Originally published 2/9/2016
The Millennial Generation often gets a bad wrap. We’re often described as entitled, impatient, and naive to the ways of the world. While I’ve certainly met people who expect to get something for nothing, I would say these people are not limited to this particular generation, nor do these characteristics describe the vast majority of young people I have interacted with.
Every generation is shaped by its own experiences, and it is often a rebellion against the previous generation that can have the most profound influence. This explains why it often seems there is a generational pendulum swinging back and forth. Given our longer life expectancy in the developed world, we often find ourselves working with 3 or even 4 distinct generations in one workplace. Will we ever find a way to work together effectively, appreciating differences rather than merely tolerating them?
Obviously I cannot serve as a spokesperson for an entire generation, but I can provide some insight into a few of the things that motivate me. In a time when my social networks provide the emotional support and stability that I need as a human, I don’t need to look to my workplace to provide that for me. I believe this makes me inherently more willing to challenge the status quo because job security is not my number one concern. I am willing to speak up and take risks, and I have come of age in an era when we are beginning to embrace the idea of failing fast and failing forward. I know that it’s OK to make mistakes as long as I learn the important lessons that will keep me from making them again. This mentality should not signal a disrespect or lack of appreciation for the existing system, but instead a willingness to ask the question, “What if?”
When it comes to patience, I often joke that I want patience and I want it now. There is definitely a sense of urgency and drive behind many of my actions, but it’s not because I expect to be handed a reward without earning for it, but rather because I can see so clearly a better future. It’s sort of like the line from the end of When Harry Met Sally when Harry says to Sally, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” The world is so full of possibility and passion, and I am eager to unleash this potential.
In the workplace, I’ve encountered various versions of, “Well that’s not how things work around here,” when I propose a radical new idea or deviate too far from the status quo. I don’t think this trait is unique to my generation, but rather par for the course for new people entering a field or arena. Thomas Kuhn describes this phenomenon in depth in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, observing that is usually newcomers to a field who make the most profound breakthroughs because they have not become entrenched in the governing paradigm. Conversely, when there is a significant paradigm shift, it can take a long time for it to become widely adopted because we have to wait for those who are too stuck in their old patterns of thinking to leave the field. To this I say: the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.
If we can identify and admit that we have these tendencies to defend an old paradigm, even when it is clearly no longer valid, and we resist the ideas of newcomers, can we not move past these old habits to create a more accepting, open-minded, and progressive environment? My values and experiences are different from those who came before me, but that doesn’t make them any more or less valid. I recognize there is much I can learn from those who have different perspectives and more experience, but I also feel I have something to contribute, not despite my age and experience, but because of it. I believe we have almost limitless potential to create a better world if we can work across generational lines to create it.