To my Fellow Millennials: Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way
While doing some research on future-focused marketing for the firm I work for, I came across a wild amount of studies and theories on the millennial generation. I reflected, I interviewed friends and millennial colleagues, and I thought about my own tendencies, preferences, and attitudes. I’m not going to lie, most of what I found was not very positive, and the research all came back to the same thing:
Millennials are complainers.
We whine when things don’t go our way, we get furious over issues that have nothing to do with us, and we tend to come off as entitled and demanding. Whatever it is, it’s not fast enough, not funny enough, or not fascinating enough. Now, before you get offended and tweet mean things at me (@keepinitburlit btw), let me say why I think these things are true.
Millennials are the first fully-immersed technological generation that is completely saturated in research. Whether it’s useful or not, we can find the answer to any question within seconds – let’s face it, Googling became a verb in our lifetime. Because of this research-heavy culture, we love to learn. We are well-informed intellectuals who are passionate about social justice, getting rid of plastic in our oceans, and finding out whether or not Drake will ever find the love of his life (love you, Drizzy). We are not better, we are simply more aware than we were 20 years ago. Millennials are also discovering and therefore emphasizing the importance of self-care, safe spaces and Uber (can we just agree there's no excuse for drunk driving anymore?).
While all of these things are valid and true, they affect us regularly in the workplace and in social situations with Generation X and Boomers. From a social standpoint, I consider myself a flaming millennial in all the stereotypical ways you can think of. I miss my favorite Vines, I cried when I found out Lizzie McGuire has a new show on Disney+, and I still bring up Harambe on a regular basis. However, I also love research, I am serious about women's rights and advocacy, and I stand up for my beliefs with passion and zeal (Ex: Jess is the best boyfriend Rory had).
But when it came to the workplace, I didn’t know my place. I was too young to have a voice, but felt smart enough to contribute. I was too inexperienced to get a promotion, but felt capable enough to lead. After sitting quietly for months in meeting after meeting as a timid marketing coordinator, I decided to do something about it. I ended my pity-party and got to work.
I stumbled upon this quote that exemplifies almost exactly how I feel about how we can do better for ourselves and our generation in the workplace:
“Lead, follow, or get out of the way”.
As millennials, I believe we have a lot to offer an older generations. We push the boundaries of societal norms and out-of-date practices. We are more aware of mental illness, social justice, and climate issues than any other generation, and we care about our success and our future. I believe it is our responsibility to step up when we have a solution - regardless of age, hierarchy or title. Start organizing focus groups, design critiques, social media 101 session. I began doing this in my own life a little over a year ago, and it has freed me of so many fears, insecurities and frustrations in my own job.
One thing that blew me away in my research was the amount of people who perceived millennials as “needy” – constantly needing to know everything, have instant gratification and an insane amount of affirmation. All I have to say about that is quit it. The reality is we aren’t #1 in our supervisor’s and coworkers’ eyes, not until we earn it.
*Tip: don’t be too overzealous. While we have great and innovative ideas, they may need some time to become fully developed. Accept criticism, coaching and help with an open mind.
This one may be a little bit more difficult for us “needy” kids. However, learning how to humbly follow a manager, director, or CEO can often make or break you. Look, listen, and learn from these people. Ask them about their career path and journey, take them out for coffee and see what they can teach you. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my own career, it’s that humility is not a weakness. Asking questions is a direct result of genuine curiosity, and people love talking about things they’re good at.
Or…GET OUT OF THE WAY
Here’s the thing, whiners. Whether we believe it or not, a lot of us didn’t have to work as hard as previous generations for a lot of the things we take for granted. That being said, be grateful. Treat others like the intelligent human beings that they are. Respect the generations who have paved the way for your future. STOP making fun of those who may be falling behind technologically or socially. STOP using your phone during meetings and lunches. STOP blaming every other person or external circumstance as an excuse for your own life and your own decisions.
Stop doing these things, or get out of the way of those of us who are trying to make a difference.