As the calendars turn, 2021 offers us a new beginning of sorts. The New Year’s “resolution” may be an overused cliché, but there is still no better time to focus on self-improvement. We can all resolve to work on becoming better versions of ourselves.
This is especially true for Millennials, who are closer to the start of their personal and professional journeys than the end. People my age need to find opportunities to learn and grow. While 2020 brought an unprecedented pandemic and unparalleled hardship for many young Americans, life goes on. Here are three New Year’s resolutions for the Millennial generation:
Learn new hobbies
The Millennial generation is a national leader in at least one category: Phone usage. On average, Millennials spend 3.7 hours of their day looking at their phones. Much of that time is spent on social media, scrolling through the likes of Twitter and Instagram.
Is some of that time spent productively? Of course. Access to a smartphone, including social media, is today’s equivalent of visiting a public library. The proliferation of technology has exposed us to more information than ever before, and that information can add value in personal and professional terms.
But let’s be real: A lot of that time is wasted. Unlimited access to technology carries an opportunity cost, crowding out potentially valuable pursuits that make for more well-rounded men and women. As I have written before, Millennials are less likely than previous generations to pick up new hobbies that don’t involve on-demand entertainment. No one gravitates to a flat character in film, but the gradual elimination of the hobby has made flatter characters of many Millennials. Fewer and fewer Millennials are versatile in their interests, let alone their daily activities.
Put down your phone. Learn a new sport, such as golf or tennis. If it is cold outside, dive into weightlifting or run on the treadmill. Replace your next TV show binge with a game like chess. Visit your local arts and crafts store, which may spark an interest in origami. Even if it is just reading a book, there is value in broadening your horizons and improving your writing skills to boot.
Speaking of writing, try some writing for fun. You may enjoy it.
Invest in your future
Here is another hobby: Investing. Over 40 percent of Millennials have not invested in stocks, bonds, and other assets. Among those who have, 21 percent have invested less than $500 (and that’s before the pandemic).
While many Millennials are not financially equipped to set aside significant funds, there are millions of 25- to 34-year-olds who have extra savings but are not reaping the benefits of compounding. This is a problem. When Millennials refuse to invest in the stock market, for example, they fail to maximize their potential as long-term earners and savers. The historical average for annual stock market return is 10 percent, which is essentially lost income for the non-investor. Why not capture that return?
You do not need millions of dollars to invest in your future. Nor do you need to know the many complexities of the stock market. Imagine that you invest $100 in an S&P 500 index fund every month for 10 years. Assuming a 10 percent return, that $100 would become $200. Now, imagine if you invest even more, instead of spending money on overpriced lattes and salad bowls. Hundreds of dollars can become thousands within years.
Two words: Brandon Smith. In 2017, the Milwaukee-based video producer invested $10,000 in Tesla’s stock, and he continued to do so over time. With each paycheck, Smith would pay his bills and then purchase additional shares of Tesla. This year, he became a Tesla millionaire. In his words: “I’ve just bought and held the entire time. I’ve never sold a single share.”
That can be you. Think about it: How many Brandon Smith’s could be out there? At the very least, how many Millennials could become more financially stable with a small dose of investing?
Discuss and debate in good faith
Of course, there is more to life than money—much more. Chances are, you can improve as a conversationalist. No, I’m not talking about proper enunciation or a robust vocabulary, although both are important.
I am talking about the need to discuss and debate in good faith, and by extension the need to be capable of doing so. In the era of bitter partisanship and hyper-polarization, bad-faith discourse is par for the course. Too often, one individual assumes the worst of the other, choosing to demean the other’s character without trying to understand that person’s worldview and what may inform it. Too often, we assume that disagreement implies a moral failing of some kind—if you disagree with me, you must be stupid or evil, and on and on. Social media takes the otherization to a new level.
We can all do better—on social media and off it. What today’s America needs is good-faith discourse, informed more by curiosity and open-mindedness than groupthink and tribalism. Ask yourself: Are you discussing politics with another just to disagree? Or to “enlighten” that person? Or to simply feel better about yourself?
Now, do this instead: Speak to another person with the sole intention of listening. Rather than using your silence merely to formulate a counter-point, stay silent to hear out that person’s main point. Listen. And, while you’re listening, think of the other as an equal and not some subordinate who needs to be “converted” into you.
This is easier said than done, but it is necessary for public discourse to have any value. The alternative is toxic. To quote Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Converse accordingly.
I will leave you with one more quote, in the name of self-improvement. It is from Alfred Lord Tennyson in Ulysses (and the James Bond flick Skyfall):
“We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”