As you know I am currently traveling the world (I know, you hate me right now…), have just turned thirty and am currently jobless. As you can imagine, I have a lot of time to think, and one of the things I have been thinking a lot about is what it means to be a thirty-year-old today. Around the world, we have met a lot of thirty-somethings who have different cultures and lifestyles, not the same education or professional backgrounds, and yet, we have a lot in common. Among the lot some very important questions. Were we living the life we had dreamt of? Do we have the job of our dreams? Are we taking the time to do things we love to do? Are we happy in love? Are our love standard too high? Are we ready to settle? Are we ready for kids? Or do we want to take off on a trip around the world? Big questions to which the answers can be summed up by “It’s complicated…” We also agreed that despite the fact that we were called Generation Y (or millennials) we really felt we didn’t have that much in common with millennials that were in their twenties. Sooooo many things separated us from them.
Would it be possible that there was some kind of international generational group we might belong to? I knew yuppies were out and I had lost all hope when I found out that after the hipster (which clearly I did not belong to, despite the fact that I love microbreweries and flannel shirts) was being replaced by the yuccie (take the test). Knowing that yuccie stands for “young” (not a chance) “urban” (that one fits me!) and “creative” (not sure marketing is included in their definition of creative) I guess that eliminated me straight away. So what would that subculture I could belong to be about?
It seemed that this particular group of thirty-year-olds were living a moment of crisis: a kind of “third-of-a-life-crisis”. According to the online Oxford Dictionnaries, “crisis” can be defined by: “A time when a difficult or important decision must be made”. It’s no news that thirty is a turning point in life. It’s a moment when you stop 2 seconds (more than 2 seconds might actually be recommended) and wonder where these last 10 years have led you to, how you imagine the next ones to come and what you are going to do to get there. So yes, “crisis” seems to be the accurate word. I would like you to meet “the thirdies” (a play-on-words between “thirties” and “third-of-a-life-crisis”. I know. Applause) and tried to connect the dots of all the things that linked all these thirty-year-olds asking themselves questions and see if a pattern emerged. And it actually did. So, what would characterize this thirdies group?
Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult. -C.S. Lewis
1 – THIRTY SHADES OF THIRTY (THAT ONE WAS EASY): AN ECLECTIC MIX ‘N’ MATCH IDENTITY
It was hard to define an identity for this group, because they do not have a particular fashion style (they grew up in the nineties so please forgive them) and cannot be identified by some very distinctive style characteristics such as round glasses, mustaches or vintage flannel shirts.
What really characterizes them, is that they are professional mix ‘n’ matchers. They are not really trend-setters; they are more a rational and efficient type of trend followers. A little bit of hipster here, a little bit of yuccie there and some old yuppie to finish and we have a thirdy. They blend and adapt easily to different cultures, subcultures or age groups. One explanation could be that this generation has been practicing the “in-between” for a long time. They were children during the Offline World and became young adults during the boom of the Online one, they have a weakness for Modernity and a thing for Retro, and professionally they are currently navigating between the old safe Corporation universe and the new exciting Free-lancing and Start-up one. So say “hello” to a very eclectic crowd with an iTunes playlist ranging from Cat Stevens to Metallica, Tupac to Angus and Julia Stone, a gastronomic palette including both organic vegetables and McDonald’s hamburgers and a wardrobe mixing flannel shirts with business suits. Their problem? By being in-between they haven’t developed a strong sense of subculture identity and feel that in a way they do not belong to anything. But they do. They certainly do.
