Friday, May 14

Pinning Down Gen Y: Why Millennials Feel Uncertain


For several weeks, I've been enjoying a conservation about Generation Y. First with Bill Sledzik, associate professor at Kent State University. Then Todd Defren, a founder of Shift Communications. And then Jed Hallam, who works at Wolfstar.

Go ahead and read those posts to get caught up if you like. Each of them, from three different generations (I think), offer plenty of good advice for Millennials, especially those hoping to make it through school and/or find employment. I agree with much of what they say, but this post isn't about any of that.

The Only Constant Is Change, But That Change Tends To Be Circular.

This post borrows some insights from Joel DiGirolamo. He wasn't part of the above conversation, but he might as well have been. He was tackling a similar issue from the top down as it relates to evolutionary psychology.

What's interesting is that, throughout history, tribes tend to require less leadership and more consensus during times of abundance. In some ways, this observation seems to fit well with the American Revolution.

When the founding fathers grew weary of what they perceived to be shackles, they didn't do so because they were destitute. They did it because there was seemingly endless abundance in America and they wanted more personal control over that abundance.

Flash forward to today. Millennials primarily grew up in an era of abundance, which required less competition and more consensus. But unfortunately for them, because economies ebb and flow, they finished this streak of abundance only to discover a society focused on scarcity. So, while I'm not big on labels, one could make a pretty good case that this shared experience does set Gen Y apart. And by many employer accounts, most Millennials don't start off as tough as Sledzik or Defren or even I would like.

Interestingly enough, when you look at the push back, most didn't come from Millennials. On the contrary, many Millennials like Hallam recognize that hard times are best met by effective leaders and a willingness to meet challenges with a certain tenacity. So who pushed back? Boomers, specifically those who long for their continued role as enablers; and some Gen Xers, specifically those who claim to identify more with Gen Y (which they don't, given many Gen Yers were happy to hear the message).

All in all, what this might demonstrate to me is that Gen Y does need more tough love and most are willing to accept it in exchange for a new kind of inclusive leadership. Unfortunately, from my perspective, there doesn't seem to be enough leadership out there. And why would there be? Most modern authorities surfed a wave of abundance without ever becoming prepared to lead.

Huh. This kind of atmosphere is almost too perfect for something Orwellian, unless Gen Y empowers itself (given the apparent lack of Sledziks and Defrens). So my advice is simple enough. If you want a fair shake, one my intern was convinced didn't exist out there, then you have to learn to look for people who will empower you rather than those who aim to enable you.

And as far as all those other feelings? Well, they just aren't that special. And if you don't believe me, read from Orwell.

"Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it." — George Orwell

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