The last couple of years have been tough for new college grads in all fields. Job leads are hard to follow and lines are long for new openings. Applicants are settling for lower pay and lower meaning. But do they have to?
Growing numbers of young people are making an about face—turning their backs on working for “the man” and creating their own ventures. This poses some challenges, but it’s working extremely well for many people 30 and younger: more meaning, more creativity, and sometimes close to the same or better money than they were about to settle for.
Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity, is a world traveler and an entrepreneur (among other ventures, he is publisher of unconventional world travel guidebooks). He is now 32, but at no point in his adult life has he held a “real” job. His message is: “You do not have to interpret the world or live in the world the way others tell you to.” In fact, you can invent your own life, make a living at it, and make a difference. Chris is a prime example of what I call “NextGenNow” leaders—next generation leaders leading now.
I have interviewed hundreds of NextGenNow leaders. The following characteristics and capabilities, ones they build and use often, seem to be the approaches that today’s shifting world calls for:
Do what hasn’t been done before, and never do anything the same way twice. NextGenNow leaders open themselves up to inventing what is needed in each new situation and as opportunities reveal themselves. They never look back to borrow from past practices or look sideways to borrow from others. Their eyes are forward and in the present experience. They work on understanding and initiating based on what is happening now. It takes a great deal of personal courage to believe you will figure out what to do as you go. It also takes patience and the ability to stay present until ideas flow and paths reveal themselves. These are capabilities usually gained through a lifetime of experience. These young leaders already have them. Chris put together an “art of non-conformity” entreprenuers conference with an “action team” that adapted the program as it unfolded. It sold out.
Express your talent and longing in ways that matter. NextGenNow leaders have deliberately developed depth of practice in a field or way of working, and they are applying their talent and character to arenas they care about deeply. Not that they have all the answers—the whole idea is to figure out what to do in the current moment—but they draw on disciplined backgrounds of study and application in fields they crave to know more comprehensively. They are strategic and focused; they take on projects based on what the effects will be in the world at large. They never think or work small. Chris has become an expert in developing unorthodox business models and helping others figure out how to do the same. He is followed by thousands of young people leaving their jobs to turn what they care about into a business. The founder of Legal Nomads, for example, is an attorney who combined culture, food, and travel into an unorthodox profitable travel business.
Develop deep personal agency. NextGenNow leaders draw on the inner belief that they can be the source of their own effectiveness. They experience a strong sense of personal agency and self-efficacy in themselves and foster it in others. This is not false conceit or vainglory. It is an objective appreciation of what it will take to get where they want to go. Chris builds personal development for himself and everyone in his community into all the events he organizes. The new focus is on self-guiding their decisions and their way of running a business. They engage with others, but they take accountability for the outcomes. They consciously invent new rules in everything from financing to marketing.
NextGenNow leaders are not social entrepreneurs because they don’t start with social or environmental problems, and build businesses around them. They start with and stay with their own drive and a unique vision. They use their personal passion to find ways to contribute in the world. There are hundreds of thousands of them finding their way in the new, seemingly barren jobs wilderness.