The following is a guest post by Corbett Barr (someone I greatly respect both personally and professionally). Corbett blogs about Lifestyle Design at Free Pursuits, and he just launched a new blog about building high-traffic websites called Think Traffic. Follow him on Twitter @corbettbarr.

Matt was kind enough to have me write a guest post here as a sort of “outsider’s” response to his recent Breaking Away from Generation Now post.

I’m a Gen X-er myself, although Gen X isn’t really identified as a tight-knit group anymore (which, by the way will also happen to Gen Y as you enter your 30s, even though it might seem now like you’re forever and inextricably joined in one giant group).

Responding to Matt’s post is a daunting task. It’s hard to comment on the actions of a group of 76 million people all at once without oversimplifying, stereotyping or just generally pissing people off, but I’ll do my best.

Gen Y, you have some huge opportunities to do better than Gen X and your parents did. Please don’t take the easy way out.

I happen to be a big fan of lifestyle design and people living unconventional lives, but I try not to be judgmental about people who just want a comfortable career so they can live without work ruling their lives. As an entrepreneur and reformed workaholic, I absolutely get the attraction of a “conventional” life.

It seems as though the lifestyle design movement has gotten a little off track lately, especially among 20-somethings. It has become less about following personal passions and dreams and more about a competitive ideal that everyone is supposed to aspire to. I understand why lots of you have been turned off by the whole movement.

However, there are many more important reasons to rethink what work and life mean to you and your generation than competing over who has the most free time or who travels to the most exotic locales every year.

I’m talking primarily about three areas of opportunity here:

  1. Your own personal lifestyle, passions and career
  2. The broken power structure of our society
  3. Help for those in need

Let’s take a look at each area separately, and why you shouldn’t take the easy way out.

Your own personal lifestyle, passions and career

They say your generation cares more about what you do for a living and who you work with than how much you make. That’s great. For so long, the primary goal of college graduates has been to snag the job with the highest salary and biggest perks.

The problem is that what starts out as a great paycheck and a tolerable job quickly turns into panic that you aren’t living your dreams or full potential as you reach your 30s. Eventually if left untreated, that formerly cushy cubicle job can turn into full on mid-life crisis, divorce and/or health problems.

If you’re lucky, at some point you will realize you wanted more from your career than a paycheck and you’ll do something about it. Unfortunately, changing careers or starting a company in your 30s, 40s or beyond is much harder to do than in your 20s.

I’m not saying you have to jump with both feet into self employment or becoming an artist or whatever else your real dream might involve. Just realize that it won’t get any easier. At least consider following your dream part-time for now.

The broken power structure of our society

If you do decide to go out an get a comfortable and well-paying job somewhere, you should first give some thought to the impact your potential employer has on society. Especially if that employer is a big corporation.

In the West, we live in an extremely wealthy society by world standards, but much of that wealth has come at the expense of work-life balance of the average worker. CEOs of big US companies are paid on average 262 times more than the average worker. In 1965, that ratio was only 24 to 1.

Power continues to accumulate at the top and shows no sign of stopping. Consumerism, celebrity culture and lack of investment in small businesses all contribute to a dwindling middle class and growing poverty.

If you have the choice between working for a small employee-owned or family run business versus a giant corporation with lobbyists and shameful benefits for the lowest-paid workers, I hope you choose the former, even if it means less pay.

What you do for a living isn’t the only chance you have to make a difference to society, either. Where you shop, the transportation you choose and what you eat all can contribute to or help reverse the imbalance of power and wealth in our country. It just requires thinking a little outside of yourself.

Help for those in need

Coming from relatively privileged backgrounds (as I assume most people reading blogs like this have), it can be easy to forget that so many people around us and in other countries are struggling without the basics like education, food, clean water and health care.

The cool thing is that lots of startups and foundations have shown that social entrepreneurship can create sustainable businesses while helping those in need.

As a Gen Y outsider, it seems that many of your generation have just the right blend of compassion and entrepreneurial spirit to make innovative differences in the world’s most difficult social problems. Many of you were, after all, raised by former hippies but born in the decade of greed and excess, right?

So what’s it gonna be, Gen Y?

The focus of your generation on unconventional lifestyles, entrepreneurship and doing what you’re passionate about is important if a little misguided. Instead of competing over who has more lifestyle design street cred, why not work together to make life better for yourselves and society as a whole?

I’m confident you’ll seize these opportunities for three reasons:

  1. You’re smart, passionate and more connected than we were. Just take the depth of conversation that goes on at blogs like this one. Your generation is clearly well connected and deeply passionate.
  2. Technology has opened so many doors. More than ever, anything really is possible for the motivated and impassioned. Gen Y gets technology and social media. You grew up with it. Now you can use it for more than just entertainment or convenience.
  3. This crappy economy you’re entering the workforce in (or not) can actually be a blessing in disguise. Not having so many employment options means entrepreneurship and creativity will be more important to your generation. Hopefully it means more of you will become self-sufficient before the economy picks up again.

So what’s it going to be, Gen Y? The easy way out, or making your personal life, our society and the world better than any generation before? Those of us from other generations anxiously await your answer. Please share in the comments.

(Image c/o DiegoCupolo)

About Matt Cheuvront

I empower folks to do the work they want to do and live the life they want to live. I also watch entirely too much Saved by the Bell, run marathons, and drink plenty of craft beer. Check out the work my company is doing at Proof Branding.