Growing Up In The Now: Generation Z In A Self-centered World

generation z

Generation Z takes control of life itself. In shaping a happy future, they seize everything that can help them further from self-promotion on Insta, the help of a happiness coach to the flattering self-affirmation in an affirmations app. Life is searching for this young generation. And that search is not without a struggle.

Embracing individual freedom and self-determination is valuable and empowering, but at the same time frightening and stressful. Young people have to go through their search themselves, but they cannot do it without the support and inspiration of others.

The process of identity development is intensive in adolescence. Everything that young people experience during this period is about themselves helps them to shape their self-image. The psychological effect of young people is therefore inherent to a self-oriented attitude. This attitude is additionally encouraged from their environment. In the USA, self-expression is one of the highest valued values. The individual is given every opportunity in our liberal society to develop himself optimally. Most Dutch young people grow up in a relatively stable, prosperous environment with a keen eye for their personal development. And in that development, logically, the ‘self’ is central.

In this article, we explore the ideas, opportunities, and struggles that young people experience due to this self-centered attitude to life. And the role that we – their adult environment – can play in this.

Generation Z – Who Are We Talking About?

We define Generation Z as all young people born between 2000 and 2015. This means that the youngest is now five years old and the oldest 20 years old. The differences within this group are significant: the more aged part now has her first job or part-time job and is studying. The youngest part is still a child. This article focuses on the ‘young people’ within Generation Z: 12 years and older, born before 2008.

This group is slowly but surely creeping out from under the wings of its parents and developing its view of the world.


Self-development is not only worth striving for young people; it is a mission. Little is more important than ‘getting the best out of yourself’. In high school, students are already massively encouraged to look at themselves thoroughly, either with the help of career orientation and guidance lessons or with a business coach. After all, to give direction to your life, you have to know who you are and what you want. And you have to find out as early as possible. Only with self-knowledge will you be able to ‘make’ something of your life. What else are you going to base your choices on?

Success is a Choice Of Generation Z

The ambition and task to take control of your own life did not come out of the blue. Putting the individual at the center of our liberal society goes hand in hand with an individual conception of malleability. We hold the individual responsible for his or her success or failure and thereby link manufacturability to personal effort. The more a person makes an effort, the faster he develops into a successful and happy person. Success seems like such a choice.

Young people are intensely aware of this social engineering philosophy. For example, no less than 87 percent of young people are sure that they will achieve what they now dream of one day. And 88 percent of 16-25-year-olds fully agree with the statement ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’. No wonder they are also bombarded from all sides with this ideal of malleability. See, for example, the ‘We Are NEW WAVE’ film to promote Talpa’s new youth lifestyle platform, in which rapper Lil’ Kleine explains in great detail that young people can do anything, as long as they go for it.

First of all, this is a liberating and empowering message. Focuses on individual freedom:

  1. Study what you want.
  2. Live where you want.
  3. Take a job that suits you.
  4. Have sex with whoever you want, regardless of what others think.

The only thing expected in return is the maximum bet.

Failure Is Not An Option

That is where it becomes exciting for Generation Z. The social engineering philosophy makes the realization of dreams for the future 100 percent their responsibility. According to research, this conviction leads to compulsive thinking about success and happiness. Failure is not an option. And because failure is not an option, optimal self-development is not only a luxury but a necessity. If you are not serious about your values, drive, and goals, it is impossible to define and maximize your success and happiness. The development mission thus leaves its mark on Gen Z’s philosophy and choices. It is not just the freedom to discover; it is a compelling task to identify and realize their personal goals.

What Does This Ask Of Us? – Adult Perspective

When 75-year-olds look back on their lives, they see a path full of peaks, troughs, and unexpected turns. Life seldom runs the way you plan, and failure is inextricably linked to this. That is why we cannot expect young people to formulate precisely where they want to go with the rest of their lives in their teens or twenties. The importance that we – adults – as a social environment attach to young people making the right choices fuel their insecurity. What if you choose wrong?

Complete certainty about the right choice does not exist and is unattainable, especially in your formative years. Naturally, we want young people to start an education or job well-considered. But in doing so, we, the more experienced, adult environment, must help put them into perspective. Sometimes you have to start. Choosing is necessary, but no one can precisely predict the effect of that choice in advance.

Self-Promotion: In The Spotlight For Generation Z

The spotlight is more accessible than ever for ambitious young people. Via social media, Gen Z can always and everywhere show itself to the outside world: to friends, family, and (possibly) the rest of the world. This offers new possibilities for self-profiling, and many young people make enthusiastic use of it. They share their look, performance, and ideas to their heart’s content. This is fun and necessary: ​​the option to show yourself is slowly but surely becoming a problematic task to ignore.

Kennisnet’s Monitor Youth and Media already showed in 2009 that one in five young people has difficulty evading the digital norm. This is probably a daily reality for Gen Z as well. If self-promotion is the standard in your circles, it makes sense to go along with it. But that’s not all. The spotlight also seems increasingly necessary for a successful and happy life.

What you do is who you are

The prevailing standard in the USA is: what you do is who you are. And you want to be proud of that. Work plays a central role in this, as people ‘do’ most of their time. Research shows that young people consider work just as important as adults. Even when they are still at school themselves. Work defines the future for them. And in a successful lot, it is important to be proud of the work you do.

