What’s Beyond Identity (Shattering the ‘Millennials’ Thesis)
A couple of months ago I went to see Simon Sinek speak.
“Everyone always asks me the millennials question,” he said, “so let me start there.”
I was slightly puzzled because I thought he was the ‘start with why’ guy, but I sat back and listened; maybe I’m just behind the times?
He went on to give us a detailed description of the characteristics of the ‘millennial’ generation, what a tough life they lead, and what a ‘bad thing’ it is for the workplace.
[A millennial, in case you’re wondering (I was), is someone born around 1984, give or take a few years. By my calculation that’s people aged 33, +/- 5 years.]
The Thesis, Simply Put, Is:
Millennials are basically lazy, good-for-nothings with an attitude of entitlement, are unable to form deep and lasting relationships, and expect everything delivered on a plate. Yesterday.
Simon Sinek’s reasoning went like this:
1. Parents are primarily to blame for treating their kids as special.
[Phew, I escape the blame there then because my oldest child is (only) 22.]
2. Technology is to blame because their dopamine is being triggered every time they go on Facebook (it’s that ‘instant reward’ thesis that leads to social media — and other — addictions). Oh yes, technology’s also to blame for bypassing IRL (that’s in real life for us oldies) connections. Meaning that millennials are incapable of forming deep and meaningful relationships with other people.
[Oh-oh — this one could put me firmly in the danger zone! What about my friends? And goodness knows what untold damage I’m doing to my kids!]
3. Amazon (other instant delivery services are available) is to blame for a ‘no waiting’ culture. ‘Stuff’ is too accessible, and therefore these pesky millennials have no staying power; they aren’t capable of climbing mountains, they want a helicopter to get to the top and they want it now now now.
[Phew, that’s a relief then, all the more room for me on the mountain, whether it’s a literal mountain on a walking holiday, or a metaphorical one in my professional work.]
4. Big business is to blame because profit is prioritised over people. Oh, and 1980s business writers are also to blame because their theories of wringing every last drop of sweat out of people until they fall down exhausted doesn’t seem to be working. (Wow, who knew!?)
[Phew, good job I never bought into that philosophy then!]
Sinek went on to say that the first three of these have created a generation with low self-esteem, unrealistic expectations and the lack of a coping mechanism. Combine this with an unfavourable corporate culture and we have a problem. A big problem.
At one level we can look at the thesis, nod our heads sagely, and say, “yes, this looks like a problem. Hmm, maybe we need to ‘do’ something.”
At another, I want to shout, “Seriously??!!”
Who hasn’t ever been distracted on social media or become irrationally irritated because the internet momentarily lost connection?
We live in the world we live in, and our behaviours respond to our expectations of whatever’s familiar to us. That doesn’t mean we’re bad people.
Sure, some people exhibit some of this behaviour some of the time. And, sure, the explanations put forward to ‘explain’ that behaviour can sound reasonable at face value.
I get a dopamine hit, I go in search of another one…
…until I realise I’ve got something more important to do.
I still manage to get work done, to cook and care for my family. My children still manage to do their school work without me resorting to draconian no-technology rules (although sometimes I’m very tempted by that one!)
And the bright, young(-ish) ‘Millennials’ I meet still manage to impress me with their spirit, motivation and commitment to making the world a better place.
Hmm, my reality looks very different to Simon’s.
I Generalise, and Yet…
Now, I accept that I’m generalising and describing something that looks true to me, so let’s have a look at what’s behind that rather than debate at the level of our separate realities.
Here it is:
What’s true for all of us is that we are human, and humans all work the same way. If something looks real to us, then we will react to it.
But this is only part of the story; an incomplete whole.
The Missing Piece
The point that’s being missed, and missed big time, is that behaving in a certain way in certain situations does not define us. It does not define me, my family members, my colleagues, clients, nor anyone I come into contact with.
We all have a deeper potential, and we all have the ability to rise above our day-to-day experience and get a perspective on what’s important and what isn’t.
This is as true for any of those maligned Millennials, as it is for you and me.
Without a problem, there’s nothing to solve
If we see a problem, we rush to find a solution.
If we don’t see a problem, then there is nothing to do.
When we create an identity for someone, as we’re doing with this ‘Millennials’ debate, we run the risk of creating behaviour, or absolving behaviour that doesn’t serve someone.
This ‘identity’ does not define us; it’s simply a way of being that we’re playing with in the moment, possibly it goes as far as being a preferred, or an habitual behaviour, but it’s something that we can leave behind in an instant.
Because it’s not who we are.
We Have Unlimited Potential
I saw this very clearly with my youngest son who faced a health challenge last year. Something changed in his reality and, therefore, he started to behave differently.
He had deep and meaningful conversations with his friends (so much for lack of coping mechanisms and shallow relationships), he was patient about the many weeks’ wait for results and the years we have to wait for anything definitive (so much for instant gratification), he doesn’t ‘blame’ anyone or anything for what happened (and yes, I admit, I do sometimes treat my children as if they are special).
And, although this isn’t a business environment, we had to navigate the large, frequently unwieldy bureaucracy of the National Health Service. And, you know what, there are talented, loving and caring people behind the face of every institution.
We’re all human, which means we’re all having a human experience, and yet, we can all touch something greater than ourselves in any moment.
Maybe, just maybe, if we looked at the world through that lens, the world might look a little different to us?