It’s more than a Pepsi pitch jingle. It’s true in countless ways. Young folks try more new stuff than anyone else. And the world is better off because of it. If only we could increase the percentage of people trying out something new at every age.
There’s been a lot of ink spilled about what Generation Y is and is not, who it is, how it’s different from Gen X and The Boomers, and so on. Dealing at the generational level is always risky business because of the inherent generalizations at work.
Even so, I’d like to make a generalization that’s particularly of interest to me — not about the differences between periods in which we grew up in (& how they shape our world view), but about the similarities of age cohorts.
Simply put, people who pass through their twenties share a lot in common with all of the other 20-somethings of years past. They have a higher appetite for learning, or said in the language of older folks, a higher appetite for risk.
This is not news. The bullet points are rattled off all the time:
- They have fewer responsibilities so they have much more time
- They have less wealth, and less to lose, and fewer responsibilities that would be impacted by loss
- They have less opportunity cost for trying something new because the thing they’re doing now isn’t providing tremendous material returns
- They have more time to adjust course, re-start, learn anew
Ok, that’s the conventional wisdom. Feels really rational and economic, doesn’t it? It’s missing the I-don’t-live-in-a-box human aspects to it.
In my experience, people are much more social (part of and impacted by the folks around them, for better or worse) and also more prone to momentum (or lack thereof). I think it’s important to add in a few more likely reasons
- They learn more because they’re recently practiced at learning, the fulfillment and sometimes rush it brings isn’t a memory out of reach, it’s a feeling that’s on hand
- They’re more willing to ask for help; there are fewer hang-ups with “should have it all together by now” which leads to more iterations, and more learning from each one
- They remember explicitly to have fun; instead of fun being a luxury now and again, it’s a must-have that’s top of mind (this one my friend Katie reminded me of recently, something she’s been doing while writing her book; she’s having fun in her job and it’s making a real impact on her life)
People in school, and people coming out of school and in their 20s, are at such a phenomenal moment. They’re steeped in learning (having just completed a hard core two decade primer), the joy of it is still coarsing through their veins, as is the craving of it, and now for the first time they have a 10x step up in freedom to explore whatever they so choose. It’s no surprise they unleash a blast of new on the world.
Some Old Dogs Love New Tricks, But Too Few
To be sure there are individuals at every age for whom the three social aspects of learning mentioned above are true (and I’d argue they’re the happier ones, or the “high performers”). However, as people turn the calendar, they on average grow less and less. Sometimes precipitously less.
Again, the common responses have become refrains:
- They’d love to have more fun and grow more if taking responsibility seriously didn’t crowd out every minute of the day
- That the same things that were fun just aren’t so fun after you’ve done them 1000 times
There’s more than a kernel of truth on both counts. But still I wonder, Really? I suspect one of the main reasons people quit growing is because they view it as optional, and once they slow doing it, they atrophy at it, then it becomes hard or even scary. Both the social and the momentum bits showing themselves again.
The Pepsi Stimulus Package
If the people who are learning and growing, led each year by young folks, weren’t refreshing the world, who would be? How would the world, or to get local, your neighbors and office mates, be different if more people at all ages kept growing like they were in their 20s?
I think it just might be a better place.
So yes, it’s a commercial for a drink with Bob Dylan and Wil.I.Am. But it adds another twist on the phrase “may you stay forever young.”