This social norm presents a challenge for Gen Z. With what young people are doing and achieving now; they create the conditions for a successful, happy future. Generation Z needs to maneuver itself into a position as early as possible in which it can (later) be proud of what it does.. The focus of Gen Z is therefore future-oriented and success-related at a young age.

Of course, young people have different dreams and ambitions for the future. For them, success can be found from many different angles. Nevertheless, the most attractive positions and jobs always have to be done hard because you are rarely the only one who wants to get them. Competition is a fact in the eyes of young people. To do and achieve what you want in the future, you must therefore let yourself be heard, shown, and proven. You are not given success; you have to make it. On the job market, but preferably also during your high school and student days. Again: hello, social engineering!

Personal branding

Young people online are also constantly confronted with examples of successful peers who shout out the importance of self-promotion. For instance, Claire Rose, a very popular influencer. During her training at the AMFI, she immersed herself in personal branding and then knew how to apply this with enthusiasm.

Or YoungKio, the stage name for the 19-year-old Kiowa Roukema from Purmerend. He began his 16 e producing music with Fruity Loops. According to his own words, YoungKio was ‘fucking a bit on YouTube’ when he came across a song with a banjo. He sampled the banjo sound, put a simple beat under it, and put it on Soundcloud. There the American Lil Nas X picked up the track, which led to the enormous hit of Oldtown road.

In Generation Z’s view, personal branding increases their chances of success.

But for self-promotion, you must have something to promote … By no means for all young people, it is an obvious choice which activities and characteristics they put in the digital spotlight. After all, being young is inherent in discovering what you want and what you can do. If you’re still figuring that out, making yourself a brand is a big challenge. The many possibilities for self-promotion offer Gen Z opportunities but are just as much a source of uncertainty. In the words of 19-year-old photographer Rachelle:” I don’t think my maal is good yet, not distinctive enough. I wonder whether something is innovative enough and whether it works or not. I prefer to promote myself in a conversation because I am not sure enough about my work yet.”

What does this ask of us? – Focus on ambitions

We – employers, educators, and parents – need to look beyond the bluff and confidence of young people who know the intricacies of personal branding from an early age. They should not set the standard for, and thus the unrealistic pressure on, all young people. Do not judge young people on what they already do and can do, but focus on what they want to achieve. Show that they can develop in many ways and that success can manifest in many ways. In this way, we give them freedom in how (and if) they want to promote themselves. Young people then know very well how to find the means for personal branding themselves.


Dutch young people have been among the happiest young people in the USA for years. This is partly a result of the freedom that our young people experience. Individual freedom contributes significantly to people’s well-being. Research shows that choosing your life course, partner, education, and job all contribute to happiness. Although space within our society is generally good for the well-being of young people, the preceding showed that it also comes with challenges.

Freedom is liberating and burdensome

Gen Z is given a lot of freedom and, therefore, a lot of personal responsibility. That is liberating and burdensome. Young people are encouraged to get the best out of themselves. Despite the good intentions, young people put themselves under pressure. research says that 42 percent of the students indicated that they experience daily school stress, 8 out of 10 experience pressure to perform, and 63 percent of them say, “The pressure to perform comes from me.” This can partly be explained by the social engineering philosophy described above.

Don’t you know what makes you happy? Are you unable to take the first steps towards your happy future? Do you seem worse off than your peers? Then that is mainly your fault. And that guilt can be damaging. Combining a competitive study and labor market, grand ambitions, and mutual comparisons (‘Why are the others successful?’) Are sometimes challenging to deal with.


Via Insta Stories, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, young people are constantly informed about what others are doing. If you are bored scrolling through your feed at home, you quickly feel like you are missing things—the Fear Of Missing Out Phenomenon (FOMO). The majority of young people sometimes feel left out when they discover on social media that their friends are doing a joint activity to which they have not been invited.


A striking counterpart is JOMO: Joy Of Missing Out. A conscious choice to shut yourself off from the comparison with others on social media and focus on the here and now. So what does Gen Z do during such a JOMO evening? For example, a game of binge-watching on Netflix while your friends are in the pub. It takes some getting used to, but on the couch, surrounded by their favorite characters, they rarely feel alone.

The Chances Of Young People Are Not Equal

We must also realize that not all young people are given the same opportunities. The philosophy of meritocracy, in which your position is an outcome of your earnings, your talents, and your efforts, has been dormant within our society for decades. In recent years cracks have appeared in this story. The reality in which young people live, regardless of their ideas, is not a pure meritocracy.

Commitment does not fully determine your position on the social ladder. The chances of young people are not equal. Young people’s social background and social network increasingly determine their education, housing, and work opportunities. This (growing) inequality creates a gap between the optimistic idea of ​​social engineering that Generation Z is brought up with and the unruly reality in which they try to make their dreams come true. A gap that young people feel can only close by working harder themselves, doing their best, and getting on with more.

What Does This Ask Of Us? – A Reassessment of Equivalence

Yes, there is a lot of room in the USA to climb higher if you try hard, but no, not everyone starts from an equal starting point. Helping young people adjust their expectations and soothingly say that they should not measure their success against others is a first step in taking some pressure off them. But without striving for an equal position for all young people in our society, this is little more than treating the symptoms.