On September 11, 2001, shortly after I walked into work in downtown Minneapolis my boss made an annoucement: terrorists have attacked The World Trade Center in New York City. I clearly remember her telling us to leave work immediately.
“Go home and be with your loved ones,” she said. “I believe our nation will be going to war today.”
I rushed home to a daughter who was just 5 months old at the time. I now have two children and neither of them are fully aware of Osama Bin Laden, September 11, or terrorism. There’s an entire generation of children who are too young to remember the September 11 attacks or who weren’t even born yet. Essentially, for any child in America under the age of 14, yesterday’s announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden must seem like a curious thing indeed.
For them, there is no pre-9/11 America, a time when you could meet your party at an airport gate or get through security in a breeze without having to take off your shoes and jackets. For them, there is no before, there is only the after.
My generation barely remembers the Vietnam War and the resignation of President Nixon. The generation before mine barely remembers the Kennedy assassination, and the generation before that barely remembers the Great Depression, and so on. It is historic events like these that define a generation and establish their shared fears, joys, and sorrows and eventually their needs, values, wants, and expectations.
Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic that for the children born during the past 14 years, there will never be the chance to compare and contrast the ways in which bin Laden and his followers changed the very essence of the way in which we live and interact with the rest of the world in the span of just a few hours.
“There is a gulf there, a fault line, really, that will last until the last American who remembers September 11, 2001 perishes from the face of the Earth. Only those who fully remember that day can fully appreciate what this news means,” Cohen wrote.
So what do we tell our children about the death of Osama bin Laden? Perhaps all we can say was that a warped man who had brought suffering to so many around the world will no longer be able to do so.
And one day, in the not-too-distant future, this generation will read more about bin Laden in Civics or History class or see a movie about him and they will struggle to comprehend what happened and why it happened and how it changed America.
Indeed, it’s up to those of us who remember September 11 and life before September 11 to pass the significance of this event down to our children and grand-children.
As painful as the last decade has been, at least this story has a happy ending. The death of Osama bin Laden is a great testimony to our country’s brave pursuit of freedom and independence. And whether they realize it or not, for the Post 9-11 Generation America will be stronger and safer — and that’s by far the best gift we could give our children.
God bless America!
In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.
Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.
Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.
In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.
With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.
Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.
Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.
Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.
Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.
In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.
While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.
The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.
Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results. Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.
When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.
Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.
Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.
Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.
Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.
Looking for a game changer at your next event or a strategy unique to your organization?