In his June 21, 2012 HBR blog post Daniel Gulati dubs the approximately 25-34 year old cohort the “hesitation generation,” an expanding class of talented individuals who inadvertently are training themselves to be systematically indecisive.” He says they’ve been taught “to carefully weigh alternatives and pick the path with the highest expected utility.”
As Barry Schwartz explained in his book The Paradox of Choice the more choices the more stressful and difficult to make a decision and the less satisfied with the choice. Social media multiplies the problem because we are able to compare endlessly, solicit numerous opinions and second-guess our choices.
The 25-34 year olds from top-tier schools and work experience Gulati interviewed for his new book Passion & Purpose ranked as the #1 reason for choosing a job, intellectual stimulation. That was a requirement they sought and easily switched employers to find. Many just defer making career decisions. Gulati says generating options can quickly become an end in itself. As a result, “Some of the most talented individuals in the world find themselves stuck in an unending holding pattern, a professional gray zone housing those who have the most options of all and have failed to convert any of them for fear of missing out on all others,” wrote Gulati.
By his own admission, Gulati drew these conclusions from a sample of dozens, hardly a scientific sample or a significant size pool. Apparently he saw some patterns he considers significant.
Add the broader statistics regarding young people returning to their parents’ home in their 20s and delaying marriage and parenting, and perhaps the “Hesitation Generation” label has some validity for some of the Gen Y/Millennials cohort. They have been told to do what they are passionate about. Many may be searching for passion, but not everyone feels passion early on or sometimes, ever. Or is a desire for options and more learning to keep ourselves marketable a reaction to the times? Desire for options and flexibility has been a typical attribute of Generation X since they entered the world of work in another bad recession and having witnessed the historical employer-employee social contract being ripped to sheds.
Feeling purpose in one’s work, feeling one has a purpose, is very important to career and personal satisfaction. (The young orphan in the recent film “Hugo” talks of everything and everyone having a purpose.) But it may not necessarily go hand in hand with passion or perfection.
My personal experience with people in the 25-34 age group (many in a similar privileged category as Gulati’s interviewees and many not) has been largely positive, but I do recognize some of the symptoms that Gulati talks about and have read much about it.
What are your thoughts on this? Is the “hesitation generation” simply a manifestation of the new life stage between adolescence and adulthood called “enduring adolescence” or “emerging adulthood”? Or is it something else?
Phyllis Weiss Haserot www.pdcounsel.com