Triggered, but Ready to Rebound
While the start of the pandemic was a time of sourdough kits, MasterClasses, and motivational quotes, 2021 is shaping up to be the year of sweatpants, anxiety and low-grade depression. “Sad Bods” are trending across generations, but it’s Zs that hold the title of the “most depressed” generation according to a recent study by the American Psychological Association. In fact, according to that same study, three-quarters of Gen Z respondents reported feeling so tired in the past two weeks that they “sat around and did nothing,” 73% “struggled to think properly,” and 71% felt “miserable.”
Millennials may cling to their positive mantras, but Zs are side-eyeing attempts at brightsiding — a phenomena where someone toxically insists on looking for the positive no matter your situation. This isn’t to say they’ve given up. In fact, according to a study from YPulse, 72% of 13- to 39-year-olds say that they believe once the pandemic has passed, they will be able to bounce back. Rather, Zs have traded in old-fashioned “positive thinking” for “manifesting.”
Manifestation Through Future Scripting
Manifestation is the practice of bringing something into your life through your thoughts, actions, beliefs and emotions. Unlike brightsiding, manifesting doesn’t diminish the sad reality of the moment we’re in currently. Manifesting is often grounded in the frustrations of the moment, but encourages practitioners to resiliently imagine and attract a better future.
Manifesting is nothing new; who can forget Gen X favorite The Secret? But Gen Z has modernized the language of manifesting to mirror the current cultural lexicon as well as the mode of the digital tools available to them. Instagram posts, TikToks, Clubhouse chats and comment sections are all being used as manifestation spaces. The trend has grown so quickly that on YouTube influencers are posting DIY manifestation videos, teens are “scripting” on TikTok (e.g. repeatedly writing down the wishes they want to come true), Lorde stans flocked Twitter attempting to manifest her new record and social observers suggest “shut up, I’m manifesting” is the defining meme of our times.
Part of the power of this manifesting trend is that, while many consumers are stuck simply hoping for a better future, Gen Z sees themselves as far from helpless. They’ve always considered themselves to be highly capable and digitally empowered. Once again, they’re turning to a source they know they can rely on to make things better: themselves.
Currently the most unemployed generation ever, they know building themselves back after the last year will be no easy task — in fact, a full two-thirds of Zs feel like planning for the future is “impossible,” according to the APA. Still, the Gen Zs we spoke with are energizing themselves with mantras along with a steadfast work ethic. As Shae, 18, said, Zs are “taking it more day by day. Preparing for the worst, but working to manifest the best.”
73% of Gen Zs feel confident that the pandemic will not negatively affect their ultimate success and happiness.Cassandra Report
The Inner Hero’s Journey
While the world’s been on pause for the last year, Zs haven’t let their own journeys stall out; rather they’ve shifted focus from external outcomes to internal paths forward. Zs are on the front lines of a revolutionary shift away from the pursuit of self-optimization towards one of self-prioritization. While Millennials hustled their way from SAT prep classes to six-figure college loan debt to anxious adulthoods, ultimately earning “the burnout generation” moniker, Zs are using the pandemic as justification to find balance. As Marshall, 18, put it, “I didn’t realize how busy and overwhelmed I was until everything shut down. The pandemic has honestly been a blessing in disguise.” “I make sure I’m taking time for myself,” said Maddi, 19. “I think that’s the biggest thing I changed during quarantine.”
The chaoticness of reality has only increased Zs belief that nothing is entirely stable or to be fully trusted, inspiring them to reevaluate everything including their own personal journeys. “This time has helped me grow and focus more on myself since we’re all cooped up at home,” said Noah, 19.
The focus on personal growth over checking off all the traditional life boxes was evident in research fielded through the Archrival Culture Collective community around Gen Z 2021 New Year’s Resolutions. Rather than achievements that one might cross off a to-do list or post about on Instagram, the Zs we talked to were focused on three key themes that felt a bit more self-reflective: Acceptance of Others, Selflessness, and Intention + Awareness.
Self-prioritization is not only a bubbling cultural conversation taking place across digital networks, it’s also a habit — one that is supported by social media’s emphasis on the individual as well as the increased algorithmic nature of media. These days every consumer is truly invited to manifest their own hero’s journey, via Spotify, Twitter, Netflix and the like. In this current moment of uncertainty, algorithmic “readings” that promise to direct you towards a brighter future (or binge fest) are seen not only as a personalized recommendation, but almost a calling. Call it ‘For You’ for the soul.
35% of Gen Zs say the pandemic has made them reconsider their career path, according to HR consultancy Tallo.
New North Star
Through introspection, Gen Z is developing internal strong compasses guiding them to make decisions — on everything from purchases to career choices — that align with their values. Rather than follow in the footsteps of those who came before, they are looking inward to manifest a new way forward.
This is having profound impacts on the way they approach education and careers. 62% of Zs want to forge their own educational path, according to a recent study conducted by Vice Media and ECMC Group. Even before the pandemic, Gen Z was already attracted to platforms like Airschool where they can get paid to be a knowledge expert or Superare where they can sell their digital art with ease that allow for more career self-direction. “I think the general sentiment is still not wanting to do that traditional nine to five,” said Bennett, 19.
Zs are driving a fundamental rethinking of the meaning of a career, according to a recent study conducted by Deloitte. Work will continue to disaggregate with freelance and self-employed workers increasing from 65 million in 2020 to 90 million in 2028. But, while it’s true that Gen Zs still want to be entrepreneurs, it’s not because they desire becoming the next Zuckerberg like their Millennial forebears. It’s about having the time to prioritize their self, their joy and their community. “You’re reflecting more on like, ‘oh, I don’t need to be doing some like crazy big job,’” said Alice, 22.
Gen Z’s tendency to think in “we” instead of “me” extends into the realm of career where they are manifesting a collective reset as much as a personal one. We’ve heard qualitatively that many Zs are shifting their career ambitions to something that feels either essential or impactful such as green energy, medicine or caregiving.
Of course, while this value-driven path is honorable, it does add an additional layer of pressure to young job-seekers. “There was already so much pressure on our generation to start school, find a job, you know and start your life,” said Maddi, 19. “I think that our generation has taken that pressure and focused it into a different direction of how can I better serve my community by doing things I’m passionate about? What you want to do in life? But also, like, how can you make an impact?”
At the crux of Gen Z’s rethinking of their futures is their own sense that their generation is meant to make a meaningful impact and do great things. Having inherited a planet with an expiration date, a society rife with inequality and now a once-in-a-hundred-year global health crisis, Zs feel that they’re the unfortunate “chosen ones.” While other generations have largely passed the buck (looking at you, Boomers), Zs feel that it’s up to their generation to manifest a resounding reset that will ultimately benefit all of us.
What it means
- Gen Zs are in the process of rethinking their futures and are looking for sources of inspiration and education. They’re happy to have brands play this role as long as the brands align with their internal moral compass.
- While Gen Zs are optimistic about the future, that doesn’t mean they want to ignore what’s not working in the now. Brands that engage in an open conversation about what change is needed immediately will likely be the brands that Zs turn to when manifesting the future.
- Gen Z sees themselves as the heroes of their own stories. As such, they’re looking for brands that fit that journey rather than trying to buy into a generic brand lifestyle.