Redefining the dream: Gen Z’s new criteria for success

Graphic by Kelsey Mason

If you want to truly be considered successful, by the end of your 20s you better have graduated college, bought a house, found your long-term career path, gotten married and started having kids, all while maintaining your physical health, financial well-being and social life. Pretty attainable, right?

The concept of success has evolved significantly over the past few generations, reflecting broader societal changes, economic conditions and shifts in values and priorities. For older generations, success has traditionally been defined by tangible achievements such as home ownership, career stability, climbing the corporate ladder and accumulating wealth.

Baby Boomers, born approximately 1946-1964, often view success in terms of property acquisition, secure employment and a stable family life. This generation was raised in a time of economic prosperity, making these goals seem desirable and achievable. The idea was that hard work would naturally lead to job security, the ability to purchase a home and the means to provide for a family’s future.

Generation X, born approximately 1965-1980, experienced a mix of economic conditions, including recessions in the early 1980s and 2000s. While still valuing the traditional markers of success, Gen Xers also started to place a higher value on work-life balance, possibly reacting to seeing their parents’ sacrifices. This generation began questioning the worth of sacrificing personal and family time for corporate success, although financial stability and home ownership remained important.

Generation Z, born approximately 1997-2012, has grown up in a very different world than the previous generations. This generation has been shaped by the Great Recession of 2008, the climate crisis, rising global instability and the rapid evolution of technology and social media. 

A few primary priorities have contributed to Gen Z’s distinct view on success, including financial security over ownership, career fulfillment, work-life balance and flexibility, social impact and mental health. An Intuit study revealed that the top drivers of prosperity for Gen Z include work-life balance, ability to pursue hobbies or passions, ability to give back to their communities and prioritizing romantic relationships. 

While still valuing financial stability, Gen Z tends to see success less in terms of owning a home or other traditional assets. This shift is partly due to new economic realities that make these goals less attainable, but also reflects a preference for experiences over possessions, such as travel and personal growth. 

Gen Z also places a high value on finding meaningful and fulfilling work. This generation is more likely to pursue careers that align with their values and passions, even if it means less traditional stability or lower earnings initially. 

Having witnessed the burnout experienced by previous generations, Gen Z values flexibility in their careers, including remote work options and careers that allow for a healthier work-life balance. Success for Gen Z also includes making a positive impact on society. 

This generation is particularly concerned with social and environmental issues and values companies and careers that contribute to solving these problems. There’s also a growing recognition of the importance of mental health among Gen Z. Success is increasingly defined not just by external achievements, but by personal well-being and happiness.

While Gen Z faces severe uncertainty and intense pressure over the future, young people are setting a new precedent of what it truly means to be successful. Success isn’t necessarily defined by your homeownership status or the point you’re at in your career — instead, success can be measured by the true satisfaction a person has with themself, the work they do and how it impacts the people and world around them.

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