I watched a movie yesterday evening and in it, someone suddenly said: They call us the selfish generation

I paused it for a moment and asked myself: Who is us, who are they” and why is a generation selfish? . Since then I have been thinking about these questions.

Us probably refers to me and maybe even to you. The generations that are born in the end of the 20th century and are thus now in their 20s and 30s. We are the people who have to decide in these years what we want to do with our lives, where we want to go and who we want to be. But how are we making a selfish choice? When we are looking at it from the perspective of many who had to make the exact same choices we see that we are today confronted with different opportunities and probably with more.

The chances that we will stay in the city in which we were born to go to university are quite low and that we live there by the time we retire, that is even less likely. Our generation, statistics shows, will work in seven different industries before we retire. And these are industries, not jobs. Some of these industries do not even exist yet and are yet to be invented.

The chances that we live in one country for our entire life become smaller too. Your company might offer you a great job abroad and you will probably take it. We will follow the opportunities we get if we want them and not wait for the opportunities to come to us.

If this is us then who are they? They are the generations who are used to living their lives quite different. You grow up and at some point you decide what you want to be. Most likely you will work in the same industry until you retire. Sometimes you might even work in the very same firm until you retire. You will not move far away from your hometown and probably never leave your country of origin for more than a vacation.
Certainly, this is quite a different approach, but given the circumstances of the time a few years ago, it was more feasible. There were not too many commercial airlines operating and those which were, were extremely expensive. Travelling from one country to another was therefore a luxury. Moreover, fewer companies operated on a world scale and those who were, hired their employees locally. Because it was quite difficult to move people they would prefer to hire the people who are already there. You had difficulties in terms of language and culture and many people simply could not imagine leaving their country of origin for good. Today, however, English as an international language is also the language required in most internationally operating companies, and when they ask to send you in a faraway country, you can do business in English and learn the local language with time. The number of airlines has increased almost as rapidly as their prices have fallen. Flying within Europe costs today less than taking a train and is much faster.

Let us now try to understand how this makes us selfish. Looking at past generations and looking at ours we see that people reexamine their priorities. You might want to wait having a family before you know where you settle down. Your high school girlfriend might want to go abroad, see the world, while you are more grounded and can’t imagine leaving your region, definitely not your country. So you split up now and hope to meet again at a different time. More and more people focus on their careers.

The same goes for having and raising children. More and more families put their children into a kindergarten and some people decide to go back to work after staying at home one year or even less, instead of spending three years together at home. Here we see particularly more and more women using these offers of childcare.

But is this selfish? After having spent 12 or 13 years in school and another 5 years in university to get a degree with which I can do my job, why would I throw this away to have a family? Why can’t I have both?

Many people who choose to go back to work and put their children in a kindergarten before they are one year old for the early afternoon feel bad about it, but if they would stay at home they might feel worse and, growing up, the children would feel bad because it will see his or her parents unhappy with their jobs. Postponing to have a family of your own in order to focus on your job follows the same logic. Living in a more and more connected world, flows of human capital not only become easier, they become a requirement. In order to work in some fields, we have to be flexible in terms of location.

And industries are responding to this. If you worked in the foreign office of many countries only a few years ago, they would send you where they needed you at the time and you had little or nothing to say about this. Today they ask you where you want to go and assist you in finding a possibility to bring your family along, finding a job for your partner, a school or a kindergarten for your kids and so on.

But as always it takes some time to get used to the new realities. However, I would not call it a selfish decision, it is just honest one.

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