Millennials are tough to manage, accused of being entitled, being narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, lazy, but being entitled is the big one. And because millennials confuse leadership so much, few leaders tend to ask them: What do you want? The answer usually comes like this: We want to work in a place with purpose, we want to make an impact, we want free food and more holidays. So, someone will see some sort of purpose with free food and two weeks holiday every month, whilst making impacts too yet for some reason, they are still not happy. And the truth is because something is missing, there is a missing piece.
Throughout my life, since I was born in 1998 till this day, with lots of experiences. And when I say lot, I mean a whole lot. I figured out or I think I figured out this missing piece, but this missing piece is broken down into four pieces, four things, four challenges, four major problems:
This generation I call millennials is subject to, not my words, failed parenting strategies. And that is to say; most, if not all, grew up with bad parenting. Let me give you two cases of parenting almost every millennial grew up with
Case 1: The extremely good parents. Always tell their kids that they are special, that they will have anything they want in life just because they want it. Ridiculous, isn’t it?
These set of kids grew up being told they were the best every time, praised for everything they did no matter how stupid the actions are. Some of them get promoted to higher classes, not because they deserved it, but because their parents complained. Some get A’s, not because they earned it, but because their teachers didn’t want to deal with their parents. Some get participation medals, like medals for coming last.
And all these, as pretty clear as it is, devalues the medal and reward for the ones that actually work hard moreover, it makes the person who gets the medal feel embarrassed because they know they didn’t deserve it, so it actually makes them worse. And the ones who actually work hard are now less motivated to do so because at the end of the day, you can actually get a medal through various means. Plus, what do the parents care for if not the medal? Don’t parents care for the result instead of the actual learning? They want to see the A’s not literally see the education in your behaviour.
Case 2: The extremely not good parents. These set hardly or never praise their kids for anything the kid gets to work harder than a work horse and still get nothing to prove for their hard work. They can study, put in everything, work hard, and might not be the very best although they are excellent.
For example, they might come second or get all A’s and one B. Then, the only thing they get is blame. “Does the person who is first or got all A’s have two heads?” their parents are never proud of anything they do, and they almost never receive any reward for their efforts.
Now, put these two sets of millennials into the society. They graduate and get a job, or they graduate and don’t get a job. Anyway, they are now thrust into the real world. In an instant, the first group find out that they ain’t special, nobody is getting you a promotion, you get nothing for coming last and you can’t have it just because you want it. Their entire self-image is shattered and then, you have a generation growing up with extremely lower self-esteem than the previous generation.
The second group are already growing up with low self-esteem, thanks to trauma from parents all in the name of training. Then, they realize life is unfair. Your boss would want you to give in your 100% for his 1%. And since the low self-esteem is already there, they can’t speak up to demand what they want, fear of being shunned, criticized, reliving the trauma, so, they turn into a work horse. Their entire self-image is shattered and then, you have a generation growing up with extremely lower self-esteem than the previous generation.
And today, we live in a facebook-instagram world, and that means you have to put filters on things. We are good at showing people that life is amazing even though we are depressed. So, everybody sounds tough, everybody sounds like they have it all figured out. But the reality is that there’s very little toughness and most people don’t have it all figured out. And when the most senior people ask: What are we going to do? They sound like: This is what you are going to do, and they have no clue whatsoever. So, you have an entire generation growing up with lower self-esteem than the previous generations.
And this is no fault of their own. They were dealt a bad hand.
Now, let’s add technology. Millennials are the last generation to grow up in a world where there is a transition from a world struggling with technology to a world dominated by technology. So, that is to say, millennials were at the peak of this transition.
Engagement with social media and phones releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, hormone, chemical, that is associated with movement, learning, attention. And it is associated with the brain’s pleasure and reward system. That is why when you get a text, you feel good. We’ve all experienced it, when you are feeling down or lonely and you send ten texts to ten friends, hi, hi, hi. It feels good when you get a response. It is why we count the likes, why we go back to see if my followers and likes are growing slowly. And then, we start questioning ourselves. Did I do something wrong? Don’t they like me anymore? The trauma for young kids to be unfriended on social media is serious. When we get to hit the dopamine, it feels good. So, it is why we like it, why we keep going back to it. And it is none of their fault, they were dealt a bad hand. Like these things occur without us realizing it, it is part of our world now.
