In the traditional Boomer mind set (if we can generalize for sake of example) success looks something like this:

  • Get an education
  • Get a stable job
  • Find a stable partner and get married
  • Buy a house and a car
  • Preferably have a kid
  • Retire with savings you can live on

Until now this has been the mantra that most Canadians have followed, and by which they have deemed themselves to be successful – or not.

But Millennials see things differently and herein lays the generational communication gap.

Millennials (loosely defined as those born between 1984 and 2004, depending on who you ask) see a great injustice in the way they are being judged, and the lack of power they have to be successful in their own right. In Neil Howe’s book “Generations”, he describes 4 main generational groups, each one responding or reacting to the one before it, with the patterns repeating themselves endlessly.

Boomers were deemed to be narcissistic and self-centered by the generation before them whose defining characteristics were teamwork, the group and “all for one and one for all”. They went to war in World War II and banded together to fight a common enemy.

The Boomers were their offspring, and were much vilified for their focus on themselves, freedom of speech (the vote, human rights, civil rights, and much, much more), and toppling of some of the institutions that previous generations held dear.

Their parents did not understand them. But they survived, and because they were by far the biggest cohorts of the population, they defined trends in the economy, fashion – and pretty well everywhere else.

Now Millennials are vying for top cohort spot, and they might win out. They currently make up a third of the Canadian population and they are now banging on the doors of influence previously enjoyed solely by the Boomers.

Millennials value community and engagement, and focus less on a 9-5 workday. They value travel and experiences rather than accumulating the “stuff” that Boomers traditionally use to define success or failure. These two generations are the least likely to get along, and have been at odds throughout history: go back 400 years, as Neil Howe did in his book, and you will see how this pattern repeats.

So can these two groups get along? Well, it depends. It depends on whether both generations can come to an understanding that “success” can be measured in different ways. It depends on whether both generations can adjust their viewpoints. It is interesting that Boomers are criticizing Millennials for being “self-centered” when they, as youngsters, were similarly accused.

History and patterns repeat themselves, but opportunities to cross the great communication divide exist, and it is up to everyone to make the effort.