Millennials are lazy, impatient and narcissistic… Simon Sinek, management expert, has been quoted a lot in the media during these last months. He feels that he has something to say about millennials and how they behave at work. And the world is indignant. Being born in 1987, I also feel I have something to say about how my generation behaves at work. But the funny thing is, and this may come as a surprise, I'm inclined to agree with Simon. And this is why:
Let me start with some gratefulness. We owe the generations before us a big and sincere "thank you". A thank you for the roads they cleared for us, for the chances they created, and for the progression they made possible.
According to Simon (as a typical millennial, I take the liberty of referring to him by his first name, even though I don't know him in person), my year of birth makes me narcissistic, lazy, spoiled and selfish. It also makes me impatient. And, being 29-something makes it very hard for me to live without my smartphone. Well I do have a confession to make: I am writing this around 7.30 pm on my way from work to yoga class. My work never gives me feeling that I'm working because I love doing it so much. It also took me a while to find because I had a number of non-negotiable criteria. For example, the job had to be in Munich, because the man I love with all my heart is following his passion in Munich. And of course, I want to be with him. Today, not tomorrow. (impatient, right?)
Oh yeah, did I mention I am writing this on my phone? I go to yoga class at least three times a week. Somewhere in the future, I would love to have kids and tailor my job around the life I have with them, not the other way around. And I'm not finished learning and growing either, both as a professional and as a person. I want all of that, and so much more, like changing the world and reverse climate change. And I would like it all rather quickly because the world needs the changes sooner than later as well.
Even though I can only agree with Simon – based on the wishes I have and the choices I've made – I have to admit that the characteristics he mentioned to define our generation are not very pretty. They even sound pretty harsh and offensive. So I can understand why many of my generation disagree with what Simon says, or worse, apologise for the inconvenience. And I can also relate to the people who say that this is a problem of all times: older generations blame the younger ones that they are lazy dreamers and younger generations react by adjusting to the status quo.
But most of all, I’ve had enough of this blaming and apologising. Because that is exactly the point that Simon wants to make: the millennials think they themselves are the problem. They are under the impression that they behave the wrong way and that it's about time they adjust to how the adult world works, where value creation equals numbers. A world where breaking the glass ceiling means that women are trying to fit into male role-patterns as perfectly as possible. Flexibility is translated into the routine of one fixed home-office day a week, and don't even think about showing up because there is no room for you today…
But what if we turn it around? Does the world that the generations before us have created actually fit the current reality of burn-outs and melting ice?
Like so many others, I want to spend my time in a meaningful way. I want to have an impact. I want to really contribute to the better world that most people merely talk or dream about. The problem is, creating a better world cannot be done by me or by my generation alone. In this “What is happening to our world”-climate, I want to act. I want to act together with the generations that came before us and with the generations that follow us. It simply feels like a waste of time to wait patiently until the generation above us decided that I learned enough from them to understand how the world works and that I myself am ready now to pass this knowledge onto the next generation. It feels useless to have to climb this ancient, hierarchical ladder.
I need mentors, not managers
I want us to collectively question the "normal." I want to co-create in a meaningful way. I want to connect new and old. Experiment. Learn from mistakes. Learn from differences in opinion and expertise. Be driven by impact. With respect. As a person.
- Even if it makes me narcissistic – I love myself too much to force myself into a little box that does not feel meaningful.
- Even if it makes me lazy – I do not want to work from 9-to-5 because I would rather be rewarded for the quality that I deliver than for the time I spend in the office.
- Even if it makes me spoiled – I know very well what I want, and I fight until I get it.
- Even if it makes me selfish – I would rather spend a bit more time with myself than being forced to attend meetings where my opinion is asked even though the decision has already been made long ago and way above my pay grade.
- Even if it makes me impatient – I would rather work with my bosses than to work for them.
- Even if it makes me ungrateful – I will ask myself the question if our current work culture is truly the most fitting and engaging.
So if millennials are perceived as narcissistic, lazy, spoiled, selfish, impatient and ungrateful, I don't mind being labeled that way all things considered. In fact, I wouldn't want to have it any other way.
First published in Dutch on Charliemag.be.