The Chinese word, wei ji, has come to represent a deep symmetry of nature. Wei means danger; ji means opportunity. The Millennials (the generation born between 1980-2000) are coming of age in 危机 (wei ji), a time of danger and opportunity.
Millennials have emerged as young adults in the wake of a global recession, beginning in 2007 and continuing to this day. The current unemployment rate for young adults, sixteen to twenty four years of age, hovers around 50%.1 The unemployed half watch how the employed half live, wondering what personal failings set them apart from their successful, erstwhile friends.
In their youthful naivety, Millennials often blame themselves for circumstances that are beyond their control. They need worldly adults to assure them that, if their dreams seem far away, it’s not their fault. Old folks are familiar with the adage, “it’s the economy, stupid.” Millennials need assurance from their elders that no one is stupid for living in a stupid economy.
Increasingly, Millennials are delaying life-altering decisions while living with their parents, waiting for richer opportunities to present themselves. It might look like immediate gratification is all Millennials want, as they while away the hours watching YouTube and texting. The truth is quite the opposite.
Millennials are using multimedia like sticks of chewing gum to stave off hunger while they wait for a decent meal. To cope with delayed gratification in the real world, they enact their hopes for the future in a virtual world. They haven’t given up on assuming adult responsibilities; they’ve just learned how to wait—an intelligent strategy in a climate of too few realistic choices and too many conceivable options. 危 is a perilous limbo Millennials inhabit, awaiting more as they settle for less.
Parents of Millennials have fewer children, so they can afford to spend more time and money on each child. Millennials are the recipients of much pampering, fattened by a diet of extra mentoring, getting an extra dose of high parental expectations. They are primed to expect a lot from themselves.
They hold the world in the palms of their hands, with hand-held devices blasting images of a colossal, unpredictable, fragmentary world. The technological landscape is shifting so fast that it’s hard to venture a guess as to which direction the future is taking.
What Millennials can look forward to is an exhilarating ride. Unprecedented prospects could open up within a few years, months, or days. Now, more than ever, we need fervently hopeful, action-ready youth—our Millennial warriors.
Millennials sense that they have virtually unlimited, immediate, internet knowledge, but don’t know how to apply knowledge in real world scenarios. And Millennials are too cautious to heed advice that they suspect might be outdated. In such a chaotic world, young people crave more practical wisdom than they have been given.
Mature people are needed to help Millennials sort through the competing voices that keep them confused. More experienced people need to listen patiently, because Millennials have long, confounded stories to tell. The world as they know it is so different from that of their parents that Millennials have a lot of explaining, and elders have a lot of listening, to do.
Superior wisdom can’t magically fix the economy, creating jobs that would make Millennials feel useful, but the older and wiser can offer superior understanding and careful consideration. As Chinese tradition would have it, wise people are to be revered—their wisdom is needed to nourish Millennials, guiding them through the dangerous and opportune passages in the age of 危机.
1 U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 20, 2013 http://www.bls.gov/news.release/youth.htm