemma here: what came first, millennials wanting to work for themselves, or the job market forcing us to? But the reality is that our circumstances have imbued us with a fiscal recklessness that is now coming back to haunt us. In wanting more out of life than our parents ever had, we have ended up wishing we had a fraction of what they did have- a home of their own, a job for life, all the staid and boring trappings that we now crave.
Like a bad hangover, Coronavirus is making us re-assess all the actions of the night before, of our life pre-COVID-19.
Who are we now, millennials? It’s a question that has been plaguing me for the last few weeks, ever since the signifiers of our generation betrayed us. Have we ultimately disrupted ourselves? Where do we go from here? Whether we need to change, or society itself needs a more millennial-friendly reshuffle, I don’t know. But what I do know, is that we are in the midst of an identity crisis, a mindset shift, a vital, painful period of reassessment and that our lives after this crisis will never be the same again.
This has been the ultimate reality check, the true YOLO wake up call.
Welcome to the age of the New Millennials.