The current generation of youth seems to be born to perform. They are ambitious, enterprising and self-conscious and their main ambition is becoming famous. When you look around you, there are plenty of examples. Who are these career kids? What drives them to follow their passion at such a young age? And what happens when you are extremely ambitious but you don’t have the talent to conquer the stage? Career kids… the name says it all. We see an increase in the number of children and youth who start up an adult career or activity at a younger age. The number of young (and they are really young!) entrepreneurs is growing, both nationally and internationally. Here are some examples: Lars Duursma, aged 24, appeared in Business Week with his training company Debatrix, and Fleur Kriegsman started her successful Hipvoordeheb.nl (an online fashion shop) when she was only 14.
But it’s not just about entrepreneurship. Some of you might have heard about Laura Dekker, the 13-year-old sail girl. The new LAKS president (action committee of scholars), Steven de Jong, is aged 18 and during his presidency he is working for a solid education for all youngsters. These examples are not the only ones. Data show that the number of young entrepreneurs in The Netherlands is increasing exponentially. In 2007 there were 13,421 registrations of entrepreneurs aged up to 24, in 2008 the figure rose to 28,730 and in 2009 the number of young entrepreneurs soared again to 43,095. There is a strong increase in ambition amongst youth. How can one explain this trend?
From order to negotiation
In the past decades, households changed into ‘negotiation’ modus. Youngsters are getting more and more room for discussion, and obtaining authority from hierarchy is continuing to be less acceptable. This generation of parents wants an equally matched relationship with their children. They push children to do what they like and to discover their own passions. A good relationship between parent and child is key. These changing household ratios are at the basis of the ambitious performance generation. Parents continue to push their children to excel in something. Being average is insufficient. Parents see their children as the centre of the universe, and children internalise this. The consequence is that children also think they are unique and fabulous.
Recent research organised by TNS Nipo into narcissism amongst Dutch youngsters showed that almost half the children aged 16 to 24 think that they are ‘very special’, whereas this is only the case for a quarter of the 55+ group. People with a narcissistic personality show more sense for initiative, have more perseverance and often have a more positive mind. Those are the characteristics of ambitious career children. Furthermore, there are unlimited options these days to show your talents and ideas to the world, which pushes the surfacing of young talent. It is mainly the arrival of social media which was a catalyser in that area.
These days you can become famous or successful from your own bedroom, which is exactly what most members of this generation want. The Foundation “Mijn Kind Online” (my kid online) published research results in 2009 showing that 61 per cent of the youngsters aged 11 to 17 want to become famous. Becoming famous seems like a real option for this generation, thanks to the Internet. A typical example is Esmée Denters, an 18-year-old girl from Oosterbeek (a village in the Netherlands) who was discovered via YouTube where she uploaded shot movies singing cover sin her bedroom. She signed a contract on Justin Timberlake’s label and released a couple of albums.
Is this valid for all youngsters? Have we raised a generation of highflyers who are independent and ambitious? No, unfortunately we didn’t. There seems to be an increasing split in the group of youth. On the one hand we have youngsters who are independent and ambitious, who follow their passion and who go through life without a care in the world. On the other side we have a large group of youngsters who struggle with all the options and the performance pressure and who actually have an increased need for clarity and structure. This group should not be forgotten about either: they are the ones who need extra attention, structure and guidance. They do have extremely high expectations and ambitions but do not (yet) have the options to realise them. Frustration is lurking around the corner.
What will these youngsters’ lives look like in a decade? How satisfied will the current generation of youngsters then be with their life? The developments described above exist merely by the grace of growing prosperity. Pressing questions are however whether this generation of youngsters will do better than their parents.
The visibility of the extroverted successful group of career kids increases the knowledge for an entire generation of youth: success is a possibility or even a necessity. This will result in brilliant careers for some of the youngsters, but some others may also succumb under the stress of options and performance. The performance generation could even turn out to be a myth for youngsters: no matter how hard you try, not everyone will benefit in the same way. And this is where the challenge lies for organisations: how to get the best out of the current ambition of the youth.