I spent the weekend mostly with millenials: two of my kids and their spouses, and two nieces and their spouses/significant others.
And once again, I simply didn’t experience all the negative things people of my generation tend to say about people of this new generation. Lazy? Every one of them is gainfully employed and working hard. Entitled? None of them seem to be expecting to have things handed to them on a silver platter. Disengaged? All of them are passionate about the things that matter to them.
In fact, we had many wonderful conversations all day and into the night – and I was continually impressed by their insights, humor and curiosity.
Now, they are skeptical about the things that deserve their skepticism: corporations, the government, advertising. But when it comes to the important stuff: love, connection to other people, finding work that has meaning for them, being stewards of the planet – no skepticism at all: 100% in.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to understand why Boomers and Gen Xers are so dismissive of Millenials. I believe part of it is simply the age-old and continuous disregard for every new generation by every preceding generation. I think of it as the why-in-my-day phenomenon: “Why, in my day, we had to work hard, and we didn’t expect…” I’m completely convinced that grown-ups in Pompeii were complaining about their young adult kids in just this way even as the lava rolled in.
But part of it is also based on a misinterpretation of the Millenials’ values. I was working with a senior group at Facebook a couple of weeks ago and the head of the group said, “Millenials as a group care most about meaning, challenge and flexibility.” I agree, and I also think that millenials see work as one of a number of elements in their life that can give them these things, AND that they believe they have the right, perhaps even the obligation, to look for those things in work – and if they’re not getting them, to ask. And if they’re still not getting them – to leave.
For example, my assistant Dan and his wife Jen are parents of a 10-month-old daughter, Teddy (short for Theodora). They recently decided that they didn’t want to raise her in NYC– both because it’s so brutally expensive and because they wanted for her the kind of childhood they had both experienced: a house with a yard, grandparents nearby, a less frenetic pace. (That’s “meaning,” for those of you keeping track.) Dan came to me and said that he really likes and values his work with Proteus (meaning), that he thinks there’s still a lot more for him to learn, and lots more the company wants to do that he could help with (challenge), and that he’d like to figure out how to make it work for him to work long-distance (flexibility). From what I understand, Jen had a very similar conversation with her employer.
Now, if I were looking through the lens of millenials-are-bad, I might very well have interpreted Dan’ announcement and request with indignation: Who does he think he is? I might have thought. Does he think we’ll change the way we work just for him? How entitled!
But I don’t see it that way at all. I think the millennial generation looks at their whole life and wants it to be a quality life, with meaning, challenge and flexibility. And they see work as one aspect of creating the kind of life they want. In other words, they’re not willing to put aside their life in order to meet the demands imposed by work. And to most baby boomers, who have done just that for thirty or forty years years, it seems uppity.
Fortunately for Dan, it turns out that I’m kind of millenial in my view of the world — meaning, challenge and flexibility are key to me, as well, and — unlike many folks of my generation — I’ve been crafting my life to deliver those things for a long time.
So, we’re trying to make things work with Dan’s new circumstances, and I’m pretty sure we can shift to accommodate.
And I know that he will be even more focused and excellent than he already is when we do. Because one thing I’ve learned about millenials is that when you collaborate with them in their quest for a life of meaning, challenge and flexibility, they respond with all of their considerable energy and passion.
I actually think the world is going to be in good hands as this new generation takes the reins over the next few decades. I’m excited to be a part of it.