This one’s been in my head for a while. If I had the opportunity to sit down for an hour with an older leader and be completely transparent about the challenges, hopes, fears, and potential of my fellow Millennials, what would I share? There’s so much said about the worldview and perspective of this generation. But what about the quirky and scared, yet optimistic and wide-eyed humanity of a young person growing up in a rapidly changing world? What would be some explanations, and confessions? Here are 10 nitty-gritty ones to the older leaders I respect the most.
1. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we know that
Millennials get a bad rap for being know-it-alls. And probably for good reason. But of the 18-35ers I know, many are open about realizing what they don’t know, and wanting coaching and mentorship to be the best we can be. Self-improvement is a biggie for us, and we’ve learned that means relationship and continual learning.
2. So we want you to be our mentor
A lot of older leaders talk about passing the baton. We don’t want the baton passed; we want to run with you. Even more so, in our hearts and minds leadership is not learned, it’s done and learned about on the way, even as imperfect and unready as we know we are. Intergenerational growth and relational learning is a winner for us.
3. We probably know more than given credit for
It’s a well-documented statistic that Millennials are on track to be the most educated American generation to date. Whether it’s anecdotal or factual, Millennials will be exposed to more information and news in a day than their grandparents and great-grandparents were in weeks or months (I wasn’t able to find the source I first heard this from, but I’ll update this if/when I do). Pew research shows that Millennials are reading at a rate that matches their elders’. While we’re missing the wisdom that comes from experience, our knowledge foundation is full of potential.
4. We’re ambitious, but scared of failure
Millennials talk a big game and show a good face, but we’re deathly afraid of screwing up. We tout our entrepreneurship and creativity, but haven’t quite yet accepted that for every one success we should expect multiple failures. We expect to live a life of well-executed achievements, and don’t factor in the bumps along the way. If it looks like we’re unable to “ship” our big talk and ideas, this could be a part of it. We’re nervous about failing, and maybe even more nervous about what successful execution would mean.
5. Because we buy into brands, we want a personal one that people like
I’ll agree – our selfies are a bit ridiculous at times. We talk a big game of authenticity, but we’re pretty inauthentic when it comes to social media and presenting an image of ourselves that we want people to see. We’ve gotten good at crafting personal brands that market us in the way we want. I’m not defending this, but it’s crucially important to know why. Millennials are an image-based generation, seeing life and communicating it in pictures. This has implications on everything from religion (notice the higher value on the historical and spiritual Jesus lately?) to engaging young people in our organizations and products and services. We’re also community oriented and really, really, really want other people to like us. Personal brand is crucial in this, and it’s a competition to see who has the best one in our peer group. People not liking us or engaging our personal brand decreases connectivity and opportunity in our eyes. It’s probably one of our greatest challenges as next generation leaders.
6. We’re ADD, and need help focusing
Thank you, Internet. Our focus and attention has been demolished by 9 second videos on Vine and scannable social media. Even with the good stuff, the amount of information shoved in our faces makes us chase every little thing that looks good to do or think about in the moment, at the expense of the plodding intentionality needed to reach the goals we care about. We need help learning how to focus!
7. But we’re ADD because if we aren’t the world will move without us
On the flip side, Millennials have grown up in a world defined perfectly by Kevin Kelly, leader at Wired and author of new book “The Inevitable.” “Because the cycle of obsolescence is accelerating, you won’t have time to master anything before it is displaced.” In a very real way, the era of working decades in the same place on the same thing and not having to move fast and flexibly at all times may be shifting. We don’t know quite what that looks like, but we have a sense. Our ADD-ness is both a blessing and a curse that we need intergenerational relationships to figure out.
8. We’re afraid of missing out on life
Our connection on social media and with information presents a constant picture of what others are doing. We don’t often see the real life, or the real work behind what we’re shown, and our current heroes and models all resemble big and explosive achievements seemingly overnight. We’re afraid that if we aren’t always moving fast and furious, and are always plugging in, we’ll miss something that catapults us forward in life in a big way. Putting in the time in all areas of life is a real struggle for us. There’s actually a term for this epidemic – FOMO; Fear of Missing Out. We need to hear a lot more from the folks in their 60s, 70s, and 80s on what a lifetime of work looks like.
9. If we talk in big ideas but can’t always put them on the ground, there’s a reason
Millennials are brilliant systems thinkers. We have a strong gut sense for the interconnectedness of things culturally, geographically, philosophically, economically, idealistically, etc. What that all looks like on the ground, and what it takes to “ship” those ideas – we really struggle there. Another blessing and a curse. Certain generational experts out there predict that Millennials will be constructors of big ideas that won’t be fully executed on until Generation Z gets its feet wet. In the meantime, we need help from older leaders.
10. We think we could be the next big thing, and we may not be altogether wrong
Millennials get made fun of for thinking everybody can be special, a superstar. It’s how we were raised by our parents, people say. That may be partially true, but think of the world we live in. Justin Bieber can play a little ditty on his guitar on Youtube and is shortly a global superstar. Lindsey Sterling can throw a video up online and over the next few years goes big in person. Entrepreneurs and creatives, both seen and unseen, are tapping into the world wide web to share ideas, write, create, design. The barriers to entry like music studios and book publishers are obsolete. There’s a direct entry now to people’s homes, ears, hearts, and minds. That accelerates innovation, marketing, opportunity. The majority of us will never fully tap into it, but it’s there, and we know it.
There’s so many more, but what did you think of these? To Millennials reading, do these resonate? To older leaders, my hope is that these will help in understanding a little better a group of people who are walking paradoxes maneuvering through maturity in a rapidly changing world. We need you more than ever!