2 – AT THE CROSSROADS OF BABY-BOOMERS AND GENERATION Z
The second thing this groups shares (and it might be the more important one) is the feeling that they are not really millennials as journalists would define them. They do not feel completely shaped by technology (they grew up in the nineties; they had Tamagotchis instead of smartphones and got a social media account only by the time they got to college) and are definitely reluctant to buy a selfie-stick. They feel that the true millennials are the ones that are in their mid-twenties today. Let’s put it like that: people having graduated with a Business Master in 2008 had a 1-hour class about Digital Marketing (Twitter was a 2-year-old toddler and Instagram was not even born); in 2013 it is often half of the marketing curriculum. If we look at companies, in 2008 the digital teams were small; today they have community managers, digital PRs, affiliate marketing teams, Google ads specialists, etc… Yes, they are digital natives as they grew up along with the internet, but they were not as immersed in it as the current 20 to 25-year-olds: they have had the luck to know what an offline world looked like.
They also feel that something went wrong between what they have been taught was the right life model and what they will actually achieve. They have been driven to a risk-less professional life model. Get in a good company, fight for a good wage and climb the ladder. Do that for 40 years, pay your mortgage, retire and you should be fine. But no, we are not going to be fine following this pattern. We are the crisis generation remember? We had the good idea to start working (or trying to start working) in 2008. No company will keep us that long. Our buying power in the real estate market is clearly not the same and we will probably not be able to retire the way our parents did. Twenty-year-olds are fighting for a new model based upon independence, passion and entrepreneurship. Thirdies are evaluating both models and trying to find their place between these very different worlds and perhaps inventing a “Thirdy Way“.
They are where they are: in-between. There is a gap between them and the twenty-year-olds and the Generation Z that is coming up. There is clearly a gap between them and the baby-boomers. But the gap between the youngsters and the baby-boomers is HUGE. Being at the crossroads of these generations is actually their strength and what makes them so necessary in society: they play the role of “translators” between very different planets. An important asset for companies who often need pretty good translators between 50 y.o. decision-makers and their millennial project managers who clearly are cohabiting in a big Babel tower.
3 – CURRICULUMVITAE.DOC > DELETE > CREATE NEW FILE
I hear a lot of thirdies say: “I don’t know if I have made the right choices”. Interesting, as they often did everything “right”: went to good schools, found good jobs, bought a good house. So read carefully as this is a good tip to identify a thirdy: suddenly they tell you they don’t know anymore if they are on the right track and decide to change the course of their CVs and lives to the despair of their parents. How many thirty-year-olds around you have you seen quitting their jobs to do something their are really passionate about? Like starting a pastry shop, a hand-made craft business, an online book shop, or a flower boutique? Or sometimes going back to the school’s benches to put their future on another track? If you have seen some, there are big odds they are thirdies. So what happened to these thirdies professionally speaking?
- The twenty-somethings entered the workspace. And they do not see the beginning of their professional lives as a 30 y.o. would when she/he was 20. They are not interested by a career if that means giving your personal life up to a board of unknown action holders. They are not willing to yield creativity to please hierarchy. They are not looking as much for money, but for autonomy and meaning in what they do. And the thirdies are starting to understand that these “kids” might not be wrong.
- The social definition of success is changing. Being a lawyer, a head-engineer or a top manager in an international corporation used to be DA-thing. But now, digital entrepreneurs, bloggers, organic pastry boutique owners are gaining much more visibility and recognition in the public space and therefore in the private one too. New battles are emerging in the “wow, that’s cool”: money vs free-time, hierarchy status versus independence, stability versus risk. The word “success” is being replaced by another one: “self-fulfillment”.
- They have worked for a while now and can look back. They came to the obvious conclusion that they have spent most of their adult lives doing a job and they want to make sure they are not wasting 40h a week for the next 35 years (around 65 000 hours) doing something they don’t like. And they want to do something they like. Better: LOVE.
So labor market, business angels, human resources and managers, get ready. Thirdies are going to change some things around.
4 – WORK AND LIFE BALANCE: THE NEW BELIEF. AMEN.
We have seen that thirdies are looking a lot at professional reconversions but they are also integrating the “work & life balance” question at the decision-making table. Yep. Even for those who currently love their jobs this is becoming a new not negotiable point. But why? Well the first one is obvious: they are getting older and wiser (yes if you are a thirdy reading this, sorry but it is true, you are, it’s mathematical). But there is more to it.
