Experiential living through the lens of a brand new generation

As the world continues to evolve, so do the experiences and perspectives of each new generation. For millennials experiential living may have been a trend, but for Gen Z it’s a way of life.

This is a generation that thinks differently and does things differently. They are under 25 digital natives, with diverse interests and preferences as individuals. But at the core, they have a fierce sense of individualism, a strong idea about shaping the narrative of their lives, and a firm belief in their own unique journey. And that marks a significant departure from the millennials of the material world. From travel choices to personal well-being and conscious consumption, here is a snapshot of experiential living through the lens of Gen Zers – a brand new generation of adults sharing their outlook towards life.

Travel. Gen Zers prioritise travel to unique and authentic destinations. And go as far off the grid as they can. They prefer travelling solo, duo, or in a trio; but never in large groups. If they sniff an exploratory travel experience that would allow them to participate in immersive local experiences in a new land, they would gladly take up volunteering opportunities, seek out cultural exchange programs, or accept unconventional job assignments. More often, they would choose local families and home stays over fancy hotels. Or settle for no-frills hostels. They would engage with locals and fellow travellers over shared interests, be respectful about alternate ways of living – customs, culture, habits – and remain curious to learn more. Some prefer to Bullet Journal (BuJo) everything and make travel an effortless life lesson. The return on investment, they say, makes them rich in many ways.

Skills. Learning a new skill outside of your comfort zone is an incredibly rewarding and experiential experience. And this generation makes the most of available resources to learn to cook, paint, code, surf or kayak. They could attain proficiency in a new language, get a diving instructor certification, enroll in a music conservatory, art school or participate in a theatre residency. There is no either/or here; it could be any or all of them. Side skills help them build stronger relationships and navigate complex social and emotional situations. It is also a method to cope, and a path towards self discovery and self actualisation, that can lead to a greater sense of achievement and satisfaction.

Gigs. It’s not about the music, but using side skills that can be of value to others. There are several new world ideas that the old world needs, and that has given rise to a flourishing gig economy among Gen Zers. And gigs have gained legitimacy over the last couple of years. Whether it is custom made artworks or taking up a photography assignment, setting up a vintage thrift store, managing events or earning from your social media skills, there are several streams that one can build as a side hustle. An experimental doodle artist can create a vibrant cafe interior; a flow artiste can be a corporate wellness trainer; and a content creator can deliver unique brand narratives for the market. Experimentation is key in today’s free-flowing fluid work culture that makes it possible to build a professional enterprise around personal passion.

Thrift. Call it conscious consumption or the rise of the frugal economy, you cannot deny that thrifting is in – be it New York, Paris, Amsterdam, or your hood. More than anything else, it is the thrill of the hunt, the sense of discovery, and finding that unique and affordable piece to express your individual style. And Gen Zers can take credit for the phenomenal rise of thrifting culture lately. While it reduces material waste and is environmentally conscious, it also promotes a sustainable fashion subculture that is social, global and fiercely community driven. And the anti-fast fashion movement and social media platforms such as Instagram have contributed immensely to the rising popularity of thrifting amongst Gen Z.

Subcultures. Gen Zers are often drawn to communities that embrace non-traditional values and lifestyles, and are active in creating and promoting these subcultures – ones that celebrate differences and reject mainstream norms and values. Androgynous fashion, Sneakerheads, K-pop, Crypto and NFT communities – they are all forms of non traditional expressions unique to this generation. Aligning with a subculture gives Gen Zers some added flex within their extended community, and brings out another dimension to their personality.

Icons. A key factor that defines this generation and their choice of cultural icons and role models, is the alignment of personal values and shared identity. Something about their story and struggles should strike a chord and connect at an individual level, beyond their on-field/ on-stage performance. And once that happens, they would be there to root for their favourite artists, band, or athlete. Be it watching Harry Styles, Cold Play or The Weeknd live in concert, or getting a ringside view of their favourite player at the UEFA, EPL or FIFA World Cup – attending in-person events and immersing themselves in a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ of being in the moment with their icon, is an important life goal. The engagement continues through social media, streaming music, shared playlists, artist discovery, online gaming and esports – keeping them centred around their favourite musicians and players in real time.

Mental Health. This generation’s focus on mental health and well-being is far greater than ever before. Growing up in a world that is rapidly changing and often stressful, Gen Zers experience higher levels of anxiety and stress, and often find it difficult to cope in an environment that is constantly judging, and built around material comparisons. They actively take time out to create awareness and seek out support for themselves and others. While social media is a major contributor to the problem, it often emerges as a solution as well, as young people look for resources, share experiences, form support groups and raise awareness using new media, apps and tools.

Advocacy. Aware and actively engaged in a wide range of social, environmental and welfare issues, this generation is eager to make a positive impact in the world around them through their ideals, emotional intelligence, empathy and communication skills. Gen Z is the most diverse generation in history, with a greater proportion of individuals from multi-ethnic backgrounds, than ever before. This shapes a more progressive and inclusive set of social and political views, than those of previous generations. They are not afraid to speak up, and use political activism and advocacy to address challenges around issues such as human rights, social justice and climate. Their everyday decision making is defined by conscious consumption, source credibility, saying no to animal testing, recycling, upcycling and reducing carbon footprint. “If it’s good for the planet, it’s good for me” – remains the motto, and they often find giving back to the community through voluntary work, social entrepreneurship and non-profit projects, an incredibly rewarding experience.

While the cultural shift in perspective is driven globally by digital innovation, it has a lot to do with a socially conscious entrepreneurial mindset amongst young adults. Gen Zers are redefining what it means to engage with the world and make a mark, and by embracing the power of experience, hopefully they shall create a more equitable tech-enabled world. So take a moment to appreciate this unique lens through which they view the world and be inspired to do different.

Research for this article was conducted with the assistance of Chat GPT, an AI language model trained by OpenAI. Images have been created with the assistance of DALL-E, an AI model developed by OpenAI.

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