Millennial Role Models, High and Low

Atul Gawande (Image courtesy of the Center for American Progress)

This post is part of TNGG’s Career Week.

My aunt, who is in her early fifties and has three children my age, once told me a story about the aspirations she had for herself as a child. We were standing by the sink in her kitchen and she was pouring me juice.

“When I was little, I wanted to either be a big orange cat, or a mommy who changes babies’ diapers.” She is the only person I’ve ever met who actually achieved their childhood goals, assuming she wasn’t serious about being a cat. And she loved being a mommy who changed babies’ diapers; she was good at it.

But for most girls, and guys for that matter, that’s not enough. We want to have it all: kids, career, money, friends, etc. Perhaps more than any generation before us, Millennials are taking the necessary steps to achieve our big dreams. Whether it’s because we have more monetary and emotional support, easier access to education or because going to war is voluntary, we’re setting lofty goals and getting pretty close to reaching them.

But gone are the days of lusting after someone else’s life. While there are certainly techies who want to literally be Steve Jobs and shower singers who think they are Lady Gaga, most of us are paving our own way. We have heroes, but not all of them are household names.

Hannah Whaley, a 23-year-old office assistant in Greensboro, NC, wants to be like Phaedra Parks, Atlanta entertainment attorney and a “Real Housewife” on Bravo.

“I want to be like her because she does the balancing act so flawlessly,” Hannah said. “She’s young and beautiful and still incredibly successful and smart. She’s active on the social scene, but still maintains a growing family and a huge number of high society clients and contacts.”

Hannah was also impressed by the fact that Parks makes more than a lot of the men she works with and that she made her husband sign a pre-nup.

“She’s brilliant.”

Guys have gutsy role models too. Kenny Porpora, 23, a journalist in San Carlos, CA, maintains two career idols: Atul Gawande and Axl Rose. The latter is obvious: who doesn’t want to be Axl Rose? But Atul Gawande has an even less conventional job description. According to the bio on his website, he’s “a staff member of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and the New Yorker magazine.”

“My dream is to write about medicine and be a surgeon,” Kenny said. Yes, at the same time. Just like Gawande. “He’s so amazing and brilliant.”

We want to inspire like we are inspired. First, though, we may do many other, unrelated things. And we have the luxury of time; many of us don’t feel rushed to meet our potential. Marissa Stepnisky, who recently turned 30, has two degrees in forestry-related subjects and works in the tourism industry in Alberta, Canada. She works hard and keeps applying for better jobs, but she hasn’t given up on her crafty dream of being like Jim Hensen.

“I have always been fascinated by Muppets, since I was a kid,” she said. “I didn’t think it was a real career though, so I never pursued it. Maybe there is still time?”

We know Gen Y is flexible when it comes to jobs, but it’s a trait we’ve had to master in order to survive in our respective markets. We want to succeed and we may have a better chance of doing so than our parents did.

Kaitlin Ugolik Kaitlin Ugolik, 22, grew up in North Carolina and studied journalism and international studies at Elon University. She's currently working on her M.S. at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She hopes to find a job that allows her to report across multimedia platforms. She’s an avid reader of non-fiction literature and graphic novels. Twitter: @kaitlinugolik

View all posts by Kaitlin Ugolik

6 Responses to “Millennial Role Models, High and Low”

  1. Caitlin Tremblay

    I love this post. There are about a million people I want to “be” when I “grow up” and I hope I can find a way to (successfully) weave them all into my life. I think a lot of people our age are trying to find their own way to achieve our own goals and we’re not so focused on what other people think. Yes, money is a driving factor and it’s always going to have some social clout but I think our generation is breaking down a lot of “career” barriers in the name of doing what we love.


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