The Millenial Question

I was recently introduced to a very thought-provoking video excerpt from an episode of Inside Quest in which author and speaker Simon Sinek talks about the Millennial question – or in other words the problem with the Millennial generation. Millennials are individuals who were born in 1984 or after.

Millennials are said to be tough to manage, and are accused of being entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, and lazy. Sinek argues that they confound leadership so much that leadership asks them what they want and their response is wanting to work in a place with purpose, to make an impact and to receive free food and beanbags. He says, “somebody articulates some sort of purpose, there’s lots of free food and bean bags and yet for some reason they are still not happy”. According to Sinek this comes down to four “pieces”: parenting, technology, patience and environment.

So let’s start with parenting. Sinek says: “too many of them grew up subject to, not my words, ‘failed parenting strategies’ […] they were told they were special all the time. They were told that they could have anything they want in life just ‘cause they want it […]. They graduate school and they get a job and they’re thrust into the real world and in an instant they find out they’re not special, their mums can’t get them a promotion […] and in a instant their entire self image is shattered and so you have an entire generation that is growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations.“

Yes, it can be damaging if a mother or father consistently and in an empty, meaningless way tells their child that they are special just to make them feel better about their life. This will mean that when they get into the “real world” it will quickly become apparent that their words had no worth. However, a parent really investing their time in their offspring, explaining to them what makes them valuable and unique can provide a real boost to self-esteem that lasts a lifetime. It can mean that the child in later life can gain a real appreciation for their qualities and be able to articulate them when pursuing the path they wish to take.

Secondly, saying that Millennials are growing up with less self-esteem than previous is a bit unsubstantiated and generalising. All generations have their own individual struggles for finding their worth. A man from my grandparents’ generation for example may have struggled with self-esteem after finding his individual identity shattered in war. Classifying anyone as a product of their generation is short-sighted. Yes the environment in which you develop will make a difference. However, he neglects the individual responsibility element, especially when he argues that this lower self-esteem is through no fault of their own “because they were dealt a bad hand”. In the same way that were are not destined to become exactly like our mother and/or father, we can chose not to behave in the same way that is commonplace amongst others considered to be of our generation. We can chose to turn into ourselves to consider our worth.

Furthermore, do Millenials or indeed generations themselves actually exist? Adam Conover, writer and comedian, eloquently argues that they do not. They are an artificial classification system. All that really exists is people and at a given time there are just different numbers of them. As he shows, nominalisation of generations is often very negative and constrictive.

Conover also disproves the concept of Millenials being entitled – in America 61% of graduated seniors went on to do internships, half of them unpaid; narcissistic – in a study they ranked being a good parent and having a successful marriage above having free time, and becoming famous and other studies have shown that people become less narcissistic as they age; always on their phone – so is everyone because it’s one of the most revolutionary devices invented during our lifetime.

If we take out the flawed lens of generation designation, and the concept of Millenials, I do mostly agree with what Sinek has to say about technology. He explains that the release of dopamine that comes from using technology is addictive in the same way that drinking, smoking or gambling can be. Yes, it does feel good when we receive a text, it make us feel valued (unless it’s Domino’s telling you what offers there are, or a utilities company telling you your bill is ready).

It is problematic for a young person to develop with an unhealthy and unbalanced level of exposure to an addictive and numbing chemical called dopamine through social media and mobile phones. Especially whilst going through the high stress of adolescence.

According to Sinek, due to the unfettered access, in the transition from only wanting to gain approval from their parents to seeking it from their peers it becomes hard-wired to turn to technology rather than others and therefore deep and meaningful relationships are not formed. In addition healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress are not explored and nurtured. This can result in anxiety, mood disorders and depression. Indeed research by the University of Pittsburg showed that the more time young adults use social media, the more likely they are to be depressed – in the study frequent users of social media were 2.7 times more likely to be depressed than those who use it less frequently.

Sadly today it is not just adolescents who are being numbed and damaged by high use of phones and social media. At least in my experience, children seem to being given devices at ever-decreasing ages and are pulled to them like metal to a strong magnet. Often many (but of course not all, let’s not generalise here) would rather glue their hands and eyes to their tablet than interact with their school friend and family time becomes the ill-desired distraction from electronics.

People of all ages seem to be hooked to technology. How many times have you felt drawn to read a text or check Facebook when you are meant to be spending quality time with friends or family? It is a frightening addiction. Just look around you the next time you are in public transport and nobody seems to make eye contact or a conversation because they only contact they are making is their thumbs to a screen.

I also agree that patience, or more aptly, impatience due to a proliferation of instant gratification, of having ‘everything’ desired practically instantaneously is also a danger, especially when you couple this with an addiction to electronic devices. That does not just apply to people who were born in 1984 or onwards. True gratification and fulfilment require hard work and we do need to become more comfortable with not always getting instant results from our actions.

Sinek argues that all is available except job satisfaction and strength of relationships and that the worse-case scenario is a continuation of an increase in suicide rates, accidental deaths from drug overdoses, dropouts and leave of absences due to depression, whilst best-case scenario is having an entire generation going through life never really finding joy or deep-fulfilment.

He goes on to explain his fourth ‘piece’ that is environment, more specifically the corporate environment. One which does not help people build their confidence or learn the skills of cooperation. One which does not help them overcome the challenges of a digital word or the need to have instant gratification and does not encourage them to find the joy and fulfilment you can get from working hard on something over a long time. It’s not the Millenials he says, it’s the corporations and the corporate environment and a total lack of good leadership and “they were dealt a bad hand”.

Again, where is the concept of individual responsibility that Sinek is once again ignoring? According to Sinek, it’s down to the generation above the Millenials to work “extra hard to find the social skills that they are missing out on.” No, it is a collective responsibility resolve the deep sense of impatience that risks becoming ingrained into the hearts of the population and to stop relationships becoming and remaining superficial, or even non-existent because we are too busy living our lives electronically.

Additionally, not all corporations are bad, not all of them just put their employees through the grinder. Yes, you may have to spend a long time searching but there are companies who will look after you and develop you. Moreover, a division of people through the designation and nominalisation of generations is also unhelpful. We are all people, and were are all in this together.


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