Dear Gen Z,

Distinguishing people by generation is more an art than a science. Folks like to use generations as an attempt to make sweeping generalizations about people of a certain age cohort. Gen Z is made up of kids born from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s, so if you were born sometime between the advent of Yahoo! and YouTube, I’m talkin’ to you.

I’m calling you Gen Z because it seems to be the most widely-accepted label, but there’s no telling which moniker will stick. Several names have been suggested: Post-Millennials, The Mass Shooting Generation, iGeneration, Digital Natives. I’m partial to that last one because it sounds like something an indie band name generator might spit out. Anyway, let’s go with Gen Z for now.

College & Career.

Many of you are in the early stages of your careers or at the beginning of college planning.

Millennials were frequently told that our college majors wouldn’t matter, that we should follow our hearts and the rest will work itself out. I’m not sure if you’ve heard the same, but I’m hoping that piece of advice died along with Myspace.

Your college major totally does matter.

If you spend four years learning political science only to discover that your dream job is to be a neurosurgeon, you’ll have a harder time breaking into the medical field than someone who studied neurology. The crappy advice from yesteryear totally ignores this very obvious fact.

It’s hard to predict what your dream job could end up being, so explore all the options out there. When you’re forced into taking “Chemistry 101” or “Intro to Computer Science” to satisfy your college’s breadth requirements, give those courses as much effort and attention as the ones you chose to take. You just might find out that chemistry is your thing, and it’s better to find out earlier.

Even so, you may not figure out what you want to do in your first semester of college. It could take years and a few wrong turns, but you’ll get there. A political science major can become a neurosurgeon. It takes a lot less time, effort, and tuition if you can figure out your career aspirations earlier.

It looks like your generation is serious about attending college, which is why I’m making the big assumption that most of you will go. One of your biggest concerns is avoiding debt, which is unsurprising considering you’ve grown up watching millennials struggle under the weight of student loan payments. Good call, Gen Z. Maybe you’ll be able to buy homes before we can.  

Define Yourself.

Being a part of a generation has its perks. For example, many millennials can relate to each other because we deal with similar struggles; we went to college around the same time, graduated with similar debt into a similar job market, and found out quickly that we couldn’t buy houses or cars even if we wanted to. The nice thing about being part of a generation is it gives you a sense that you aren’t alone. Relatable memes are a form of self-care — change my mind.

The ugly part is that the media, mostly made up of older generations, will try to tell you what you are and who you are. Millennials are intimately familiar with this. We were supposedly entitled, coddled, and narcissistic “snowflakes”. It’s too early to know how you’ll be defined, but some terms being thrown around are: unfocused, tech-dependent, and apathetic. There’s at least one Buzzfeed author who’s already defending you against these stereotypes, as I hope most millennials will.

You’re already defining yourself by advocating for social change, shaping your online identity, and leading innovation. Continue to define yourself, and pay no attention to how older generations define yours. As a side note, can we please agree not to make negative generalizations about “Generation Climate Change” and “Generation Space Dwellers”, or whatever our kids and grandkids are called? Thanks.

Demographics & Politics.

Turning just to the United States for a sec, our demographics have been shifting for a while. Your generation is one of the first to be minority white. Congratulations, Gen Z, you ended racism! Just kidding, unfortunately.

There are a lot of you, though, so you have the power to sway the United States politically and culturally away from some of the frightening white nationalism we’ve been seeing. This has a clear implication for Gen Z’s future; white as the norm will make less and less sense. We are already slowly (but surely) making our way towards appropriate representation, but that will be accelerated as your generation becomes the prime target for entertainment and marketing. Shows like Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, as well as political victories for POC, will no longer be novel. They will be the norm. I don’t know what the solution to racism is, but I hope you can help build a world where politics, media, and business accurately reflect the diversity of our country.

The folks who represent us are several decades older than us, and we’ve all seen the divisiveness and ugliness that has plagued our political system. Your generation is already politically active, and some millennials are already taking office. Together, let’s make a pact to listen to one another, put people first, and continue to prioritize the truth over false, sensationalized news.

I’m happy that millennials are no longer the babies. We’re all finished learning how to adult (kinda), and we can finally pass a little wisdom to you.

I’m hopeful about what the future holds for our generations. We hope you are, too.

Love, Gen Y

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