- The “30 y.o. Balance” is giving them the obvious news that they need more free time. Thirty is a turning point in life and a moment in which birthday girls and boys do some kind of “Life Balance” and wonder if their priorities of the last decade were right: “Hmm I have stopped going to yoga”, “I never have time to cook”, “I am not seeing my friends enough”… Leaving the office at 9PM suddenly does not seem like a proof of hard-work recognized by the team but a proof that they are letting important moments of their life slip away. To the question “are they becoming less ambitious?” I would answer: they are becoming life-ambitious.
- Thirdies are reachable all the time and want to unplug. One thing thirdies have witnessed is how on their quite short professional life they have become increasingly reachable by their employers. They started with an e-mail, then a Blackberry, then the Blackberry was out, then IT installed an e-mail app in their iPhone, then a Skype pro account… So even when they are out of the office, the office is still in their pockets, available and begging to be checked. It has become normal and accepted that “just checking my messages” is totally fine on a Saturday evening. But is it? They are wondering. Slowly but surely, they are starting to re-educate themselves on how and when they should be omni-connected, and not only towards their employer. For those wondering, a good place to start might be what a thirdy friend of mine does when dinning with friends: all smartphones go to as basket and the first of one to take a pick pays the bill. Very efficient technique.
- After the success of FAST, it is time for SLOW. -“When do you need this for?” – “Yesterday.” -“…” Technology has without a doubt allowed us to do many more things. But it has also pushed us into doing things faster, diminishing an important part of our work life: time for reflection, analysis, and good decision-making. The same goes for private time, we are always running somewhere. Going fast is great. But being able to slow-down is awesome. Week-ends at home doing ab-so-lu-te-ly nothing are becoming more attractive than a week-end getaway to the beach. Investing activities that require time are rewarding. People are cooking, learning an instrument, writing a blog, studying photography. So they are obviously looking for professional universes that foster slower moments: like banning e-mails for a whole day, or sparing creative time far from any communication device. Time is becoming a very rare and valuable asset and companies should be investing in it.
5 – IMPOVERISHED? PERHAPS. BUT NOT DEFEATED!
Thirdies are broke, or at least they feel like it. How often do you hear thirty-year-olds saying that they had more cash available when they were students then now? They have lost hope on what they will actually be able to afford with their wages. When their lucky baby-boomer parents were often able to buy a house by the time they were thirty, thirdies know that a studio might be all they can afford. When their parents knew they would have a retirement pension one day, they know they will have to find another way. But they are not giving up: on the contrary: they are fighting back and re-thinking the traditional pattern of income-spendings and mostly thanks to the web.
You recognize a thirdy because she/he is very much aware of websites as Airbnb and Uber. As customers of course (who isn’t nowadays?), but also as a suppliers. To increase their income, thirdies will be willing to sleep at their friends’ place two week-ends a month and rent their flats on Airbnb, or drive a couple of hours after work via Uber. They are optimizing financially what they own or know how to do without getting into conflict with their main income source. They are also becoming digital sellers and buyers taking full advantage of what the digital marketplaces have to offer. Why pay full price for a Stark chair if you can find it on eBay barely used for half of the price? Their living rooms are not made from second-hand vintage furniture from flea markets (ok that too…) but from second-hand famous brands bought online. Understanding how to exist in the digital world has also allowed them to monetize hobbies. Like creating a small e-commerce website to sell home-made jewelry or cool printed shirts. Or starting a blog about hot chocolate and finding targeted sponsors and advertisers. Another big way on how they are reducing they are becoming experts in the DIY (Do It Yourself). With millions of tutorials online why pay for something you can actually do yourself? In one month I learned how to cut my hair (value: 30$), how to pick a lock when I got trapped outside (300$), how to embed PDFs on website pages (300$), how to create a catalogue in InDesign(1000$). Cost of the operation: 0$.
