Being more of an individual

A growing proportion of people are refocusing on the self or turning inwards in their pursuit of security and stability. Since their need for validation by others has lessened, they are more inclined to look within for answers to their questioning about the world around them and their own individuality.

Increasingly, people are realising that no-one else knows what’s best for them. They are questioning authority with growing scepticism and self-confidence. Institutions are more likely to be seen as impediments to self-actualization than as facilitators of it.

In the workplace, we are increasingly self-employed entrepreneurs in a world of ever-changing networks and relationships. One of the most remarkable expressions of individualism in our society has been the rapid growth in self-employment during the past two decades. Between 1976 and 1998, self-employment doubled in Canada. There are now almost two million Canadians who call themselves boss. In the United States, that figure is over 30 million. What’s more, according to the Census Bureau, over 70 per cent of businesses in the United States have no paid employees. In California — which is usually at the cutting edge of national trends, according to published reports, two out of three workers do not have a traditional job — the leave-your-home-in-the-morning-to-work-for-someone-else employment. They’ve realised that independence is the greatest guarantee of prosperity, even in a downturn. Adam Smith’s invisible hand is becoming more and more visible as people realise: “It’s my hand”.

More and more citizens are participating directly in the stockmarket and monitoring their own investments. In less than two decades, the proportion of North Americans who own shares in the stockmarket, either directly or indirectly through mutual funds, has risen from one in ten to one in two. This signals an entirely new orientation to risk and reward in our culture.

As we become more wired and gain more access both to intellectual and financial capital, we feel increasingly capable of making our own decisions and managing our own portfolios. Technology has massively enhanced each individual’s capacity to learn and implement those functions that were previously the domain of the so-called “experts” whom we are now free to “disintermediate”. Welcome to the Post-Paternal Age!

This Tide of Change is building massive momentum with the entry of “Generation Y” into the marketplace. Generation Y, also known as the Ritalin Generation, refers to those individuals born since 1977. They are the people who process information at warpspeed. Their self-esteem is on steroids. Deborah Rothstein, the executive director for career services at Columbia University, says: “I think there’s a general sense of entitlement among Gen Y’ers. They know that if they don’t get a job they want, they’ll go freelance. A lot of kids come to me and say: ‘I’d like to be making six figures in six months.’ They all want to be challenged immediately and expect opportunities for international travel — within two months of starting work.”

Bruce Tulgan, a management consultant who is writing a book on Generation Y, says, “Young people are given an unprecedented amount of responsibility at an early age. It’s a common conflict when young people overestimate themselves, and because they have high expectations, they’re going to be a nightmare to manage.” Jay Conger, a professor at the London Business School, however, says: “Get over it. The older crowd paid their dues at a different kind of country club. It’s much more of a free-agent, market-oriented workplace now.”

Mike Lipkin would be delighted to share your points of view. So please e-mail them to me at mike_lipkin@environics.ca.

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