Thursday, April 3, 2014

Millennial talent, and what to do with it

Lately I've found myself searching for answers.

Cue orchestra background music here and imagine me atop a hill, gazing into the horizon.

Well, it's not as dramatic as that image, but it is still important. I have questions about my professional future. Questions that create other questions about my personal future; which create even more questions about my life's future in general.

As employees of any organization many live without thinking, "what will happen to me if I stay in this position for one more year or one more day." Many believe we are secure, working our 9-5 schedule and two-week vacation lives, paying bills and saving what's left for our retirement dreams. Unfortunately for me, I think a lot about seemingly mundane things like this. If I have a stable and good job, why worry over the "what if's" or try to change the status quo, right? I don't seem to be the only one wondering that. After all, Millennials are becoming a larger percentage of the workforce. One of my e-mentors, Brian Solis, discussed just that in his latest post.

Call it the Millennial curse, if you will. I have dreams, desires, a thirst for adventure! Along with also having student loans, aging parents and a biological clock that's definitely ticking. Oh, the unfairness of it all. Less than a year ago I read this witty, and sadly poignant, take on our Millennial attitude towards life from HuffPo's Wait But Why Blog, Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy. While the post was highly entertaining and rubbed some people the wrong way, I felt it was accurate in some ways. Here are my reasons to support the three conclusions from the post with real-Millennial life examples.

1) The image we have of ourselves. Yes we are special, but not that special. Not all of our start-ups, non-profits, businesses revolutionizing an already revolutionary idea (I actually saw a crowd sourcing project for the manufacturing of "iPhone's competitor") or ideas in general will be successful, and we need to learn to accept that. As an only child, who's had to be the best and worst all of her life, I've learned this the hard way, specially at work. My ideas make sense in my head. If I want to convince others that they will make sense in the real world I need to take criticism, edits and collaboration in stride for my ideas to evolve and become successful. I've encountered many a Millennial who believe they are the savior of whichever industry they're in and their unwillingness to take a Humility Pill will keep them from ever reaching that messiah status.We're not perfect, and many of us will have to be OK with that 9-5 schedule and two-weeks vacation life for some time. This does not exclude me either. As much as I love to travel and take courses I realize my financial stability and personal security do play a role in the achievement of my dreams. I need to follow a plan that will not be enticingly exhilarating every day-and that's OK. As much energy and courage it takes to make your goals come true, realistic planning and hard work are absolutely needed as well.

2) Social pressure is real, and by social I mean social media. Facebook Image Crafting exists and is very well darn healthy and kicking. I've fallen prey to doubting myself and feeling inferior when seeing that people in my age group are living THE life. They appear to have the perfect partner, ideal weight, lovely job and dog included... Only to realize some time later, when we meet in person, that all their photos are edited, the partner or the weight aren't that great, the job has ups and downs just like mine and that the dog is from pet-sitting. True story. Am I more cautious of what I post? Yes. Have I stopped feeling pressured? No. While we can no longer disconnect entirely- c'mon Facebook has become a global rolodex and Twitter a portable newspaper- I encourage everyone to log-off once a week or check personal social media only once a day. I have come to post to my heart's content because I like to share my life, but I don't check feeds more than once a day or browse individual profiles anymore. Try it, and if you are curious about a friend's life then send them a message or call them. Millennials aren't the only ones dealing with this social pressure by the way, even baby boomers can assimilate to wanting to make life seem better to the public because everyone else's life already seems better to them. Go ahead, ask your parents or grandparents who are on Facebook if they feel the social burn. In my humble opinion, the future of social media will be bringing back the human touch. We're already seeing it with campaigns asking to Like images of Cancer survivors for example, before heartless people scam them but it's a noble idea nonetheless. Still, if Facebook or Vine or the next social platform can figure out how to make us feel happy for, not envious of, each other I think we would be using the Internet correctly.

3) We want to achieve quickly. We are willing to work hard but we are also little wanderers, so when our hard work is not recognized we wander to where it will be. Or, well, where we are told it will be. I think the concept of staying at a company for 20-plus years is pretty much defunct with our generation. Of all my close friends, who graduated college in 2007-2009, none has spent more than five years in one single company, and their backgrounds range from finance to education. When I think about it, it shocks. However, it doesn't mean it has to be bad. I believe that change is necessary but many times we make that change come too soon because we dislike how things are going. BUT, and yes it is a big but, when honest-to-goodness lack of appreciation is shown I also support searching for greener pastures. Regardless of your age or occupation, nothing will make you like your job more than respect and appreciation. As a job-switcher I can attest to this. I have left a job I loved in an industry I wanted to grow in because the environment and leadership around me made me miserable. One should not cry about one's job or be scared to come into the office to face coworkers. If the situation is not as drastic as this, then re-think a move. Are the reasons why you're "hating" your job fueled by a bad organizational structure or by your bias? Could you work a few months or year more to have enough experience on your resume and mind? What would happen if next time you're asked to do something you say, "sure" instead of "I can't" then? We may be wanderers but we're also growing up and need to value the opportunities we're given. Good or bad. Sometimes our parent's or guardians can tend to feel guilty, and they may or not verbalize it, for having given us much more than they had as kids and making us believe that we deserve to succeed. Let's prove we are willing to earn our stripes and change the world with actions, not just hopes. 

At the time of me finalizing this entry, I find myself in a new office and with new work responsibilities I had not envisioned. It's both exciting and preoccupying, but I want to give the 9-5 schedule and two-weeks vacation (three for me thanks to my boss!) life a chance. A good chance. I think back to freelancing and having my own business again, this time more organized, at least once a week. Then I think of the good things I am also getting with structure: health insurance, retirement benefits, professional connections, camaraderie. To appease my little wanderer I've signed up for music lessons and begun to offer weekend consultancy one-on-one services. Some may think I'm "settling" and some may think I'm slowly doing things "right."  I think that as human beings we can be happy but never satisfied, and I like that. I don't ever want to be satisfied... but I don't want a life of debt, constant worry, instability or solitude forever, either.

More on ways to tame your inner Millennial:
(hey, it's not just those born from 1980s to early 2000s who experience these feelings!)