As a management consultant, I work across the U.S. and in 53 countries around the world, and meet adults of all ages in the workforce. As millennials (those born 1980-2000) have become the dominant age cohort in business, I’ve seen important advances, frequently in digitizing and automating a great deal of work to everyone’s benefit. More and more now, though, I’m meeting millennials, and even some from Generation Z (those born after 2000), who are discouraged, frightened and aiming too low with their lives.
Why the malaise? We can blame other young people or blame the culture – but those things are out of our hands. What have we, as parents, done or not done, and what is within our power to fix?
- As parents, we may have passed along a questionable set of values.
• “Go for the money!” is not a value that sustains a person when the going gets tough.
• “Win the LOTTO” (or “Win The Voice” or “Win the NBA draft”) won’t happen for most people. But little attention is paid to the role of hard work and a slow progression to success.
• “Business is all about money — it’s coldhearted, and you’d better get in there and fight to get yours” sets our kids up to have a give-it-to-me-now-or-I’m-out-of-here approach to employment. This is not desirable to employers!
• “Don’t trust anybody. They’re all trying to win … or at least to avoid being voted off the island … so be very careful about taking any help or following any advice.” (Doubt this one? Ask your favorite millennial who their role models are. Most have none.)
2. Going along with No. 1, we may have forgotten to pass along some values that turn out to be important in the long run:
• Stick to it. When the going gets tough, the tough get going — they don’t just quit. Most things worth having involve some degree of difficulty, that’s why not everyone achieves them.
• Care about others. Be strong enough that you can take it if they don’t care about you. It’s still worth caring and trying to be helpful.
• Develop your mind. If you fill all your time with mindless activity – and I’d put videogames and Facebook in that category – you’re not going anywhere. What have you learned today? Read something that goes beyond the headlines.
• Learn to focus. The ability to focus appears to be a casualty of our device-obsessed world. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted minute-to-minute, all day long. Turn off your devices and spend blocks of time on one thing at a time. For most, that’s our jobs. But it can also be studying for a student, or even becoming knowledgeable on political issues or community concerns for a retiree. esearch from Stanford and MIT says there is no such thing as effective multi-tasking.
• Don’t just stay busy – prioritize. Busy-ness is at epidemic levels in our world; many people are unable to sit quietly and think for even a full minute. But busy-ness is not the same as accomplishment. If your results aren’t good, stop keeping busy and think through what you really want. Then ask yourself what you can do today to move toward what you say are your goals. Ask yourself the same question tomorrow … and every day. Despite what you say, your real goals are the things into which you put effort. I’m astounded at how many people are doing nothing that moves them toward their stated goals. Why? They’re “too busy!”
• Refuse to be cynical. Cynicism is the easiest shortcut when one doesn’t really understand what’s going on. It’s like clicking “Like” and moving to the next Facebook post – often a way to skip trying to understand or to feel anything at all.
• Hold yourself to some standards. Don’t give in to the easiest or most popular course of action; instead challenge yourself to think for yourself.
Lenann McGookey Gardner is a management consultant and author based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.