One of the unfortunate realities of our time is the tendency we have of allowing other persons and society define the meaning of success in our lives. In doing so we absolve ourselves from any meaningful internal dialogue and true understanding of who we are and why we were meant to be here or our purpose/mission in life.

Those who regularly read my bulletins know that I have some pretty strong opinions about how we all should live our lives. This statement seems contradictory to my opening remarks but stay with me and I will explain.

I thought it would be interesting for us to examine how four different generations might view success based upon what we have come to know about them and what they value. The four generations we will have a look at are;

Matures (65 years +)

Baby Boomers (46 to 64 years)

Generation X (31 to 45 years)

Millennials (30 years & younger)

Snapshot of the Generations

Taken from: Mackenzie University; Connecting Across the Generations

by Cam Marston, President, Generational Insight

Matures (1909 – 1946)

They represent 13.7% of the Canadian population and have an average income of $32000. They came of age during the Great Depression and World War II. They are driven by the ideals of duty, sacrifice, loyalty and place great faith in institutions. They are also known to value quality over speed and efficiency.

Baby Boomers (1947 – 1966)

They represent 28% of the Canadian population and have an average income of $46000. They are considered the original ‘Me’ generation. They came of age during postwar prosperity, the Cold War and the 60’s. Boomers have a focus on prosperity, on being in charge. They define work ethic by the time devoted to work. They are workaholics and competitive. They are committed to ‘Team.’’ They seek services that help them regain control of their time and are concerned with status and individuality.

Generation X (1967 – 1979)

They represent 21% of the Canadian population and have an average income of $43500. They were raised as their parents’ friends. They question authority and institutions and dislike hierarchy, have a shorter time horizon, are a bit cynical, skeptical and suspicious. They believe in seizing the day (Carp Diem), efficiency, open communication, loyalty to people but not to companies. They are a tough sell, can spot a phony a mile away and embrace technology.

Millennials (1980 – 2000)

They represent 27% of the Canadian population and have an average income of $24000. They have grown up coddled and protected from birth. Also were raised as their parents’ friends. They have a strong sense of individuality and are optimistic. They now face economic uncertainty after living their entire lives in a growing economy. They are extremely ‘tech-savvy’ and team oriented. They gravitate to people who can help them achieve their goals. They seek open and constant communication. They are torn between a desire for individuality and the need to fit in. They want to be like their peers – but with a twist They are loyal and altruistic customers and consider the global impact of their decisions.

* * * * * * *

So what can we extrapolate from these snapshots.


Because of the hardships that this generation had to face they grew to value duty, sacrifice and loyalty and trust in their institutions, after all they went to war to defend them. My own parents fell into this generation and naturally I saw first hand how they chose to live out their lives, lives which had a profound effect on me and how I live today as a part of the baby boom generation. Thanks mom and dad!

Roles were clearly defined in this generation; father was the primary if not the sole breadwinner and mom kept the home fires burning. Both were willing to make significant sacrifices for their kids. Because of their experiences with the depression and war they needed to create a secure and controlled if not controlling environment for themselves and their families. They did not want their kids to experience the same kinds of hardships they did so tried to give their kids as much as possible, in many cases too much! They were likely to define their success according to their ability to ‘provide’ in their respective roles relative to their families. Provide might translate into an education, a home, never wanting for anything and other related opportunities

Baby Boomers My generation compared to my parents is considerably more self-absorbed, values the accumulation of wealth, are status seeking, and defined by their jobs. We like to think of ourselves as individuals. That’s questionable? With the exception of a fringe group who grew up in the 60’s and chose to drop out and live what could only be described as a bohemian lifestyle, boomers success hinges so much on status, their job, the accumulation of wealth and/or position in the community. Our success could actually be defined this way; "We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people we don't like." Kim Foss

Generation X

This is the generation that is coming into power, taking charge of our institutions, corporations and governments. To a certain degree we do not know yet how they will define success for themselves, so I will have to make a few assumptions based on what we know about their values. Their success will somehow involve technology either directly or as a support for what they are trying to accomplish. Success for them is going to involve rebuilding and reorganizing our hierarchical institutions to provide more openness and support for positive inclusive communication. In many cases this will take the form of empowered teams and movement away from the classic boss-subordinate relationships. Honesty and integrity will be increasingly prevalent.


I have two children who are a part of Generation X and one who is part of the Millennials. Of course my two older children are well on their way but my youngest is certainly challenging his baby boomer mother and father on all fronts. For this generation being successful means to be able to communicate utilizing all the latest technology. They are conscious of the environment and what we are doing to it so will want to be able to have a positive impact on its recovery. They will generally want what their friends have and define part of their success by comparing but will somehow want to be just a bit different. They were well cared for so will want all the creature comforts as part of their definition of success.

Measuring ourselves against others has been an all too common practice between the generations and society in general, and given way to much importance in defining what each of us believes we must do or be in order to be successful. James Ladd


So what can be said then about what it is that defines success for all of us? What do we learn from the generations?

“I’m here to suggest that we cannot learn anything from the generations about success until we first know ourselves!”

In my work with clients as a Life & Business Coach, I put a particular emphasis on supporting and guiding them toward the identification of their life purpose or mission, their particular reason for being here. I have found based upon my own life/work experiences and a continuous interest and study of the human condition that finding a way through life that is congruent with who you are in terms of; values, needs, interests and personality is crucial to that sense or feeling of self-worth and by extension acceptance of others. This is a first step to ensuring that your actions after that are strategic!

Think about this for a minute in terms of a definition of success. If you can look at your life and feel a sense of connectedness with everything that you are doing both in your personal and professional life could that actually be a definition of success?

Could it all be that simple and yet that complicated. What today’s society does to us is take us further and further away from the very essence of who we are.

We become what James Hillman has been saying for a long time; “I think we are miserable partly because we have only one god and that is economics. Economics is a slave driver. No one has free time; no one has any leisure. The whole culture is under terrible pressure and fraught with worry. It’s hard to get out of that box. That’s the dominant situation all over the world.”

So what will the rest of your life look like? ACCORDING TO WHO OR WHAT?



JAMES LADD B.A., C.H.R.P., C.P.I.R. Life & Business Coach, author and speaker, who has without a doubt been down the "Road Less Traveled," having survived and thrived after a double lung transplant in August of 2003. Jim comes to this place in his incredible life journey with a dynamic combination of work and life experience. Jim worked as an Organizational & Human Resource Development Specialist for over 35 years in the private, public & non-profit sectors and also managed a provi...

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