One of my friends was angry AF.
Her Gen Z son had been living with her since he graduated college and, as much as she loves him, she couldn’t handle him living with her for much longer. When I asked her why he moved back, she mentioned that he told her he was “in-between life” right now and needed a rent-free place to crash till he figured things out.
Which was fine with my friend…
Except for unflushed toilets, and playing music or speaking to friends at 3 a.m. when she had to get to work at 7 a.m., and drinking all night and cooking and making noise, and leaving unwashed dishes and an unclean house behind him. And these were some of the better things.
She wanted to support her child as he was trying to navigate post-college life. But she also felt he wasn’t making much of an effort to change his circumstances. Bottom line? She worried he was bored. Or lazy. Unambitious. Happy to be mooching off of his hardworking parents.
My friend’s litany of complaints against her Gen Z son is something I have heard often. In fact, Gen Z bashing is a bit of a thing now, isn’t it?
But I had to take a step back and pause for a bit. As much as many Gen Zers probably deserve the grief they get, there is also so much we can learn from them.
Are you laughing? And laughing loudly?
Well, I am serious. My life is filled with Gen Zers, most of whom are my college students, and several others I’ve met because of younger family members and their extended friend circle. And over the years, I have met some extraordinarily smart and go-getting Gen Zers.
Sure, there are some really trying Gen Zers. But then that’s true of Boomers and Millennials as well. So, every time I hear someone bashing Gen Zers, I feel a little awkward because I cannot bring myself to agree with their sentiments with much enthusiasm. Not only have I had a different experience but I’ve actually learned a lot from Gen Zers.
Are you still laughing?
Don’t, I genuinely mean it. Gen Zers can and have taught me a lot, more than what they typically get credit for.
These are just a few of the unique life lessons I’ve learned from Gen Zers:
1. There’s More to Life than Just Work
Gen Zers really get the work-life balance thing. They understand and appreciate that as much as it matters to get ahead in life and be ambitious, it cannot come at the cost of a personal life.
And what’s more incredible is that both men and women feel the same way. They want to work but only so much. They also want to go home to their family and have a life outside of work. They do not sacrifice either for the other. And if that means they don’t get that promotion or become a director just yet, that’s okay.
And they’re genuinely at peace with it. It’s not an act.
2. They’re Socially Conscious
They truly believe in doing their bit for the world around them. Contrary to all of the accusations against them, I find Gen Zers to be truly unselfish. They care about the world around them. They want a green world. They want a just world. They’re ready to spend their free weekends cleaning the community they live in. They shut lights off when not in a room. They shut off running water that their father forgot was on when he was shaving. Rich or middle-class, most of these kids are similar.
I have personal experience of being unable to convince Gen Zers in my family to light a single sparkler—one single sparkler— during Diwali (our main festival of lights) because doing so would cause pollution. I know of Gen Zers who think nothing of carpooling even though they can afford to buy 10 cars because, you guessed it, they want to do their part to save and protect the planet.
Their commitment to a world that goes beyond their immediate family and encompasses the world around them is something all of us can learn from. I know I have. While I’ve always tried to do my best anyway, what I appreciate about them is how they put their money where their mouth is, even when they don’t have to.
3. Travel is Everything
I and many of my friends joined the travel game much later in our lives. Maybe Gen Zers just have more opportunities than I did, but the fact is that they live to travel and see the world. To do that, they will survive on Ramen noodles, they will live in a van and go boondocking. They are not afraid to get married, have kids, convert a school bus into a livable space, and travel the world. They don’t care about the big homes and fancy cars and mortgaging their lives to live in the suburbs. They don’t believe in working now and saving to travel later. They work and travel and save—now. They want to see and live and enjoy their lives when they’re young and capable and fit enough to do so.
“Who has seen tomorrow?” one of my Gen Z students once asked me.
I always wanted to travel but couldn’t afford to when I was younger, and yet, when I see young Gen Zers now and how bold and daring they are, I can’t help but wonder what if I’d been that daring when I was in my early 20s? I could’ve seen so much more of the world.
4. Finding New Ways to Make Money
Gen Zers are f*cking brilliant at exploiting the one great thing that the 21st century has given us: the internet. This has allowed them to find alternative ways of making money that have become so popular and so accessible that they’re now mainstream. From starting their own channel on YouTube, creating a business on Instagram, eschewing traditional modes of education like getting a college degree or an MBA to jump into finding their bliss and their passion and doing what they love, Gen Zers truly don’t just live to work. They follow their dreams and passions, and the living just comes from that.
What helps also is the Gen Zers dismissal of how much money they should make to feel successful. If running their YouTube channel and being their own boss makes them enough money to live a normal and ordinary life, that, to the Gen Zer, is considered successful.
5. They Just Want to Be Happy
“What do you really want from your life?” I asked a Gen Zer, who is also a family member.
Ask most people you know, and they’d give a pat response: Own a house. Buy at least two amazing cars. Put money in the bank. Vacation every year. Send my kids to an Ivy League college.
She thought about it for a mere second and said something that still makes me choke up when I think about it:
“I want to be happy.”
So simple. Yet so profound. She did say she’d like a home of her own, but that was the only material thing she wanted: a tiny matchbox of a place was fine as long as she could claim it as hers. Other than that, she wanted to go to bed, sleep well, and wake up every morning with a smile on her face and happiness in her heart.
It was a powerful lesson learned for me.
Happiness. At the end of the day, isn’t that what we are all essentially striving for? So why do we make it so complicated? Why do we think a mansion or a garage full of cars can bring us happiness?
Happiness is the gurgle from a baby. The beauty of a rose. The breathtaking view from atop a mountain. A rainbow. That perfect bite of chocolate. That joyous sip of chai. The buttery smell of hot popcorn. The smile on a child’s face when their parent comes home early from work.
These are the things that really matter, that bring us happiness. Isn’t that what we’re all striving for?
And isn’t it amazing that Gen Zers have figured this out so early in their lives?
What do you think? Let me know in the comments!