Editorial: Millennials and the American Dream

Millennials — members of the generation born after 1980 and the first to come of age in the new millennium — are getting a bad rap. “They are lazy.” “They are entitled.” “They want participation trophies for everything.” “They only care about themselves.” These stereotypes are just the beginning.

During the course of Re:Dream, we’ve collected thousands of dreams and held community engagement events with people of all ages and walks of life. Three of these events centered primarily on millennials.

  1. Grow to CEO 
    This event was a breakfast and panel discussion with four executives from Kansas City businesses: KCPT’s CEO Kliff Kuehl; St. Luke’s Hospital CEO Jani Johnson; Gordon Lansford, CEO of JE Dunn Construction; and Maria Maffry, chief business development officer at BNIM. The audience was made up of millennials in their 20s and early 30s.Grow to CEO
  2. Round-Table Discussion and Screening at Johnson County Community College
    Students and teachers discussed different opportunities and obstacles that face people pursuing their American dream today. The audience was primarily young students ages 17 to 24.jccc
  3. TedX Youth Kansas City
    At TedX in Kansas City, we set up our signature white picket fences and brought artist Charlie Mylie to capture dreams of youth (ages 13 to 25) and their families. This event was open to the public and allowed us to draw a large audience.TedX Youth

Through these events, we gleaned a lot of information about this generation’s viewpoints and dreams as well as the thoughts of their employers, teachers and parents. The most surprising part? Their answers are almost the exact opposite of their stereotypes. The main difference is perception.

Let’s break it down by a couple of the stereotypes:

“Millennials are lazy.”

Of course, there are lazy millennials. There are lazy baby boomers. There are lazy Gen Xers. There are lazy people in every generation. However, this generation gets the reputation as lazy because they don’t view the corporate ladder, America or even the world the same way as some of their predecessors.

Previous generations valued money and security. Many millennials don’t work for a company just because of pay. They don’t take a position for benefits. They look at fulfillment, what the company stands for and work-life balance. As a whole, they want to feel as if they are a part of something more. Gen Xers and baby boomers often took jobs for pay, opportunity for advancement, etc., so they misconstrue the shift in priorities as laziness.

Below are a few dreams from the Re:Dream project that coincide with this point.

Join the Army

go to work and make a difference

give my children stability

“Millennials only care about themselves.”

Of course, there are those who just dream of money and success. I stand by my stance above that there are these people in every generation. However, as a generation, we’ve seen more dreams centered on thinking outward rather than inward. This goes back to millennials having more access to information. They know what goes on in other countries; they see national and global issues, which has led to their shift in thinking.

A large portion of the dreams are centered on ending racism, giving back to their family/future generations, helping others or joining a cause. Below are some additional examples.

Midwife 2

adopt at least one child from a harmful environment


Every generation has people who want to change the world. Every generation has people who value money and power. There are those willing to fight for every opportunity, and there are those who feel they are a victim. That is the nature of our society.

With that in mind, millennials are a new generation. They have been the most connected, locally and internationally, generation yet. They have instant access to knowledge that previous generations couldn’t have dreamed of having at their age. This has created a culture that views the world differently. Their collective beliefs differ from those of their parents, much as the generations before them have different beliefs than those who came before them.

How do we change the world? By understanding what each generation brings to the table. We need to take these collective experiences and combine them with today’s global knowledge. Those who have lived through trials need to mentor those yet to experience roadblocks. Those who are jaded need to take inspiration from those who haven’t given up hope. Only then can we move forward.

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