So there I was. Just innocently scrolling through Twitter the other night, minding my own business. When what to my nearsighted eyes should appear, but yet another thinkpiece about my generation. (I’m a millennial, which apparently means I’m spoiled and entitled and lazy. But you already knew that because you’ve read articles like this one and countless others.)
Anyway, this particular article came from The Independent, and it wasn’t a thinkpiece as much as it was an aggregation of a popular YouTube video from the end of 2016. Hoping that the headline, “Millennials are struggling at work because their parents ‘gave them medals for coming last,'” was merely ironic, I clicked it, thinking that maybe this one time there would be an article that actually gave my generation and me some agency instead of prattling on about how “the kids these days are always on their phone and they don’t know how to work a real job.”
Nope, I was wrong. The article highlights yet another way that we should be coddled because of our “participation trophy” upbringing.
The video, an interview with 43-year-old Simon Sinek (professional TED-Talker, author, motivational speaker and outspoken critic of The Millennial Generation) starts out with a common complaint that us millennials have already posited: We are the way we are because our parents raised us to be that way. The participation trophies, the “you can be whatever you want to be as long as you dream and work hard” mantra could have only come from a generation that came of age in the 1980s.
Sinek states that “too many [millennials] grew up subject to ‘failed parenting strategies,’ where they were told that they were special – all the time, they were told they can have anything they want in life, just because they want it.”
Sinek goes on to argue that our parents are the ones responsible for our early successes, like getting into honors courses or getting good grades.
“Some of them [millennials] got into honors classes not because they deserved it but because their parents complained. Some of them got A’s not because they earned them, but because the teachers didn’t want to deal with the parents. Some kids got participation medals, they got a medal for coming in last.”
To be fair, Sinek has a good point on that one, and goes on to argue that we all knew the whole participation trophy thing was bull when we saw it as kids. And while the plural of anecdote ≠ data, an informal Twitter poll I did among my #millennial peers confirms this:
So, we’re self-aware enough to know that there should be first-place awards based on merits, and that not everyone should get a trophy. But Sinek’s answer to “The Millennial Question,” as he calls it, gets a little dicey. And it has to do with how our so-called “participation trophy” mindest affects us in the workplace.
Espousing some very Luddite views on technology, Sinek claims technology itself (that all-inclusive boogeyman) is the very reason why we don’t understand the real world. Apparently, we millennials are just SO INTO our phones and it’s causing us to have anxiety. Come on. You know who else is on their phone all the time? Grandparents. Parents. Teens. Your mom. Your yoga instructor. Your cashier. Your boss. Everyone’s on their phones. You know why? It’s cause it’s a computer in your pocket, the likes of which the world had never seen until a decade ago. OF COURSE humanity’s going to be enthralled by this piece of machinery. Hell, people were ballyhooing kids who read too much back when the novel first became an art form.
But Sinek says this advent of technology has addled our precious millennial brains and is the sole source of our discontent, and it’s why we can’t focus on long-term relationships or long-term jobs long enough to form “meaningful relationships” in the real world.
I would argue that the reason that many of my peers go from partner to partner, job to job, place to place, is because we watched our parents work their fingers to the bone for an American Dream that we saw could be taken away in an instant. Many of us witnessed a recession, a terrorist attack, two wars and another recession before we graduated high school. That feeling of uncertainty combined with a reeling economy right when we were about to enter the job market just may have something to do with why we feel a need to live in the here and now. Social media amplifies that, yes, but correlation is not causation.
And as for the job thing, Sinek seems to think that all millennials want to work in a low-paying place that offers them free booze and bean bag chairs and open-planned seating. No, the reason many millennials take those jobs is because they were told when they were young that education was the answer to their happiness, and so they took out massive amounts of student loan debt to pay for an education that overqualified them for low-wage jobs but didn’t qualify them enough for an actual full-time job at a company. Thus, the bean bag chair job.
But the solution to all that? It doesn’t lie with millennials figuring it out for ourselves. No, the solution is to place the blame elsewhere.
“It’s the corporations, it’s the corporate environment, it’s the total lack of good leadership in our world today that is making [millennials] feel the way they do. [Getting placed in a corporate environment right after school] isn’t helping them overcome the need for instant gratification,” Sinek says in the video.
Wait, hold up. We were coddled as kids because our parents made us feel special, and now that we’re in the workplace, Sinek’s solution is…blame the establishment for not understanding us and then get someone else teach us how to overcome our problems?
Who’s the “millennial” now?
Sinek closes his speech by saying, “We, now in industry, whether we like it or not, we don’t get a choice, we now have a responsibility to make up the shortfall. And help this amazing, idealistic, fantastic generation build their confidence, learn patience, learn the social skills, find a better balance between life and technology because quite frankly it’s the right thing to do.”
And while I do think that is true, I’m also a bit insulted. Lest I sound like a generation-basher, I’m one of the youngest people in my newsroom. There are people at the Statesman that have been here for almost twice as long as I’ve been alive. And that’s awesome, to get to work in an environment that encourages that type of generational diversity. I learn every day from someone at work, and it’s almost always from someone older than me. I’m truly grateful.
But my team is also made up almost entirely of millennials, and I learn from them too. I don’t feel like we lack social skills, or we need to find a better balance between life and technology. (Given that our jobs specifically deal with social media and computers, I’d say we’re doing the best we can.) If something goes wrong, we don’t whine or complain, we fix it. Don’t give us a medal for doing something that everybody else expects of us anyway.
To imply that the only way to “save” the millennials is to give us the workplace equivalent of a participation trophy is just another form of coddling us. And it’s an insult to the millennials I know who have risen through the ranks at law school, medical school, higher education, corporations, newspapers, or just plain started their own businesses or became entrepreneurs.
In short, we millennials don’t need “saving,” at least from what you think ails us. No, the kids are all right this time.