In no particular order, these are the events that have catalyzed an upheaval unlike anything we’d ever seen in recent history: a pandemic, increased polarization and the spread of misinformation, catastrophic climate change events, and the cost-of-living crisis. The result: It’s forced us to change our mindsets, to re-evaluate our priorities. And that’s reflected in The Great Vibe Shift, VICE Insights’ latest study in which young folks around the world have said the biggest difference in their lives between today and three years ago is the way they choose to spend their time. Six in 10 have made resolutions to use that time to focus on self-growth. 

For Gen Z, “self-growth” isn’t about amassing a collection of self-help books, nor is it about working on themselves to fit whatever mold society has deemed acceptable. It’s about actively choosing the path that’s right for them, planning for the future, developing their careers, and, ultimately, becoming their truest, most authentic selves. They’re channeling Main Character Energy; they’re the center of their attention. 

At first glance, these goals may seem rather traditional — they’re key tenets in most people’s lives — but the differences are in the details. 

Planning For The Future 

The general consensus among Gen Z is this: Moments and memories > money. Markers of success are measured by feelings over external gains and tangible items. In our State of Youth study, we asked what success looks like to them, and the most common response was feeling happy and content. In fact, twice as many mentioned happiness over financial gains (61% vs 34%). 

They’re planning their future with this feeling in mind, preferring to double down on experiences, like exploring the world (42% of our audience said they’re saving money for a trip, according to our Investing in Happiness study), meeting new people, and learning, which, in turn, helps them grow as individuals. 

Developing Their Career 

This wish to achieve happiness and contentment obviously influences the way in which Gen Z approaches work. There’s a greater emphasis on a work/life balance. In a study on New Life Goals we did in partnership with Zurich, we found that six in 10 young people would rather stay at a level that provides them more balance (one respondent even turned down a promotion for that very reason).

For them, career growth is about expanding their purview out instead of up. Take ChatGPT (and by extension, anything AI), for example — its disruptive entrance exemplifies just how quickly the world is changing. New skills are needed to stay relevant and for work to stay interesting, so this generation is focusing on upskilling more than climbing the corporate ladder. A wider range of skills means more choice and flexibility, open doors to new experiences and opportunities, and more ways to reach the balance they so desire.

But these skill sets won’t be learned or developed in a traditional classroom setting. Instead, Gen Z are more likely to watch instructional videos on YouTube, learn on the job, or take a highly focused course to master specific skills. 

Becoming Their True Selves 

At the core, self-growth is learning about who you are — except that the entire concept of “identity” is no longer an easy one to define. Gen Z are embracing the complexity of it in all its wild, messy glory by rejecting binary classifications and traditional labels in order to explore and express who they truly are. Their identities can contain multiple passions, different personalities for different times of the week or day, and even different species or mythical creatures (see: mermaiding).  

Not only are there unlimited ways to identify, there are more avenues to discover elements of their identity or different versions of themselves, like new hairstyles, hobbies, or personality traits. And that can be done in the digital world. The digital version of themselves — their avatar — is not just a representation of them, it is them. In a study we did in partnership with Razorfish, over half of Gen Z respondents said they feel most able to be completely themselves in-game versus in-person.

That’s not to say their future won’t include homes or kids, but rather, it’s a matter of when and how they choose to bring those experiences into their lives — and if that’s aligned with their happiness. And we’re already seeing it manifest in different ways: purchasing smaller homes, simplifying living spaces, adopting van life or being digital nomads, and waiting to have children or having fewer or no children. Their lives are shaped by moments more so than milestones. 

How Can Brands Help? 

> Experimentation and experiences are the keys to self-growth for young people. Consider opportunities for your brand to facilitate these avenues of learning. There’s no limit to who they are and where they could go, so the possibilities for helping them learn and grow are truly endless.
> The end goal is happiness and contentment. Brands should think about ways their products or services can provide balance or bring joy — and remember it’s the small, everyday stuff that matters.