Meet the Perennials
Because age ain’t nothin’ but a number
This content is appropriate for people of all ages. And that’s the point. The days of targeting media and products at people based on their age is over.
The Perennials. We are ever-blooming, curious people of ALL ages who know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages. The term Perennials is not a fluffy euphemism for relevant people over 40. Millennials can be Perennials. Octogenarians can be Perennials. Even children can be Perennials. I’m talking about a mindset. Not a flat, one-dimensional timeline that runs from birth punctuated by generational barriers designed to categorize and divide us.
Perennials have always understood that age is not a limiting factor. From childhood and beyond, Perennials get involved, stay curious, mentor others, are passionate, compassionate, creative, confident, collaborative, global-minded, risk takers who continue to push up against our growing edge and know how to hustle. We comprise an inclusive, enduring mindset, not a divisive demographic. Perennials are also vectors who have a wide appeal and spread ideas and commerce faster than any single generation. There are ever-blooming Perennials all around us but to use popular examples of people who push beyond boundaries: Norman Lear, Malala Yousafzai, Lady Gaga + Tony Bennett, Lena Dunham + Jenni Konner, Airforce Lieutenant General Jay Silveria, Pharrell Williams, Justin Trudeau, Ellen DeGeneres, Emma Watson, Senator John McCain, Elon Musk, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Lorne Michaels, Ai Weiwei, Serena Williams, and anti-gun activist Emma Gonzalez.
The Millennial Cliché. If you are older than 36, the upper limit of Millennial age, chances are you’ve done your fair share of trash talking about this generation. I’m a culprit. But, I stopped cold once I remembered I was far worse back in my day. My partner Amy and I began our careers in the dot com biz when the internet was as fledgling as our ability to run a startup on angel funding. Amy was 27. I was 32. My accountant-trained parents asked how my company was going to pay back the million dollars I raised from investors. I said, verbatim, into my Motorola StarTAC, “Earned revenue is very 20th Century thinking, Dad. It’s all about eyeballs right now. You wouldn’t understand.” At least, Millennials can’t stand their moniker and are even harsher critics when it comes to judging their contemporaries, so why rub it in? It’s time we rewire our collective Pavlovian response, Millennials = entitlement, and find the overlap between all ages.
Generation Ex. The term generation used to refer to parents and their offspring every 25 years. It wasn’t until the 19th Century that it mutated to describe the social cohort we are born into. The Baby Boomers (1946–1964) are the first and only officially recognized generation by the Census Bureau because of its clearly defined characteristics. Leap forward to 1991 Generations by Strauss & Howe and the moniker Millennial is coined. It took another decade for marketers and the media to up-spin Millennials, whose birth years fall within the range of 1982-2004 as “the next greatest generation” and begin focusing all their efforts to woo these limelit consumers, voters, and likers. As for the rest, born before 1982, well, the rest is history … irrelevant and in the past.
Generational Segregation. Tolerance feels unattainable when there are hard lines drawn between decades, and terms like Boomers, GenX, and GenY keep us separate and at odds. The media’s adoring gaze is focused solely on the Millennial timeline and it’s lights out for everyone else. In a recent article in the ABA Banking Journal, it’s suggested, in fact, that “attitudes and habits that are widely thought to be millennial-specific may actually be quite widespread among the general population.” Relevance belongs to every age not only during the period of a generation’s ascension to power. Take Sarah Jessica Parker who debuted on Broadway as little orphan Annie then went on to become the game changer of fashion and friendship as Carrie Bradshaw. Today she stars as Frances on HBO’s Divorce, a grittier take on conscious uncoupling. She’s been a Perennial all along.
Hashtag Perennials. I spent the past year ruminating on an appropriate sobriquet to describe a set of people based on psychographics not demographics that would include Millennials, as well as people of all ages. In 2015, I began floating the term Relevants to see if it stuck until a wise New York Times journalist pointed out that saying “I’m a Relevant,” could be misheard as “I’m Irrelevant.” So, I turned to my husband Dave, the dude who writes NextDraft and king of catchy headlines. He was dozing off next me on an airplane, “I got it,” he said, “You should call them Perennials. It sounds like Millennials but it has a better meaning.” I quickly searched all definitions of perennial: enduring, perpetual, ever-lasting, recurrent, ever-blooming. And, Perennials was born.
Netflix and chill. It’s time we chose our own category based on shared values and passions and break out of the faux constructs behind an age-based system of classification. By identifying ourselves as Perennials, we supplant our constricting label with something that better reflects our reality online and off. Amazon and Netflix get it right with recommendation engines that target people based on behavioral data over outmoded generational stereotypes, so why shouldn’t we?
Being a Millennial doesn’t have to mean living in your parents’ basement, growing an artisanal beard, and drinking craft beer. Midlife doesn’t have to be a crisis. And you don’t have to be a number anymore. You’re relevant. You’re ever-blooming. You’re Perennial. #soperennial
Gina Pell is Perennial #1 and the Content Chief of The What, a clever list for Perennial people. Get The What in your inbox.
Author Update 2018: Perennial is not another word for ‘old.’ Nor does it describe a generation. For those who want to be called codgers, old people, elders, millennials, baby boomers, GenZ … that’s entirely your prerogative. Perennial merely describes a mindset, a way of growth thinking, and it does not include everyone. Perennial is a self-selecting, positive term for curious people who resist being defined by any one characteristic, especially age.