6 – ENTERING LIFE COLLEGE
This is what will draw the line I guess if you were not sure if that or that person is a thirdy (or yourself). One of the main characteristics of thirdies is that they look aware. Aware of their body, aware of their surroundings, aware of themselves. They are looking for the important things, those that really matter.
They are aware of their body and have realized it is not invulnerable: the bad hangover and the amazement of the “but I only had 3 drinks” seems to be convincing them that they need to start slowing down. The fact that despite a 3-day diet they are not losing weight makes them realize that it might be time to start eating a little bit better and exercising more. Thirdies are actively trying to offer a better lifestyle to their body.
The excess of our youth are checks written against our age and they are payable with interest thirty years later. -Charles Caleb Colton
They are aware of the impact of stress in their lives and are trying to get rid of it. They have learnt the hard way how strong is the hold stress can have on someone. How many thirdies around you have lived a burn-out? No news that stress is one of the evils of these century. However thirdies are not hiding the impact it has on their lives and are making life choices that allow to diminish it to the maximum. First sign: changing their job to move to calmer seas. Second sign: moving out from city centers to calmer suburbs or secondary cities with less hustle (and it’s cheaper). Third sign: in their library you will find a book on meditation and yoga, a Lonely Planet of Bali or Sri Lanka and have kurkuma in their kitchen spices.
They are aware of how they have not invested enough on themselves. Georges Clemenceau (former French president said): “Everything I know I learned after I was thirty”. Great news!!! Think about what you remember from school? or college? Not much? Well you are not alone. Thirdies have realized how little what they once learned stayed in their minds and how it has impacted their lives. And then the tough question: how much learning time have they lost in front of the telly or scrolling on Facebook? So now they are fighting for new hobbies and re-educating themselves. They are investing in themselves learning new skills instead of new knowledge. Some of them are writing blogs, others are getting back to guitar classes, others are learning to jump from a plane, or learning mixology online. They know that what you learn cannot be taken away from you and knowledge is at the tip of their keyboard. So they are fueling their minds, hearts and souls.
The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty. The young are slaves to dreams; the old servants of regrets. Only the middle-aged have all their five senses in the keeping of their wits. -Hervey Allen
They are aware that they have not been expressing what they should. As individuals from the Generation Y they got used of expressing themselves in the public spaces (don’t forget: they were the early users of Facebook) and are often addicted to Instagram or Twitter. But something is changing. Instead of using social media to offer a digital curated illustration of their lives (preferably showing how cool their life is), they are re-orienting them towards a space of a different kind of expression. A more sharp and creative one using Facebook to promote their new-born business or Instagram to show their photographic eye. They want to show the world what they can do instead of what they are doing.
They are aware it’s time to become less self-centered. The Generation Y has a bad reputation regarding its altruistic qualities. It is true that they have been trained to display their personal life in front of everyone. It is true that the selfie trend has had some success among them. It is true that they are known for being looking for attention from their parents, human resources or managers. Thirdies have been used to get attention. It is now time to learn how to give it back to those who need it. It means paying more attention to their loved ones: partners, family, friends. They will be putting them on the top of their list and downgrading other activities, like work. They will give them the most precious thing they have: time. They will be evaluating their impact around them paying closer attention to ecology (decreasing packaging consumption, less water consumption, less plastic bags) and wonder how to make this world a little better place (like contributing to an association or getting a dog at a dog shelter). They are not saving the world but trying to compensate a bit their previous not popular selfish behavior.
It is time to end this post before it gets really too long. So to make it simple, thirdies are out there, not really happy with their lives and the prospects they have. They are in a quest that seems evident but that has never been the full focus before: they are looking for happiness. Full, complete happiness that makes your heart burst, that makes everything seem possible and fosters energy, well-being and dreams. Impossible? Probably. But those who try nothing have nothing. And thirdies are trying. Sit tight because the race for happiness has started!
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THE FULL THIRDIES INFOGRAPHIC!