This writing is largely in response to the statements made by Simon Sinek (author of “Start with Why”) in a much-revered speech where he articulates a closure on “The Millennial Question.”
I’ve learned to generally be careful with anyone who offers closure. A bid of final answers is usually a red flag that someone is doling out a covert sales pitch. When we speak of Millennials, we speak of human evolution. Is a final understanding on the nature of human evolution really possible in the first place?
Aside from the fact that it reeks of an upcoming Sinek bestseller, possibly titled “Start with Y,” I find his speech to be a good springboard for a discussion which I believe we should be having today before this topic takes a life of its own and creates a modern-day “Berlin wall.”
Millennials, the “ Idealistic, hardworking, smart kids. They’ve just graduated school. They are in their entry-level job.” (00:08:34)
Sampling bias alert!
I was born in the 80’s and fit the Millennial descriptions by most standards. At the very least, I am a Gen X and Gen Y hybrid. But I already have 20 years of working experience under my belt. Think that’s impossible? Try growing up amidst the decay and downfall of a regime brimmed by an Iron Curtain where child alimony was a gladly overlooked option rather than a legal obligation.
“I sit down with them and I go, “How’s it going?” They go, “I think I’m gonna quit.” I’m like, “Why?” They’re like, “I’m not making an impact.” I’m like, “You’ve been here eight months.”
I started tutoring at the age of 16 and never stopped working since, pursuing two and a half academic degrees in parallel. I finished my Master’s degree of 3 years in under 11 months. Does that make me “impatient”? (00:01:20) Going by your standards — most likely! According to my standards, when you have no-one to fall back on, when your own mother is dependent on you, you don’t have the luxury of patience.
Even if hardship may not be an underlying commonality, a large part of the Millennials are hardly in their “entry level jobs” by now. Why is this relevant? Because even though in 5 years from now I will have worked as long as my mother had by the time she retired, I’m still “not making an impact.” So it’s not “because [I’ve] been here for like eight months only.” (00:08:43)
At the core of not being able to “make impact” lies a raft of one-sided vantage points and misconceptions that permeate our working culture today, which are stifling our progress and percolating the current generational divide. I will get to those in a minute, but first, let’s define “impact.”
“It’s as if they’re standing at the foot of a mountain, and they have this abstract concept called impact that they want to have in the world, which is the summit. What they don’t see is the mountain. I don’t care if you go up the mountain quickly or slowly, but there’s still a mountain.“
To you, member of Gen X or Baby Boomer class, “impact” may be the “summit,” or the “apex of the mountain” (00:08:47), aka the sum of successful leaps up a career ladder.
To us, “impact” is about something else. It’s about being heard, being respected, being valued. That’s not measured in monetary, or hierarchical currencies. It’s estimated in subjective, soft intangibles. And yes, sometimes also scored by the numbers of “likes”.
To you, the mountain may represent an impetus to start climbing. You look at it from your perspective of the wild-goose-chase for worldly desires. You want to conquer it and satisfy your need for power struggles.
To us, the mountain stands for a state of consciousness, self-growth aspirations and the renunciation of worldly desires. We want to connect with the mountain in a meaningful way and yes, given that so many generations before us haven’t, we want to do it in a hurry.
I made the mistake of going for the impact before. Having just joined a global organization, I felt from the onset that some aspects of the project I was assigned to, were suboptimal. I expressed this in one of the first meetings only to be told off for it. According to said management, you see I simply could not have known right from wrong in the first week with the company (even though I had about two decades of experience). According to them, I was jumping to conclusions.
Well, I complied and bid my time. Six months into the project, as I gained more knowledge, my initial perception and feeling had only exasperated. More even, this feeling that the project was flawed and would eventually flop was demotivating. It felt like being trapped on a sinking boat.
I found it baffling at first that said leader refused to have the “leaks on the boat” looked at, but I understood eventually, that more than the “safety of the vessel,” the leader was concerned with his own image. So he’d put his denial blinkers on and actively ignored anyone who tried to make him see.
The lesson I learned then, is to keep quiet and keep low. I learned that more than anything, some forerunners are concerned with maintaining the status quo. I can’t blame them. After so many years of changes and crises, I would also wish for a time of peaceful ruling.
“ What this young generation needs to learn is patience. That some things that really, really matter, like love, or job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self-confidence, a skill set…all of these things take time. The overall journey is long and difficult.” (00:09:03)
Patience is so 1970’s
Sinek probably means well, but is there a way in which we can help each other without resorting to scare tactics and stereotyping? People fall in love all the time. It happens in an instant. Learning, for some of the Millennials, takes place the same way.
I remember learning to play violin in music school, back when I was eight, or nine. For three years I had never done my homework, yet I was an a-grade student (5-grade in Soviet standards). Why was I not doing my homework?
I never needed to. The teacher would play the piece in class and I could just come back next day and reproduce it. Don’t ask me how I did it. It just happened.
One day, my teacher decided to grade my homework with a 3. When I asked her “Why the low mark?” much like Sinek in the above quote she told me that, “I needed to learn patience and practice. That I could not go through life not doing my homework!” When I asked her why she marked me with a 3 and not a lower grade, she told me that it was because I had played “so well.”
I quit music school that day. Yes, I was rebellious, but primarily I quit because I was not going to allow a system that did not embrace my strengths, shape me. This understanding obviously, only came later. At the time my response was just an impulse, a whim.
The “qualified” is outrun by the “gifted”
You might decry me for a “spoilt brat,” but after you’ve done so, I’d like to invite you to dig a little deeper. Could what’s happening here be distracting us from what really matters? Could we, the Millennials have been born looking like you, but endowed with an awakened sense which in your case, due to various evolutionary reasons, might still be dormant?
Before we shed our fur and bipedalled into erudite humans, we were first and foremost organisms, driven not by our levels of ingenuity, age, or length of tenure, but by our instincts.
Could it be that instinct, intuition, and empathy are making a comeback with our generation?