Dopamine is the exact same reason why we feel good when we smoke, drink or gamble. So, to say, it is highly addictive. We have age restrictions on smoking, gambling and alcohol but no age restriction on social media and phones. And this is equivalent to opening up a liquor store and saying to teenagers, if this whole adolescence thing gets you down, try this. This is basically what is happening. We now have an entire generation that has access to the addictive numbing of dopamine through social media and phones as they get through the high stress of adolescence. Why is this important? Almost every alcoholic discover alcohol when they were teenagers.
When we are young, we needed only the approval of our parents. As we go through adolescence, we make this transition that we now need the approval of our peers. Very frustrating for our parents because they can’t seem to control us anymore.
Very important for us because it allows us to acculturate outside our families to a world bigger than us. It is a highly stressful and anxious period of our lives, and trust me, I have been an adolescent, and we are supposed to learn to rely on our friends. Some people, by accident, discover alcohol and the numbing effects of dopamine to help them cope with the stress and anxiety of adolescence. Unfortunately, it becomes hardwired into their brains and for the rest of their lives, when they suffer significant stress, they will not turn to a person, they will turn to the bottle.
Social stress, financial stress, career stress, academic stress, love stress. That’s pretty much the primary reasons why an alcoholic drinks, right? What’s happening is that because we are allowing unfettered access to these dopamine producing devices and media, basically, it is becoming hardwired in our brains. And what we are seeing is that as we grow older, too many kids don’t know how to form deep meaningful relationships. Many people do admit to me that many of their friendships are superficial. They admit that they don’t count or rely on their friends. They have fun with their friends, but they know that their friends will cancel out on them when something better comes along.
No wonder why we have many broken relationships, failed marriages and fair-weather friends. Deep meaningful relationships are not there because they never practice the skill set, they were never taught the skill set. Worse, they don’t have the coping mechanism to deal with stress. So, when significant stress starts to show up in their lives, they are not turning to a person, they are turning to a device, social media, they are turning to these things which offer temporary relief. And it is a fact that people who spend more time on social media suffer higher rates of depression than people who spend less time.
Now, listen carefully, I am not saying these things are bad or evil. Alcohol is not bad, in fact, alcohol has health benefits but too much of alcohol is bad. Gambling is not bad, in fact gambling is fun and often recommended as therapeutic measures but too much gambling is dangerous. There is nothing wrong with social media and phones, it is the imbalance. The imbalance of these things is the problem. When these things are now the source of hitting dopamine, that is the issue.
If you are sitting at dinner with your friends and you are texting someone who is not there, that’s a problem, that’s an addiction. I could remember one time I went out with my friends to watch a football match at a viewing centre. It was champions league final, Real Madrid vs Liverpool. And there was this guy, he was focused on his phone almost the entire time. What message was he sending across? The match ain’t important to him. Someone told the guy to leave there but since everyone paid for a seat, you can’t chase him away.
That’s what happens, the addiction, the dopamine hit. Texting your friend is okay, there’s nothing wrong with it but when you are doing it while sitting opposite someone you are supposed to be listening to and talking to is wrong, end the conversation and go on with the texting. If you are sitting at a meeting with people you are supposed to be talking to and listening to, and you can’t put away your phone, you put your phone on the table, face up or face down, if you can’t put it in your bag or your pocket, it sends a subconscious message to the room: You are not just important to me right now.
That’s what happens and the fact that you cannot put it away is because you are addicted. If you wake up and you check your phone before saying good morning to your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse, you have an addiction. And all addictions, in time, will destroy relationships. It’ll cost time, money and make your life worse.
So, you have a generation growing up with lower self-esteem, that doesn’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress.
