You may have seen this video circulating. It has over 2 million views in just 2 months. In it, Simon Sinek, a consultant on leadership in the workplace for the RAND corporation, goes into detail about the role that millennials (those born after 1984) play in the workplace, and why we act certain ways.
We’ve all heard the arguments. The stereotypical millennial is entitled, we are lazy and unmotivated; we don’t know how to work hard, and we don’t value the opinions of those older than us. We’re more likely to stand up to authority and attempt to figure things out on our own.
On the whole, these are mostly true accusations. To some extent we are all of those things. But Sinek offers explanations and resolutions.
First, he breaks it down into four main causes of the current millennial mindset: parenting, technology, impatience, and environment.
Sinek blames some of our troubles on what he calls “failed parenting methods”. That is, too many of our parents brought us up with the ideas that we are special, and that we deserve things just because we want them. We were given participation medals and trophies no matter how well we did.
He explains that these are all scientifically poor parenting choices because, in the instance of the participation medals, research shows that it significantly devalues the prize for those who have won, or finished first, and it actually makes the person who finishes last embarrassed because they know they don’t deserve it. So it actually lowers their self-esteem.
Growing up with that mindset makes for a very strong reality check when those children reach the real world after graduating from school. No longer can mom or dad call the school and help with grades, you get nothing for finishing in last, and promotions are earned, not given just because you want them.
So now we have an entire generation that, once we hit the workforce, our self esteem drops immediately as soon as life stops working out for us as it did under our parents’ roof.
Next, we add in technology. Millennials are the first generation to grow up with instant access to technology and social media. Which, Simon argues, means that we are the first generation to grow up putting filters on everything we do. We are wonderful at making out lives look happy and perfect even when we’re depressed and everything feels like it’s spiraling out of control.
Along with that, we know scientifically, that interaction with social media releases dopamine in the brain. The same chemical that is released when humans drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or gamble. This means that our interaction with social media is highly addictive. In fact, Sinek states, research shows that those who spend more time on Facebook are actually more depressed than those who spend less time on Facebook.
The real issue with this technology is the age at which it is normally introduced. We were given social media right in the middle of adolescence, which, for most, is an extremely stressful few years full of questions, changes, and uncertainty. So, instead of learning to lean on friends and family, as we’re supposed to, in a tough time, we now go to where we know we will feel good. We know we get a hit of dopamine when we get a lot of “likes” so we post a picture that will do the trick. It’s the same reason most alcoholics drink. They get stressed out, and find the one place they are certain will always give them the hit of dopamine they’re looking for.
What happens now, is that our generation doesn’t know how to form deep, meaningful relationships. Instead of talking to each other when we’re out at dinner, we often have our phone on the table. Instead of making small talk before a meeting, we’re checking emails or texting a friend. We do it because we know it will make us feel good. But all this sends a subliminal message to everyone else in the room, that we do not think they are as important as whatever is on our phone. Therefore, the foundation of trust that every relationship needs is effectively built on sand, the result of understanding that we are not as important to the other person as they are to us.
The next step is impatience. After our parents tell us we can have whatever we want, and the technology to actually make it happen, very few millennials have actually developed the characteristic of patience.
Unfortunately, when we relate this to the workplace, it leads to thousands of millennials entering our first jobs out of college with high expectations and high hopes. We know that we’re going to do well (because our parents and teachers have told us so), and we know that we want to make an impact on our new companies, but then reality sets in. The same feeling that we mentioned earlier of low self-esteem and feeling inadequate hits hard and we don’t feel like we’re making an impact, and we don’t feel like we’re doing well at our jobs. But this is often the first real adversity most of us face so we think something is wrong with us or our situation so we try to move on to another job.
What we don’t understand inherently is that job fulfillment takes time and energy. Sinek poses the metaphor of a mountain with the summit being the impact we’re looking to make. And millennials see the summit without seeing the mountain we have to climb to get there.
And this concept works, not only for a career, but for all important areas of life. It is true for every friendship you are a part of, it’s true for every love interest you have. We are so used to automatically conjuring up these things over a cell phone, that we often forget that these relationships take place in real life.
Lastly, we are products of the environment we are placed into. When we enter corporate situations, it’s often with managers and businesses that are worried about numbers and metrics as opposed to the workers they hire. There is more attention spent on meeting short term goals than there is on the development young employees.
Sinek argues that we are put in environments that do not teach us the skills of cooperation and relationship building. We aren’t put in situations which work out the need for instant gratification. He states that it’s the lack of good leadership in the world that has placed us in this position.
What would be more important to a business, making a sales goal in one year, but losing their employees and essentially starting over every year? Or maybe taking a little longer to reach that sales goal, but forming long lasting skills in their young employees who will then stick around for years and years?
So what do we do?
So how are we supposed to react? What are we supposed to do? We are the millennials everyone talks about. We are the millennials everyone complains about. And I’m sure many of you reading this identified with the situations Sinek is describing.
In the video, Sinek gives a couple good suggestions about how to stay off of cell phones, and how to form longer lasting relationships. He tells how businesses can help millennials by changing a few policies or focusing more time and effort in their training. But Simon largely blames the plight of the millennial on external circumstances.
As a 24 year old in the business world, it would be easy for me to listen to this video and instantly become the victim. I could go to my manager and ask him to implement some of these principles that, according to Sinek, would help me perform better. But I don’t necessarily agree.
What Sinek says in this talk is simple to understand for people of all ages. The listener doesn’t reach 40 years old and suddenly have clarity as to solutions. I think it is because of our position that we must be the one’s to solve our problems.
We know the problems we have better than anyone, so let’s do something about them. It’s not an easy road, I have my cell phone sitting right beside me currently, but there are a few simple things we can do everyday that will help save us from ourselves.
First, put the phones and laptops down during meals. Mealtime used to be the greatest way to get to know someone. Everyone has to eat, and we all do it at approximately the same time everyday, so why not do it together without the distraction of whatever is on your phone.
Second, be intentional about looking another person in the face and listening to them. A great deal of trust is formed subconsciously when they know you are only focused on them.
Third, make yourself available to life. This one sounds a bit more abstract, but it’s as simple as looking up instead of down when you’re walking. When you’re at a restaurant and someone leaves the table, take the opportunity to look around and see what’s happening in the area. Don’t close yourself off from everyone in public by constantly listening to music. Just being present both physically and mentally will have a great deal of impact as to the thoughts you have, the ideas you come up with, and the fulfillment you get from everyday circumstances.
In the new year, before you post your pictures with #NewYearNewMe, consider making some of these simple changes that can truly transform your day to day life.
“Wherever you are, be all there” – Jim Elliot