Saturday, March 26, 2011

17/100: The Twenty-something Phenomenon

I have one thing against the twenty-somethings: I am not one of them.

As it is obvious from the tone, I regret the fact. Because the world today moves around twenty-somethings. In this Mark Zuckerberg era, if you are not twenty-ish, you are unloved. VCs think you are history. You are not licensed to dream.

I was told that if you have reached forty without messing up your life completely or doing something insanely great, you are not qualified to dream. My rather feeble protestation that there were always great men in history who found their calling in mid-life, like Gandhi or FDR, was pushed aside. We don't live in that era anymore, I am told.

Yes, indeed, life's faster and there is more respect for young businesspeople. Young business-people by itself is a new phenomena - it is much easier to get capital and run a business early in your life. I contend that what really changed is this - starting up has become easier - we have more young people pursuing a business career. And, they are much more risk-taking, compared to the mid-life dreamers who usually have family and other commitments. The excitement in business, therefore, is more.

But, again, life's not over for the older people. We live longer, so Forty is the new Twenty. It is a time to start, not to fold. Just thank God for all those extra years that you got to learn the thing, and start over. And, yes, you can still do something really cool and still become insanely great. I know talking about retiring at 65 sounds like Civil Service, but that could be your equivalent of retiring at 45 folklore: You may have a better chance of making it.

My point is being twenty is a state of mind. As I was explaining to a younger colleague recently, there is no baggage, just commitment in life. This is my view: You essentially remain alone all your life. That Single thing is just Zuckerberg in his frustration, everyone is eternally single. Just that you don't have to be selfish or lonely because of that; it is perfectly possible to see life as it is, a dynamic formation as in the dance floor, everyone on their own, but tied in synchronicity.

And commitment isn't a bad thing. Commitment teaches people lessons that are needed to come up with great ideas. Commitment gives people discipline that they need to write great code. Commitment means being predictable, which is not the opposite of creative, but just that you turn up on time. If I have spent twenty years at work learning such things, it isn't going to be a waste of time.

But here is what the twenty-somethings are teaching the older dreamers: Commitment isn't the end, but the start of something great. If you want to change the world, first commit; but then, get on with changing the world. Don't fuss over, be cool: Don't take your eyes off the ball.

Finally, one more thing that is so twenty-something: Don't take the world as it is for granted. The 60s are back: The post-modern selfishness has finally given away to a new era of street activism and connectedness. The illusions of stable life, which the broadcast media peddled every evening to our unsuspecting minds, are over. As the TV sinks into reality shows, and Facebook makes our relationships go beyond the obvious, and even the permissible, everything is up for grabs. This is the world twenty-somethings grew up in. The Forty-somethings, though they created it, need help from the 'young ones' to make sense of their own lives.

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