Meet the muppies: A beginner’s guide to ‘millenium yuppies’

They wear designer kit to Bikram yoga, work at a start-up and fill their Instagram feeds with experiences in the company of influential people

Michelle Miller’s new novel The Underwriting is about an online dating start-up.

Michelle Miller’s new novel The Underwriting is about an online dating start-up.

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What, pray tell, is a muppie? A muppie is a millennial yuppie.

You may recognise her by the designer kit she wears to Bikram yoga. You can spot her at the juice bar, the custom-salad shop, or checking Whatsapp on her iPhone while waiting for an Uber outside the big name law/consulting/finance firm where she’s been working since she graduated from a prestigious university with a liberal arts degree, en route to a start-up mixer where she is exploring ideas for the venture she intends to pursue as soon as her next bonus cycle ends.

Like the yuppie of the 1980s, the muppie is educated, independently-minded, confident, and capable of extraordinary achievement - when it suits her. Like the yuppie, the muppie likes to be part of the In-Crowd.

Unlike the Yuppie, and in no small part because of the financial crisis, the values of the in-crowd have changed; what constitutes the desirable life for this set is not a high-powered job in finance/consulting/law, a house in the suburbs and a country club membership. For the muppie, the desired life includes a job at a start-up, a rented flat in a hip neighborhood that can be easily Airbnb’d if she decides to jet off for a month-long yoga retreat, and an Instagram feed full of experiences captured in the company of influential people.

Herewith, some core components of the muppie lifestyle:

1. Affordable luxury: The financial crisis put a serious damper on income levels for today’s 20- and 30-somethings. But that doesn’t mean muppies sacrifice nice things: it just means they’ve gotten wise about how to get them. The muppie is a master at collecting loyalty points, finding designer ware at discount on sites like Asos and Gilt, looking smashing at a special occasion via Rent the Runway and affordable salon services courtesy of Groupon, and scouring great places to stay on Airbnb.

2. Consumer consciousness: FEED and TOMS shoes made muppies aware that business can do more than just provide a product: they can give back. And now Muppies have come to expect it: if a portion of profits isn’t going to a good cause, at the very least a company better treat the environment and workers with a genuine, not-just-as-a-marketing-ploy, consciousness or it can count on losing the muppie vote.

3. Glocal identity: For the muppie who grew up in a time where the internet and study abroad made the world smaller than ever, identification with friends in Kazakhstan is often stronger than identification with those who share her passport. With that shift in pride comes a shift from strong affiliation to one’s nation and stronger allegiance to those in the local community + global community = GLOCAL.

4. Acceptance: When I was in business school, I had a lovely alpha male friend who confessed: I just really want to make a gay friend. Acceptance is a hallmark of the muppie code.

5. Self-improvement: For a generation that grew up perfecting its resume as it leapt from application-to-school to application-to-university to application-for-job to application-for-grad-school to application-for-this-or-that-award, self-perfecting is a drug. Be it marathon training or juice cleansing or finding-a-husband-by-age-28, the muppie always has at least three self-improvement oriented goals running.

6. Experience over possessions: When the financial crisis hit, most muppies were sitting in corporate jobs, modeling themselves after the bosses above them who might not be happy or take much vacation or have perfect marriages, but did make a lot of money. And so muppies followed that path, assuming that’s what adulthood was, and accepted the trade-offs necessary for a solid career. But when 2008 wiped out jobs and savings and the security of that path that required such sacrifice, muppies took a step back and asked why am I doing this? At the point, experiences took priority over possessions: a fun working environment was as important as a paycheck; a great trip was worth more than a nice piece of furniture; time to enjoy a city was more than owning a home within it.

7. Passion: There is nothing hipper for a muppie than finding and pursuing passion. Again, cue the financial crisis, when bosses confessed in hushed voices to the lower ranks who still-had-a-chance-to-get-out: Get out of here and go do what you love and so set off a surge of banking/consulting/law firm drop outs on a quest to find what really matters to them, and build a career and life around it.

Older generations love to roll their eyes at muppies, calling them frivolous and entitled and self-absorbed. The more I listen to those gripes, though, the more they feel like they come from a place of regret: like they come from grown-up yuppies who resent that muppies don’t want what they have, and that the path they thought was right didn’t work out as planned.

Are there people in this group who are lazy and talkers-not-doers and following the path for a reason no more substantive than it is presently en vogue? Of course. There are people like that in every generation. But there are also leaders in every generation, and the fact they follow the tenants means that, over time, paradigms have the possibility of shifting away from short-term hyper-growth to sustainability; to shift individual lives from work-hard-and-then-retire to work-long-but-live-life-while-you-do-it; it will restore “profitable business” to something that isn’t a dirty phrase. And it might actually do the most muppie thing of all and….y’know…change the world.

Michelle Miller is author of The Underwriting, a book which began online as twelve instalments of episodic fiction about an online dating start-up. It has been described as “The Social Network meets The Wolf of Wall Street, a book which will take you behind closed doors into a post-recession world of sex scandals, power plays and underhanded dealings”.

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