Millennials May be the Next Greatest Generation

next greatest generation
Millennials: The next greatest generation?

I can’t remember whether it was on Facebook or Twitter that I saw it. It doesn’t matter. It was just another post slamming the millennial generation. They’re so full of themselves. They’re always staring into their phones. They have such a sense of entitlement.

Some of the posts approach it with pseudo-psychological theories. Social media has turned them into uber-narcissists. The “everybody-gets-a-trophy” syndrome has taught them not to succeed. They have a constant need for attention.

And for every one of those complaints, I can point out some from the millennial generation that fit the description. I’ve worked with millennials right out of college. As a parent, I’ve raised a couple and coached many. I’ve watched a lot of them grow up.

There are many that are major pains in the neck.

But more often than not, they’re great people. They’re responsible hard workers. And they don’t resemble the stereotype that so many people like to describe.

They’re lazy and not driven to succeed

In the 1960s, the old folks worried about the “hippie generation.” They just sat around and smoked pot on campuses to avoid the war. People asked, “Is this our country’s future?”

The answer was a resounding “Yes.” The world may not be perfect today, but we have survived pretty well. That generation brought us some pretty nifty inventions and a thriving stock market.

The millennials that I know are driven to succeed. They’re just driven to a different definition of success than many of us have. It might be a result of everyone getting a trophy. But they don’t see the world as a zero-sum game. They don’t necessarily believe that there must always have be a winner and a loser. They are very collaborative and don’t feel the need to compete with their peers at work. They’re focused on us all succeeding together.

They also see work-life balance as a big factor in success. They don’t necessarily believe that the guy who dies with the most money wins. They see success in quality, not quantity.

They have a sense of entitlement

I have seen this behavior in many millennials. I also saw it in me at that age. I believe it is a symptom that every generation learns once they face the reality of life. Growing up, my parents gave me everything I needed and a lot of things I wanted. It created the byproduct of teaching me that life was easier than it really was. At some point in my life, I started paying for rent, student loans, groceries, etc. I realized that I wasn’t as entitled as I might have thought.

Millennials need to mature in the same way. It may take them longer though. Their parents were more prosperous than any previous generations and bought them a lot more stuff.

They will learn. In the meantime, people tend to get mad at the victims rather than the culprits.

Their faces are glued to their phones

Correct. They do that. But I see people from every generation do it. I look around in restaurants and see middle-age couples dining out and staring in their phones. Although it is illegal in Illinois where I live, I see people of all ages do it while they drive. Many blatantly hold the phone out in front of them blocking their view of traffic.

Granted, I have had to tell some millennials to put their phone away during a meeting. But I see it as a maturation and education issue. If nobody in their past taught them not to do it, teach them.

They are disrespectful

Many years ago, child abuse was swept under the rug. It was rarely brought out in the open. Often, the victim was made to feel at fault.

Today, while it is not reported to the degree it should be, more people are aware of the issue. It is discussed more frequently. Millennial children were taught to speak out.

While some disrespect is attributable to developing some maturity, this generation was taught not to be afraid to speak up. They won’t be intimidated by the older generation. They may need to develop some diplomacy, but most of them will.

Necessity will prevail

In 1997 Tom Brokaw wrote “The Greatest Generation,” about the generation of people who grew up during the Great Depression, and went on to save democracy fighting World War II.

I remember an anecdote Brokaw told in the book about growing up in his small South Dakota hometown. His mother worked in the local post office and a resident came in complaining that some kids had tee-peed some trees in town.

His mother kind of laughed it off and asked flippantly, “Oh Bob, what kinds of things were you doing when you were eighteen years old?”

He looked at her and said, “Liberating France.”

Admittedly, that “Greatest Generation” set a difficult bar for the rest of us. But it was the necessity of the depression and then the war that they were required to step up. I thank them for doing such a great job.

Every generation and every human being reaches a point where they have to step up to survive and to thrive. I’m confident that the millennial generation, and most of the individuals in it, will do that.

Every generation also reaches an age where they forget how self-consumed and entitled they were in their youth. It’s a generational tradition to condemn the succeeding generation for much of the same things they did when they were the same age.

Maybe we didn’t have smart phones at that age. But we played our share of video games. We wasted incredible amounts of time just “hanging out” with friends. We drove around in our cars going nowhere, wasting unacceptable amounts of fuel.

I can’t imagine how we would have been with smart phones at that age. Or maybe I can. We’d be constantly glued to them, texting our friends and taking selfies. We would be kids.

Conclusion

I for one want to hand this world off to a generation that isn’t intimidated by me. I believe it will make the world a better place.

This generation is one of the most intelligent generations to ever exist. I learn from them every day. If the older generations would swallow their pride, work with millennials, and see their positive traits, we would get a lot more done.

If you think millennials are a bunch of no good, lazy ne’er do wells, you’re probably looking at the wrong end of the glass. Take a hard look at your own generation at the same age. You may be surprised at the similarities.

Kids!
I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today!
Kids!
Who can understand anything they say?
Why can’t they be like we were,
Perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?

– Kids (From the Broadway show and motion picture “Bye Bye Birdie,” 1963

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

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