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The Millennial Problem

This video has been circulating social media lately, and I've seen nothing but praise for it. Which, I felt was odd, because, personally this video rubbed me the wrong way. I figured it rubbed me the wrong way because: 

1. I don't fit the mold of what people see in the millennial generation, so when I do a gut check and say 'is that me'? I answer back, no.

2. I'm defensive and so I cannot see my bad behavior for what it really is.

3. This guy is making an argument that is easy to pick apart and doesn't really hold up.

So I decided to take a day, to sit with it, and watch it again with an open mind.

Why am I defensive? 

I realized that I am defensive. And I thought a little about why that is. I think a big reason I am defensive it is hard to disentangle negative stereotypes about your generation that are meant to help (i.e. this) , and negative stereotypes about your generation that are meant to harm. As a millennial who is also politically active, there is an ugly way that stereotypes about my generation are hurled at me as insults. If I march for women's rights, I am throwing a tantrum. I feel entitled. I am a special snowflake who wants unique treatment. It makes sense to target protesters, because they often challenge people in power. But generation specific targeting tends to frustrate me because it's largely false, and it's a way to tell an entire generation of people to sit down and be quiet about their rights. Now, this guy isn’t doing that at all, but, his words can be fuel to that fire whether intended or not. 

Why are we so obsessed with categorizing Millennials anyways? 
It’s strange how much I hear people talking about millennials as a group the past few years. I've always felt a bit othered by the intense labeling of my generation. The need to categorize us (largely negatively). It happens all the time in work dealing with older people that they will bring up qualities of my generation, but not talking about me specifically. It's a weird phenomena. There are also insidious ways this happens in the form of ageism, where I am assumed to not know what it's like to work hard, that I am inherently less professional, and sometimes I am even talked to like I am a child. I think part of this intense labeling of my generation is the fact that at this moment in time, we are disrupting the dominant work force. So, in some ways, it makes sense that, as a society, there is a lot of homogenizing (talking about all people of a group as one) and creating negative stereotypes about millennials as a group. We are competing directly right now with baby boomers for jobs. It makes sense, societally speaking, that we are going to get some unfair criticism because of we are threatening right now.

That isn’t to say millennials, as a group, don’t have unique qualities and challenges, but what I’d like to argue further down is that many of those challenges are society wide (e.g. smart phones and instant gratification) and not generation specific. And negative traits of millennials are too often thrown about without any mention of positive traits, which can cause people to hate them/us as a group.

Technology has caused challenges for humans, but not millennials specifically. 

So, there are things he said that I agree with. I think that phone access has caused some mental health issues in people of all ages. The dopamine effect he talked about is real, and I think it may be having real effects on our psychological well being. Now, that being said, I think that is not unique to millennials. Maybe, what could be unique is that some millennials may feel like they never developed deep friendships pre-phone days as maybe baby boomers have. (Although, I personally do not feel this applies to me. I feel most of my friendships are deeper and built on trust. But I think that comes with being willing to be vulnerable.) Now, that being said, I don’t think this phenomena is generation specific. I've seem millennials and baby boomers that are just as bad about being on their phone when they are in company. And, anecdotally, in my life it is the baby boomers who are the biggest offenders of this. (that’s just anecdotal, and likely not fact). Sinek says that this 'instant gratification' culture has created a drive for millennials to find purpose and impact in work instantaneously

Maybe climate change has something to do with the way millennials are obsessed with purpose and why they are depressed. 
Now, what about impact, because that was associated with instant gratification. The argument goes that BECAUSE of a phone culture of instant gratification, millennials also want that in their work. So, when they don’t see impact right away, they quit.

What I’d like to push back on is the motivation for wanting impact so quickly. 
I think I fit into this category of wanting impact quickly. Something that is often not talked about when we talk about millennials is that they bear the weight of climate change on their shoulders. I am one of many who will not have my own children because the science points to a pretty apocalyptic future before they would end up in. Most millennials are on board with the science behind climate change, and it’s a huge psychological weight to bear. Real talk, the world is probably going to turn to war torn shit before us millennials die due to resource scarcity. Some of us are in denial, some of us don’t think about it, and some of try to change the tide, but that weight is there.

So, for me, I want impact quickly in my work because we don’t have long to act. Now, I know not every millennial is trying to achieve sustainability impacts, but for those who are, that may be the bigger motivator than an obsession with instant gratification. (Note: when we talk about depression in millennials, no one ever talks about climate change, which I find odd..because, if you want to feel depressed, just read a scientific article that the world’s oceans will die in your lifetime. Prediction for year 2048 to be exact).

This video appeals to emotion without providing much proof
The other thing that happens in this video is that he doesn’t have to provide any evidence to prove a point about millennials, because it’s already a negative stereotype about them. He appeals to emotion as his evidence, without having to cite much to back up his claim. An example is that he says the millennial generation were subject to 'failed parenting strategies'. He largely notes the 'participation trophy' analogy. That kids were given trophies for participation. Now, this is a negative stereotype that has been hurled around like crazy lately. (I also like that he often says something pretty negative, and says "not my words" and then defends that negative stereotype). 

