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5 Gen Zers share their revamped American dream: Fewer white picket fences, more flexibility

5 Gen Zers share their revamped American dream: Fewer white picket fences, more flexibility
Careers1 min read
Jorge Alvarez is a Gen Zer who said he was creating his own version of the American dream.courtesy of Alvarez
  • The American dream is changing for some Gen Zers who don't necessarily want a house or family.
  • Many young workers today prioritize flexibility and individual goals over linear growth.

The fabled American dream tends to emphasize what hard work can unlock.

But for some young people, steady employment and tidy lawns don't stack up to much of a dream.

Young workers may still want that house with the requisite white picket fence, of course, but for others, a desire for freedom and flexibility could trump a path that includes a steady upward rise in a single career.

To better understand what Gen Zers thought, Insider spoke with five young workers about their versions of the American dream, their career goals, and what they valued.

Their answers have been slightly edited for length and clarity.

Jorge Alvarez

Jorge Alvarez
Alvarez.      courtesy of Alvarez

Age: 24

Location: Elmwood Park, New Jersey

Occupation: Corporate strategic partnerships manager

Do you believe in the American dream?

The American dream, in the way my parents and their generation saw it, does not exist, in my opinion. My parents are a testament to that: They immigrated here, they had big goals, and they tried their best. But they just didn't have the resources — the social mobility — to become wealthy owners of a house with a white picket fence.

So, if you ask me what the "American dream" is today, it's more about creating my dream: What is "Jorge's dream?"

My dream is to have a job and make the money I need to do the things I love, like hiking, traveling, or taking my mom back to Puerto Rico to explore her hometown — which we're doing for the first time in June.

What is the purpose of a career?

A big part of my identity is being a first-generation American, which has really informed how I view a career. It's always been a means of stability, security, and survival. My goal was to find a career that would allow me to live the most stable life.

When I was a full-time freelancer after graduating college, I didn't have that stability. I was building a brand I was excited about and working on interesting projects. But being a freelancer and never knowing how much I'd earn or where that money would come from was stressful, especially because I was also helping to support my mom.

When I landed my full-time job this year, I was reminded of the freedom that a job was meant to offer, even if it was a 9 to 5. Of course, I'm excited about the income, but I'm actually more excited about the possibilities outside of the job. I was like, "I'm going to book this trip. I'm going to hit up this friend," instead of being stressed by the role or thinking, "I have to hit these deliverables."

That's been a shift of purpose in my mind.

Sam Farber

Sam Farber
Farber.      courtesy of Farber

Age: 22

Location: Chicago

Occupation: Cofounder of Zealot; incoming analyst at JPMorgan

How do a 9 to 5 and entrepreneurship fit into your American dream?

My parents are immigrants from Kyiv, Ukraine, and they came to America with like six dollars to their name. Being first-generation, I didn't know much about college, but I knew I wanted to go into business because my dad was an entrepreneur.

I've always liked to dream big and shoot for the very top. In college, I became really interested in landing a job at JPMorgan because of my interest in finance and business.

I'm starting as an analyst there in the fall. But, in the meantime, I'm working on a company I cofounded, a social-media marketing platform called Zealot.

I'm going to be very transparent with my manager and tell them about the project, but my full-time work is going to be my No. 1 priority. Zealot will be something I work on when I have free time on the weekends and after work — outside of the 40- to 60-hour workweek.

How do you think Gen Z sees entrepreneurship fitting into the American dream?

A lot of my friends are trying to start businesses and become entrepreneurs. Being part of the TikTok generation comes with seeing people talk about their side hustles and making a million dollars in six days on social media.

That exposure makes our generation super interested in entrepreneurship and starting stuff themselves.

Many don't want to take a traditional path into the 9-to-5 culture. Many people are trying to take a path their parents didn't.

Jenna Gestetner

Jenna Gestetner
Gestetner.      courtesy of Gestetner

Age: 20

Location: Los Angeles

Occupation: Student at the University of Southern California; content creator

How do you define the Gen Z American dream?

Today, our generation and society is more open to accepting other paths. Before, if you said you didn't want to have kids, that wasn't accepted.

That said, I am more on the traditional side: I have always wanted to have children and get married. So I think a more traditional path is part of my dream.

But I've also always had this conflicting feeling because there's another stereotype that if you get married and have kids, you stay home. Although I want to be there for my kids, I also want to work. I think that's where this flexibility comes in. Many Gen Zers are looking for the freedom to do more of these things.

How do you think social media affects Gen Z's view of the American dream?

Social media spreads a lot, and people can use it to see what other people are doing. We're no longer in so much of a bubble.

Social media is expanding this idea of an entrepreneurial mindset and being an entrepreneur. For example, I would call myself an entrepreneur, but I have no intention of starting a traditional business.

I think that the entrepreneurial mindset is actually all about soft skills: It's about confidence, being a self-starter and being able to do your own thing.

Genesis Gutierrez

Genesis Gutierrez
Gutierrez.      courtesy of Gutierrez

Age: 23

Location: Los Angeles

Occupation: Founder of Harness, a digital magazine for young women and women of color

What is your American dream?

For me, that success comes with having the freedom to work wherever I want, whenever I want, with whomever I want. I don't see myself climbing the ladder.

I'm also not focused on buying a house and having to pay the mortgage, or paying a kid's tuition. Instead, I'm looking to have more freedom in every aspect, which doesn't necessarily come with having all of these big things.

My dream is more minimal: I just want to enjoy my life.

For example, I'm excited about having the freedom to travel. I was just granted political asylum this February after immigrating to the US as a refugee when I was seven. Now, having documents will allow me to travel the world to places like Spain, Mexico City, and other places I've been wanting to explore. And being an entrepreneur will give me the career freedom to do that, too, because I'll be working on my own brand, on my own time.

How have your values affected your career trajectory?

I really wanted to make an impact. So when looking for a career, I wanted to find something that made me feel fulfilled. Initially, I jumped into education and worked as a marketing- and public-relations coordinator at a community college.

At the college, I worked with many students and helped them with their confidence — to get better grades and prepare for their futures. I liked that work, but working for someone else was not benefiting me financially.

I didn't want to stress so much about money and wanted more flexibility. So I started an online-community and coaching business to build a community I could help in a way that worked for me.

Savannah White

Savannah White
White.      courtesy of White

Age: 25

Location: Austin

Occupation: Public-relations specialist

How do you think the American dream has changed among Gen Z?

The American dream in the past was a lot more formulaic and depended more on security. But the American dream now is a lot more individualized.

For me, it's the ability to have flexibility, freedom, and more autonomy in my work and life. It also means being able to work on things that bring me joy. But I've realized that sometimes what brings me joy changes, so the American dream is also about having the freedom to make changes in your work and life to reflect your new interests.

I'm already married, and I still have some more traditional goals, like having a family. But in the past, there was more of an order: You met someone, got married, had a baby, made a career change, and got the house with the white picket fence.

Even with those same goals, it's more mix-and-match now. Maybe you get the house first, maybe you have the kid first, or maybe you never do.

What are your priorities as a Gen Zer in the workplace?

I want to grow, work on an innovative product, and excel in my skill set.

But I'm not willing to settle for a job that will take advantage of my talents, not pay me equitably for my work, or push me into one specific or limited path.

My generation has so much access to information through social media, so we can see what other people are doing. That shows us that we don't have to settle; we don't have to go in every day and hate what we're doing.

We're still willing to work really hard, but we're not willing to be abused by our jobs.

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