Four Lies Millennials Tell Themselves About Older Generations by Andrew McPeak
Four Lies Boomers Tell Themselves About Millennials by Tim Elmore
Millennials are the largest generation in history. And being primarily in their 20s, they still have a lot to learn about the world. I should know—I am one of them. Because of the gap in perception between generations, one of the greatest mistakes that Millennials can make is to assume things about the generations that have come before us. These are lies that form deep in our brains, and all too often they have very negative consequences. Let’s explore four crucial lies that I see in my friends and myself—not to mention my generation, in general. As you are reading, challenge yourself (if you’re a Millennial) to combat these lies wherever you find them in your subconscious. If you are classified with an older generation, ask yourself if you are helping to create these misconceptions. Then consider what you can do today to dispel these lies.
Lie #1: “They don’t understand what I’m going through.”
Because of how different the world is today, Millennials have started to believe that past generations somehow don’t understand what life for a young person is like today. But the reality is that while iPhones and the internet have drastically changed career paths, social hierarchies, and self-identification, the essentials of life are still around (and will always be). We’ve all felt lonely and abandoned. Older generations just never felt that from the spheres of Facebook or Instagram. We’ve all experienced the joy of success; it just wasn’t always after winning a new level in a video game. I would say, in fact, that Boomers specifically may understand what Millennials are going through better than anyone. They are the generation that was larger than previous ones. They experienced technological shifts, and world-wide culture shifts. If anyone understands what Millennials are going through, it would be the Baby Boomers.
Lie #2: “I’m better than they were.”
Our parents told us we could be anything we wanted to be. I know why they did that too. They looked out at a world of opportunity and saw that any path was open. What we heard in our 10-year-old ears, however, was that we had the ability to be anything we wanted to be. Some of us got big heads about it, too. At least, I know I did. Today, Millennials often see older generations as out of touch or slow. And even though there can be a learning curve when it comes to technology, that doesn’t mean that we are more prepared for the mantle of leadership. In a recent study, 69% of Millennials surveyed expect to be in a managerial role within 10 years. Millennials think they are already prepared—or will very soon be prepared—to replace their boss. But are we really going to be ready for that kind of leadership, so soon?
Lie #3: “They don’t want me here.”
No doubt Millennials have read a lot of articles just like this one. People tell them why they are awful, selfish, or destined for failure. I want to make it clear that I don’t see it that way. And in fact, we should all be careful because Millennials are starting to get the impression that older generations don’t want them around. That may help to explain the huge problem that older managers are having with turnover. According to a study, 58% of millennials expect to change jobs within 3 years. Millennials have started to think that the only way to be appreciated is to leave—or at least threaten to leave. Most Millennials believe that the only way they will be appreciated is to work for themselves. However, the reality is far from this perception. Millennials are hotly desired commodities these days. In fact, 53% of hiring managers say it is difficult to find and retain Millennials. They want us around, and in fact many companies are acting desperately to get Millennials to stay at their current places of employment.
Lie #4: “They don’t need me.”
It seems like older generations in leadership positions are doing just fine—without Millennials—but this couldn’t be further from the truth. There is something going on in our world today that we at Growing Leaders call a “leadership gap.” Boomers, who were once the largest segment of the workforce, are retiring. Generation X, which was a smaller segment of the population, literally doesn’t have enough people to replace all of the vacant leadership positions that Boomers are leaving behind. This leadership gap means that Millennials are already the largest section of the workforce, while they are still under the age of 35. It is more essential than ever that we, as Millennials, take a step up into leadership positions with both confidence and humility. Here’s the truth about Millenials. We are desperately needed.
So What Can We Learn?
If you are a member of the Millennial generation, I invite you to see the best in the older generations—your family members, your bosses and co-workers, your teachers and coaches. These men and women have so much to offer us, if we are willing to listen. We don’t have to agree with every piece of advice, but life is not always full of people with whom we agree. Reach out to those you respect and want to know. Ask them to meet you for a cup of coffee and “pick their brains.” Ask them to mentor you. You’ll find that your relationship with members of older generations will improve as you get to know them and learn from them. As life goes on, and as you open yourself up to their advice and their perspective, it’s likely you will develop a mutual admiration for one another. Let’s not lie to ourselves anymore.
Let me share four of the most prevalent lies my generation (Baby Boomers) tends to believe about Millennials:
- These young people don’t care about anything but themselves.
I hear this all the time from employers and educators. I’ve even felt it was true myself as I watch many Generation iY kids taking multiple “selfies” every day, and post what they’re doing on Instagram or Snapchat even when they have little of meaning to say. I believe, however, that it’s a lie to say they’re only interested in themselves, once they are exposed to great causes or needs. They actually do care once they’re introduced to problems that invite big ideas or solutions. I’ve watched a narcissistic, lazy adolescent become completely engrossed in raising money to dig wells in Africa—once he learned about their need for clean water. He just needed to discover something more interesting than himself. We are all better versions of ourselves when we lend our talents and energies to something bigger than “me.” It’s our job to expose students and young employees to such causes and problems.
- Their attentions spans are too short to go deep into any topic.
I have written about the research on this issue. In 2,000 teen attention spans were 12 seconds long. In 2015, they’d been reduced to 6 seconds. This means that kids will divert their attention to something else—perhaps another screen—if we don’t offer an interesting change to what we’re saying. The truth is, this has less to do with attention spans and more to do with the strong filters adolescents have developed inside. With so much information everywhere, they have little time to pay attention to any one item. But they can and will if it’s compelling. We all know students who will binge watch eight or nine hours of content on Netflix, so they do know how to stay focused. Sadly, we often fail to engage them with anything worth their attention or time. When we do, I’ve seen them stay engaged. My friend Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children, produced the video on Joseph Kony, called “Kony 2012.” It was a 30-minute long video, that got over 100 million views and was shared primarily by young people. Our message must be three-fold: very compelling, always changing and stylistically creative.
- They won’t take risks.
I am concerned with the risk-averse generation today’s parents and schools have created. With our obsession over safety (or litigation) we unwittingly tell to play it safe, wear a helmet, don’t do anything dangerous. When I talk to college students, I find far too many who are paralyzed by the thought of failing. The first 18 years of their lives have been about avoiding it. While this may be their track record, we’ve begun discovering young adults who’ve taken great risks, once they are led well, and conditioned to not fear failure. I know educators who lead classes called “Failure 101” attempting to recondition students to see failure as a step on the path toward success; to realize it’s not as disappointing as refusing to try at all. Too often, we’ve conditioned them to fear disappointing a parent or told them they are “awesome” or “the best” and now they hesitate attempting a task for fear they wont live up to expectations. Life is all about managing expectations. Adults need to exchange our report card for them—and start communicating the value of wise risk taking.
- These kids don’t follow our example in ethics and work ethic.
This one is significant. Very often, I hear my generation whine about how kids today don’t follow our leadership. I beg to differ. I’m concerned they’ve followed our lead far too well. Our example has been obvious and it’s often been unhealthy. Adults are frequently guilty of abundance or abandonment—we’ve done too much for our kids or we’ve done too little, and have been absent in our leadership. But our behavior is always an example to follow. If students act entitled, how do you suppose they got that idea? If they are lazy, is it because we’ve done so much for them that they never had to build a work ethic? If they have no manners, aren’t they simply following the model in front of them at home or school? I believe something at its core: Kids rarely listen to their elders, but they always tend to imitate them. By default or design, we have created most of the messes we see in their life.
Today’s youth may be the greatest generation America has ever produced. But, only if we lead them well. Let’s start a reverse mentoring relationship with a student, where we can both give to, and receive from each other.