One Word After Another – James A. Autry – Sep/Oct 18

Encountering YPs in their Natural Habitat

When I read about the “young professionals” who are getting so much attention these days, I find myself wondering how they seem to have just appeared out of nowhere. I mean, where were the young professionals 20 years ago?

In examining my own career in this context, I wonder if I would ever have qualified as a young professional. I was once young, of course, and I worked in a profession, of course. That would seem to fulfill the basic criteria. But the company I worked for never referred to me as a young professional. They just called me an employee.

I feel cheated.

I guess I was just born at the wrong time. I didn’t get to be in the greatest generation. Too young. I didn’t get to be a baby boomer. Too old. I certainly missed Generation X and Generation Y; they came and went without much fanfare, so I didn’t even notice.

My generation, I discovered on the internet, is the silent generation. That explains a lot about why people of my age don’t talk about their place in the history of generations, only about their ailments and medications.

Back to young professionals. They, it turns out, are a subset of the millennial generation born between 1980 and 1994. After them comes Generation Z, which is as far as I wanted to take this generation thing. I was just trying to figure out where the young professionals fit in.

So, forgetting age and chronology, I’ve been trying to discern the characteristics of young professionals. To that end, I decided to initiate conversations with a sampling of them by contacting them in their regular habitat: Very, very loud restaurants and craft beer establishments.

The criterion for contact was simple: 

I’d talk to the ones who looked up from their cellphones when I said hello.

My observations (I’ll skip comments about the cellphone obsession, which now has spread to other generations and no longer serves to identify “young professionals”):

• They tend to talk about themselves as having a “brand.” Thus they seem to think of themselves as products.

• They are not happy unless doing several things simultaneously. This used to be called multitasking (or as a CEO friend of mine put it, “screwing up several things at the same time”).

• Many of them work from their homes and, apparently, get paid for it.

• They, like many discrete groups, have their own vocabulary, which, to my ear, was fairly indecipherable. For instance, they say things like, “How do we monetize this idea?” or “Will this project be scale-able?” Huh?

• Their pop heroes are people I’ve never heard of and, to my understanding, will be has-beens by this time next year.

With all that, I came to this conclusion: They are not all that different from us upward-striving, ambitious silent generation people when we were young, EXCEPT they are more open and accepting of racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual diversity, AND, I must admit, they are brighter, more cosmopolitan and more global in outlook than we ever were.

So, if only I could switch generations. …

James A. Autry ( of Des Moines is a well-known author, poet, musician and business consultant who has written 14 books on such topics as gratitude, servant leadership and his Southern boyhood. His newest book, “Everyday Virtues: Classic Tales to Read With Kids,” is co-authored with his son Rick Autry.

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