He cites a study that says it made the winners of the trophy feel less triumphant, and the losers feel worse. And he also sort of linked this participation trophy thing to entitlement (but notice, he never connected the dots, he let your emotions connect the dots for you). If you dig into it beyond the emotional appeal though, it’s not very well evidenced. If the losers felt worse in the study, not better for the trophy, that doesn’t lend any support that these ‘losers’ feeling entitled. He also makes the assumption that this had an effect that lingered into adulthood, but he never cites if this was studied to have long term effects, again, he lets your emotions connect the dots for you. I think he gets away with not connecting this because this is already a huge negative stereotype of the millennial generation. He doesn't need to defend it with research, because people feel that it is true. But that type of appealing to people's emotions can be dangerous.

While we're at it, why do we hate participation trophies so much anyways?

Now, sticking with this ‘participation trophy’ analogy for a bit longer, what I find interesting is how much we hate the idea of participation trophies without questioning why. So, take a second, why do you hate the idea? It’s based on the idea that there are a few winners and the point of the activity is to win. Which, makes a lot of sense for a capitalistic culture. And, in fact, the people who are most wealthy, feel most strongly against participation trophies (see chart). They are also the people, who, on average feel the most entitled to their money and the least sympathetic to people who are homeless…

When we think about life as a game of winners and losers (as many do), you forget that some people weren’t given the same running shoes as you. Some people were born into families that could afford to send them to school, where their public schools gave them a viable path to college, where gangs didn’t roam the streets, and where the color of their skin didn’t give them a 50% higher chance of getting a job and a 30% lower mortgage rate.

One thing that is unique about millennials (and I think beautiful about millennials) is that they are the most open minded generation about other types of people: gender, sexuality, race, religion, the whole lot.

Perhaps taking the value away from winning, and onto enjoying the experience may have created a collaborative (we all get there together) mentality. Maybe participation trophies don’t drive competition, maybe they drive collaboration. The reality is that life is rarely about winners and losers, it’s about human companionship and empathy for others. Empathy that makes someone feel much less entitled to their money and much more likely to help those in need. But we don't talk about these good traits in millennials, because for the past 5 years we've been hellbent on discrediting them. 

 Millennials have a lot of good qualities too

How other generations see millennials:
Sinek says 'failed parenting strategies' several times but doesn't note that the millennial generation is one of the most open generations to people of different identities, races, ages, abilities etc. So, while maybe some aspects of parenting in the millennial generation were detrimental, labeling the entire parenting strategy as a failure without noting the positive benefits furthers ugly stereotypes about an entire group of people. I think this is something that is really common when talking about 'millennials'. We often note all of the things we hate about the generation but none of the things we like. I think this is a value and culture war happening between 'baby boomers' and 'millennials'. The insults towards baby boomers are 'racist', 'not tech saavy' (are there others, these seem pretty tame compared to what I have ready for millenials) the insults to millennials are "entitled" "libtards" "arrogant" "ego-driven" "lazy" "special snowflake" "needs a safe space" "wants instant gratification" "doesn't know hard work" "can't build relationships" "lives in parents basement" "lack of ambition" "depressed". 
Most of these insults come from a culture of competition struggling with an incoming culture of collaboration. As millennials disrupt the status quo at work, the terms used to describe them are largely negative. But, it doesn't mean they are inherently negative, they are just different from the way things used to be. Let's take 'safe spaces'. As a millennial, I'm perfectly fine with the following scenario: a rape victim is pre-warned that a violent sex scene is about to be shown. Because my sympathy for him or her doesn't want them to hurt because of it. It's just not worth it. And I can't see any gain from putting him or her through watching something like that. Some see that as pampering someone who needs to toughen up and that thick skin will get you through. I just don't see it that way. It's just different values. Millennials don't value being tough. And we're called pussies for it. And I'm okay with that. 

Speaking of traditional masculinity, I feel very lucky to be part of a generation of men who respect women much more than previous generations. Listening to my mom talk about her dating makes me grateful how far we've come in terms of misogyny and sexism. Men in my generation don't value traditional division of labor as much. They are less likely to try to use a woman for sex if that isn't the explicit consensual point. They are less obsessed with keeping up masculine appearances. They are okay with admitting that they like a good cuddle. 
Now, a lot of men of the baby boomer generation give millennial men shit for this. That's okay by me. I'll take a snuggly feminist dude over a insecure macho man anyday. But we don't ever talk about how men of the millennial generation are treating people's daughters better. Instead we obsess over consensual hookup culture (i.e. tinder), man buns, and little boys being allowed to play with barbies. 