Now, add the sense of impatience. Millennials are growing up in a world of instant gratification. You want to buy something; you go to Amazon and it arrives the next day. There are a lot of ‘food is ready’ and fast foods. You want to watch a movie, log in to Netflix and watch a movie, no one is checking movie times anymore. You want to watch a TV show, binge, it’s available, you don’t even have to wait week to week. I know people who skip episodes of a show so that they can binge at the end of the season. Instant gratification. You want to go on a date, you don’t even have to learn common courtesy or table manners or date tips. Like ‘Hey’ or conversation starters like ‘How to start up a conversation with a girl or your crush’. You don’t even have to learn and practice that skill. You don’t even have to be the uncomfortable one who says yes when you mean no and no when you mean yes and maybe when you mean no. Just log in to Tinder, swipe right and bang I’m a stud. You don’t have to learn the social coping mechanisms, worse no one teaches them anymore, not at homes, not at schools.
Everything you want, you can have instantaneously. Everything you want, instant gratification, except job satisfaction and strength of relationships. There ain’t no app for that, they are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes.
So, I keep meeting these wonderful, fantastic, idealistic hard-working smart people. Just graduated from school, in entry-level jobs. And when I talk with them like ‘How is everything going?’ They go, ‘I think I’m going to quit’. And I’m like ‘Why?’ And they go ‘I think I’m not making an impact’. Then, I’m like ‘You’ve been here only six months’. This is like that they are standing at the foot of a mountain and they have this abstract concept called impact they want to have in the world which is actually the summit of the mountain. What they don’t see is the mountain. I don’t care you climb the mountain quickly or slowly, there is still a mountain and you have to climb it. What these millennials need to learn is patience. That some things that really matter like love, job fulfilment, career goals, happiness, joy, self-fulfilment, love of life, self-confidence, a skill set. Any of these things, they take time. Sometimes, you can fast track pieces of it but the overall journey, is arduous and long and tedious and difficult.
And if you don’t ask for help or learn that skill set, you will fall off the mountain or the worst-case scenario, which we are already seeing. We see increase in suicide rates, deaths due to drug overdose, more and more kids drop out of school or take leaves of absence due to depression, more and more depressed people. There was a time these things were unheard of and it is really bad.
These are all bad cases, but the best case scenario among millennials is that we have a population growing up and going through life and just never really finding joy. They’ll never really find deep fulfilment in work or in life. They’ll just walk through life and it’ll be like “It’s fine”.
How’s your job? It’s fine, same as yesterday. How’s your relationship? It’s fine.
I don’t care whether you are a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer or a trader or whatever. If you can’t find fulfilment or joy or satisfaction in what you do, what there is there? So, essentially, what you have is a generation that is just existing and not really living.
And this leads to the fourth point: The environment. We are now taking these amazing group of young fantastic kids who were dealt a bad hand, no fault of their own, with low self-esteem and lack the skill set. And we put them in corporate environments that care more about the numbers than they do about the kids. They care more about the short-term gains than the long-term life of this young human being. That care more about the year than the lifetime.
And so, we are putting these kids in corporate environments that are not helping these kids build their self-confidence, that are not helping them learn the skill set, that are not helping them overcome the challenges of the digital world and finding more balance. An environment that is not helping them overcome the need for instant gratification and teach them the joy and impact and fulfilment that you get from working hard over on something that cannot be done in a month or even in a year.
And so, we are thrusting them into these corporate environments and the worst part is that they think that it is them. They blame themselves. They think it’s them who can’t deal and so, it makes it all worse. It is not. It is not them. It is the corporate environments; it is the total lack of good leadership in our world today that is making them feel the way they do. They were dealt a bad hand, and I hate to say but it is our responsibility. It sucks to be in this position, but we have no choice, this is what we got.
I wish the society and their parents did a better job, but we now have to pick up the slack. We have to work extra hard to figure out the ways we can build their confidence, to find ways to teach them to be social, the social skills they’ve been missing out. Even if it requires no phones in conference rooms. We have to create mechanisms where we allow those little innocuous interactions to happen.
We now, whether we like it or not, it is now our responsibility, it is up to us to make up the shortfall, to help these amazing, idealistic, fantastic generation build their confidence, learn patience, learn the social skills, find a better balance between life and technology. Because, guite frankly, it is the right thing to do.