How to Deal with Entitled Millenials
By Justin Wright
My generation is woefully misrepresented in the modern workforce. I have often heard the refrain that “millenials don’t want to work hard” or “millenials are too entitled.” While there are always exceptions to most rules, the problem is not with millenials, but rather with the stories they have been told.
Simon Sinek, a prominent leadership consultant, has an entire TED talk centered around the concept of managing millenials. He firmly believes that they are often mismanaged and, when participating in a positive workplace culture, actually contribute to company success at a high degree. Effective leadership, in most instances, requires a shift in perspective; we must metaphorically place ourselves in the shoes of our employees to gain the nuanced understanding required to lead well.
When it comes to the millenial generation, part of this perspective shift requires diving deeper into the way that this generation of young people was raised. Sports with no losers, poor advice on careers and education, the idea that we can “be whatever we want if we work hard enough.” All of these things have compounded to leave an entire generation confused, burdened with debt, and frustrated for the future. The solution to the problem requires understanding the other half of the story.
For the love of the game
Youth sports are a shell of what they once were, and the end result is a generation of people unprepared for competition. Life is competition. There will always be winners and losers, haves and have-nots. This is an evolutionary reality: certain species prevail and reproduce while the weaker members of that species die off. This reality has controlled the migration of humans and their DNA for centuries.
This is not to say that life is a zero-sum game. Winners create a more prosperous society for everyone. When competition is encouraged, limits are challenged. By pushing these limits, human beings have been able to accomplish incredible things. Competition for land fueled expansion which has allowed humans to populate every corner of the globe. The modern airplane is a direct result of competition to discover flight. Feats such as the first sub-4 minute mile were all fueled by individuals pushing the accepted limits of performance.
Millenials are confused because they were told to love the game more than competition, but not taught to love the game alongside competition. Success in life requires understanding that there are winners and losers, but loving the process of improvement all the same. It requires knowing that losing today has no bearing on our ability to win tomorrow. This half-truth stifles growth because many young people don’t understand that failure is part of the process. They weren’t allowed to fail when they were young, and this lack of understanding inhibits their ability to learn by experience as adults.
You can be whatever you want, but…
Another particularly sinister deception is the concept that we can “be whatever we want” and that we should “pursue our dreams.” This concept is absolutely true, but only if the rest of the sentence is provided. It is true that you can be whatever you want, but only if you are willing to work harder than everyone else trying to do that thing. Remember, competition is an innate part of life. You aren’t the only person who wants to be a movie star, or a musician, or a professional athlete. You should absolutely pursue your dreams, but don’t delude yourself about the quantity of work required to do so.
This deception is compounded by the fact that young people have been encouraged to go through the standard school system and do things the same way their parents did. The problem with this is the cost of attending college has skyrocketed, and lending institutions have burdened the millenial generation with high-interest debt at a criminal rate. Leaders complain about the millenial sense of entitlement, but fail to realize that the landscape has changed. Graduating college with a degree does not guarantee a job and a career in the modern workforce. Understand that these young adults have been promised security by going through a broken system. They are not entitled, they are confused.
Imagine taking on $200,000 worth of debt just to land a job paying $40,000 per year? When you factor in taxes and the cost of living (which has also gradually increased to astronomical levels), it is no surprise that many young professionals struggle to get out of debt. They have been crippled from the beginning by a system that told them half-truths. Pursuing your dreams is financially impossible if you have gone down the standard path of schooling fueled by loans. Thinking vertically and working up the corporate ladder is no longer a viable solution when qualified candidates can be found for most positions from all over the world.
Going through the motions is no longer adequate. In order to be successful, in order to get rid of your debt, in order to keep your head above water, you must distinguish yourself from the rest of the field. The only way to do this is to compete and to grind; if you have never been taught or encouraged to do these things, your parents have sent you into a metaphorical gun fight with a dull knife. Most millenials are woefully underprepared for the reality that they need to fight tooth and nail for the right to pursue their passions.
What is the solution?
It may seem like this situation is truly dire and no solution can be found. Fortunately, progress can be made if everyone gets on the same wavelength. In the same way that successful teams and businesses foster a positive workplace culture, we must foster a positive culture in our society. We must support and encourage the next generation by telling them the whole story. Instead of trying to protect them from the world, we must teach them how to face it head-on. We must finish our sentences. You can be whatever you want, and you can be successful doing so. Just understand it requires working harder and, more importantly, working smarter than your peers. We must foster competition, not discourage it.
Fortunately, we live in an era where information has never been more readily available. Instead of pushing the archaic system of education put forth in our universities, we must challenge them to evolve with the times. It has never been easier to learn from true experts in any arena. Want to learn how to start a business? You can read books, listen to podcasts, watch interviews, or view documentaries by and about the most successful entrepreneurs of our time. Want to learn how to escape the crippling debt of student loans and build a more stable financial future? There are countless media by and about the most successful investors and financial minds as well. We live in an age of abundance when it comes to information, yet so many people fail to take advantage.
Fellow millenials: challenge yourselves to be educated instead of entertained. Do things that scare you, where you are likely to fail. Take risks and push your limits so that you know what it feels like to compete. Pursue personal growth and development in spite of the fact that it is awkward and uncomfortable. And, above all else, lead the next generation with the knowledge and understanding that you were misled. If you were born and raised to be ignorant, that is not your fault; if you die ignorant, however, only you are to blame.