Since writing this I've found myself pretty fixated on understanding the question "why are millennials hated so much"?

I'm convinced (now more than ever) that millennials are not inherently bad, but they ARE perceived as bad. So my fixation become about understanding why the perception is the way it is.

Since writing this article, I had an interesting conversation with my dad (born 1964) and I've also started reading up on research on generations. One particular read that is sticking with me is the book "Generations: the history of america's future 1584 to 2069" by Wiliam Strauss and Neil Howe. 

Their basic premise is that American generations go in trackable cycles. Those cycles are generational categories that repeat throughout time. They are Reactive, Civic, Adaptive, and Idealistic. Values of one cause values of the other, which cause values of the other, and the cycle repeats. One example of this could be one generation has very strict parents, and in turn, is very liberal with their children. Those children wished for more values and direction and become more strict parents. And the cycle flip flops throughout time.

This book was written in the 1990's before millennials could come to age (and before many of us were born). The book is focused on the childhood of millennials and the traits of the 'type' of generation we should end up being if history's cycles have been correct. The cycle that millennials fit into is the Civic cycle. They describe us as being 'daddy's children' unlike our boomer parents who valued their mothers more. That we felt our coming of age was "empowering" and we focused our attention on solving problems of the outer world rather than our inner worlds as our boomer parents had done. As adults we are focused on building rather than reflecting as our parents had. In mid life we are supposed to turn from energetic to hubristic, when our parents turned from detached to judgmental. We are more concerned with and value science more than arts. The things civic generations tend to grow and build in society is Community, Technology, and Affluence. (boomers were principles, religion, and education). 

They talk about our childhoods. Which I found accurate and interesting. We are the DARE generation. We are the generation of kids who our hippie parents tried to get to not live out their recklessness. We are the generation of standardized tests and rising school standards. Some generations (like the X generation) were born into a parent focused culture. Cartoons subsided in their generation, and re-emerged in ours. Where kids were taken to adult movies, adults took their kids and themselves to kid movies in our generation. It was a culture that valued childhood, unlike some cultures before us. (Boomers had this child focused culture, generation Xers didn't). Most of our television and books valued equality, optimism, cooperation and community. Parenting style started steering away from the 'let kids be kids' parenting before and into a stress of making sure kids turned out exactly right. Our parents placed a lot of hope on our generation, and even policies bypassed 20 somethings to focus on middle schoolers and youth. The thought was that they weren't too far gone yet, and if we focused on the kids, they could come to age with the values we wanted in society. It was also the rise of controlling teen behavior. Abstinence only and more judgmental sex education was what we were taught. A dominant matra of "drugs are bad". Our parents tried hard to protect us and to shape us. They instilled a lot of work and a lot of hope into what we would become.

What I found interesting in this was two fold 

1. This can explain some of the culture of "purpose" "impact" "instant gratification" and "being anything you want to be". If this book is right, and our parents had a strong hope for what we would become and expectation, it would make sense that they would tell us we can be whoever we want to be if we put our mind to it. It was their hopes perhaps more than ours. With a childhood of expectations of what we would become, the focus on purpose and impact makes sense. We were taught all throughout childhood that our mark on this earth was important, and to waste that opportunity was almost the worst of atrocities.  And that pressure has stuck with us. I doubt I'm alone in my millennial mindset that I will have failed if I have not changed the world for the better.

That pressure, and that expectation in childhood probably contributes to this culture of purpose and impact. That impatience to get things done and quickly.

This book also describes us as a builder and do-er culture. And that resonates with me. I am definitely the analytical mind who wants to do things in the most effective and impactful way. To me, it doesn't matter how old you are, it matters how effective you are, and if you're not effective, step away so we can get the job done without you. What was interesting was talking to my dad about how he feels about new workers coming into the scene (he is a mechanic). Part of that talk was about the respect that he felt older generations should be given for their experience. They were part of a culture of idealism, and probably riding on the coattails of their parents war generation of respect.

So our do-er culture conflicts their their idealism culture. As a millennial, I feel I place respect on those who are effective at making changes that lead to impact. And from my conversation with a dad, as a boomer, he places respect on ideals and experience, than it makes sense there is workplace conflict here. Boomers don't feel respected and Millenials feel some boomers quest for respect comes off entitled, especially if they are ineffective at getting things done. I've seen this play out personally where I ask questions that boomer generations feel are offensive and not my rank to ask. I ask them because I want the task at hand to get done and if leadership isn't going to be effective, I will be (and yes, I realize that comes off as cocky, but again, I don't care how it comes off, as long as it is more effective at getting things done). I value efficacy, and they value tradition and respect. What usually happens is that the boomer gets upset at me for questioning authority. I get angry that they are putting authoritarian barriers on getting stuff done. We both wind up feeling disrespected.

 I am curious, for anyone who is part of the 'millenial' generation, how did this video of Simon Sinek make you feel? Leave your comment below. 


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