Road trip America: a journey inside the mind of Millennials

On a drive from Boston to Los Angeles, two Millennials plumb the motivations and aspirations of members of their own generation – and find some surprises. 

Published July 2, 2016 with Paula Rogo

 “I think we made it.”

The sight of the colossal “press play” sign outside the YouTube facility in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Playa Vista stirs up feelings of finality.

After traveling more than 3,000 miles in an exhausted rental car, here – at a 41,000-square-foot former helicopter hangar near the sapphire shores of the Pacific – we have come to the end of the trail and the end of the country. It’s no coincidence that we finish the odyssey at a site that screams “Millennial.”

We had hit Interstate 90 west out of Boston with a plan to investigate a series of sprawling questions: How do members of our generation – the ones known as Millennials – define themselves? Which traditions do they still hold sacred? Which do they eschew and why? Above all, what future do they envision for the nation?

What we found is that conventional milestones – securing a college degree, starting a family, owning a home – remain important to Millennials. But their youthful optimism is tempered with the practicality of a generation that has come of age confronting terrorism, economic recession, and the relentless advance of technology. They understand that the established ways of doing things are not always the best, and that working hard and following the rules do not guarantee success.

So they look for other paths to get where they’re going.

Beneath it all run two currents of idealism: one that views independence and self-determination as the pinnacles of success, and a second that believes that success should be shared – with both fellow Americans and the world.

“If you had to sum up Millennials in just one behavior,” says Morley Winograd, an author and speaker who has co-written three books on the generation, “it’s wanting to change the world for the better – together.”

It’s a noble sentiment. But is it really achievable?