Ever since my firstborn son arrived in June 2017, I’ve been thinking a lot about generational differences — both in attitude and experience. I often find myself pondering whether or not my little guy will have a drivers license; if a college education will mean much 18 years from now (or if I should just make sure he knows how to code); and if he’ll ever need to use his fingers to interact with technology.
It’s funny how becoming a parent makes you think about things like this.
Recently, to feed my brimming curiosity, I watched a documentary called “My Millennial Life” that really got me thinking about my experiences both as a millennial (though according to HuffPo I’m a “Xennial,” which I happily accept as a moniker) and working alongside millennials. I have some thoughts.
Let’s face it, Millennials get a bad rap. They’re deemed narcissistic, lazy, entitled, impatient, emotional, short-sighted, etc. etc… (seriously it’s a bad rap… check here and here). And while a lot of that criticism may be warranted, there’s also a nature or nurture element to consider. Never before has a generation had access to so much information so quickly; or been raised in an environment where their thoughts & image are so instantly validated (or not so) via social media. Fifty years ago, “kids were kids,” but the Millennial generation is constantly reminded in real-time of the importance and necessity to “grow up” and “be successful.” That’s a lot of pressure…
A few things to think about:
First things first, let’s acknowledge that the Millennial generation is the most educated to-date. Those born after 1988 likely don’t know a world without internet in which information isn’t at their fingertips. That’s incredibly empowering and it means that this generation doesn’t feel the need or understand the importance of learning through osmosis of life experience or, dare I say, corporate hierarchy, like generations that precede them. To the Millennial, life experience and mentoring by others is nice and all, but at the end of the day, Google gives them everything needed to answer unknowns, so why slow down to “live it?” Just “Fake it ’til you make it” right? That’s quite a departure from generation’s past.
Let’s also acknowledge that the Millennial generation is bombarded with all sorts of information. They’re the first generation for which “push notifications” is the status quo. They don’t need to actively seek out information, rather, they must process all of the information being thrown at them. The moment they establish an online presence, they’re on the defensive.
And last but not least, let’s acknowledge that the Millennial generation faces unprecedented pressure to “keep up with the Joneses.” While my grandparents or parents may have compared themselves to others at work or in our neighborhood, Millennials are constantly exposed to the “amazing success” of people worldwide, thus creating a desire to achieve similar social status online in order to attain full potential. How many likes did that post get? How many followers do I have? Is it more or less than so-and-so? I never had that pressure growing up… all I cared about was street hockey and baseball. Seems quite daunting…
They also have this vision of “who they’re meant to be” and it’s tied to money, titles, or (perceived) respect. If they don’t feel like they’re getting that, they feel like crap. Frankly, I think that sucks! While I’m all for being your best self, learning as much as you can about whatever interests you, and “faking it til you make it,” I also think that it’s important for people to develop self-confidence in WHO they are, not WHAT THEY DO, and I think that the Millennial generation struggles with this. It’s seemingly CEO or bust, but those kinds of expectations are unfair and rare.
All that being said, I can relate to many of the emotions and aspirations of the Millennial generation because I, too, pay attention to such things. It’s hard not to. But I’ve also got time & (some) life experience on my side, so I thought I’d share what 35 year old me would tell 25 year old me:
- WORK HARD: It doesn’t matter if you know what you want to be when you grow up yet. You’ve got plenty of time to figure that out. The most important thing is to find gainful employment, work your ass off at it, see if it lights a fire in you, and hope for the best. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be ambitious, you absolutely should be, but you also need to realize that “working hard” might mean staying at a job more than 1-2 years to soak in what you need to before moving to that next thing. And here’s a pro-tip: people worth working for will likely hire hard workers over Einstein’s 80% of the time.
- BE PATIENT: don’t be in such a hurry to become CEO or make $1 million. Truth is, 90% of startups fail, so the odds are against you. Instead, think less about how your start-up is going to IPO and more about whether or not you’re getting valuable work experience alongside people you enjoy working with and learning from a management team you have faith in. I promise you that if the latter doesn’t exist, the former will never come to fruition, so don’t bother obsessing over it. Squeeze as much juice out of whatever fruit you’re eating right now and have faith that every experience is a learning opportunity that is transferable to other endeavors, irrespective of how glamorous it may (or may not) be.
- SAVOR THE MOMENT: not everything has to be wiz bang firework explosions of launching amazingness. In fact, most of your daily grind won’t be like this at all. You should probably get used to it and instead of complaining about it and deciding to move on to “something more exciting” that “recognizes your potential better,” try to think about what it is you can learn in the moment. Have you encountered a situation like this before? Did you respond the way you would have liked in retrospect? Is there something about it you can commit to memory as a learning opportunity? Can you appreciate this moment for what it is and deposit it into your piggy bank of learning moments that you can someday cash in on? Focusing in these things will make you a more well rounded business person.
- HAVE SOME SELF-COMPASSION: If I had to pinpoint the most common theme I’ve observed among young professionals 21-29 years old, it’s that they are incredibly hard on themselves. Somewhere along the way, parents and/or social media set the bar so high that if Millennials aren’t conquering the world, they seem to think that they just suck at life. I’ve worked with dozens of early-20-somethings who apologize profusely for things even when they don’t have to. Sometimes they apologize just for offering their opinion; other times they take (admittedly endearing) self-deprecating jabs at themselves “because of their age” when they shouldn’t (no dude, you’re not stupid, you’re just 22. Let me help you think about this problem in a way your professors couldn’t… and, btw, that isn’t a poor reflection on you). I discovered a book on Self Compassion by Kristin Neff when I was 34, which was 10 years too late, and I would encourage anyone 1-3 years into their career to read or audible it.
- BE WILLING TO SAY “I DON’T KNOW” & SHOW VULNERABILITY: I realize that it’s likely counter-intuitive for “the generation that can Google the answer to anything” to admit they don’t know something or need help, but guess what? It’s part of human nature! There’s nothing wrong with asking for help! Perhaps you’ve Googled ’til the cows came home and still haven’t found what you’re looking for. Guess what?That’s why you have a manager. And if that manager is any good at being a manager, they’ll help augment your Googling with real-world experience that you find useful (if not, I suggest you look elsewhere for employment…). But the bottom line is: don’t be afraid of “not knowing” or showing vulnerability. No one knows everything and no one expects you to, especially not in the first few years of employment. Honestly, vulnerability is endearing. Embrace it.
In closing, it’s important to clarify that I’m not encouraging younger generations NOT to be ambitious. If it weren’t for 20-somethings with big dreams and ideas, we wouldn’t have Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, or many of the other amazing companies in the world today. What I AM saying is that it’s important for people to a) know themselves, b) be realistic, and c) adjust expectations accordingly.
Are you the next Zuckerberg, Brin/Page, Bezoz, Jobs? Hate to burst your bubble, but chances are you’re not. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the most out of every experience that comes your way by giving it time to learn as much as you can, and, most importantly, not beating the shit out of yourself for not “doing more sooner.”
Life is good. You have a job. Work & learn as much as you can. And have faith that you’ll be okay. I guarantee it 😀