In Defence of the Millennials

This article is a response to the viral video featuring Simon Sinek’s talk on Millennials in the workplace:

At some point in your life you’ve probably experienced an older parent or relative who doesn’t understand something you’ve accomplished, or are passionate about. The first time experiencing that feeling of putting a lot of time and effort into something and having it dismissed as silly, or ‘not what you should be doing’ whatever that means sucks, but it makes you think, or at least it makes me think when this happens, “maybe I should just get on with my life”. In this analogy, the character of ‘you’ refers to a demographic of people, born in 1984 and onwards, called the Millennial Generation aka ‘Generation Y’ as they were born after Generation X and the accomplishments I refer to are the qualities which make our generation different to ones prior. The parents (You guessed it!) represent the parents, the older generations of society.

The differences between the Millennials and the X-er’s is clear. Gen-X grew up with VCR’s, floppy discs and fax machines, whereas the Millennials are growing up with Netflix, MP3’s and snapchat. Social attitudes have also changed within this generation. According to science-journalist Douglas Main, writing for LiveScience.com, “[Millennials are more] liberal and generally regarded as being more open minded and more supportive of gay rights and equal rights for minorities”. On the other hand, various people have definitely noticed ‘problems’ with this Millennial lot. Older generations describe millennials as hard to manage, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, lazy, coddled, delusional and “prone to jump from the job”.

There was a viral video last year in which motivational speaker, Simon Sinek, talks about this subject. His argument accuses millennials of being entitled, narcissistic, selfish and lazy, and he says that this is down to 4 things: parenting, technology, impatience and environment. He explains that this is essentially because failed parenting strategies, such as telling your child they’re “special”, telling your child they can “have anything they want just because they want it”, and ‘last place medals’, have resulted in an entire generation that’s growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations. Then, with the addition of social media, this same generation becomes good at putting a ‘filter’ on their life, to front that they’re happy when they’re “depressed”. Instant gratification makes them bad at working on things, including relationships and job satisfaction, so this whole generation has an increase in suicide, drug overdoses and school absences due to depression. Sinek even says that “this generation may never grow up to experience joy and fulfilment in work or life”.

Although it’s wrapped up beautifully and presented in an engaging, palatable way, I think there’s several significant flaws in Sinek’s argument. Firstly, his point regarding “what millennials want” is pretty unreasonable; he says that Millennials want their work (In “corporate environments that don’t think about the person”) to make an impact, i.e. recognition, appreciation and maybe even a positive social impact, and to have purpose. He strongly implies that this is an unreasonable and brattish desire to have, and that it’s unique to the generation in question. But it’s not. Every generation has the need for recognition, as recognition creates self-esteem. Just look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which was first published in the 40’s (Hence written by a non-millennial), it claims that self-esteem is a significant step in achieving your potential, and achieving your potential, in the form of job satisfaction, is something Sinek says is important in life. So Simon, can you please explain to me why this is unreasonable?

To be fair, Simon’s point about parents who tell their children they’re special seems like a decent point, it’s necessary to tell children how they’re ‘ordinary’ in some respects in order to avoid raising an arrogant, entitled kid. But I can’t help but think that what he’s saying about our generation being raised to believe that, “[we can] have anything [we] want just because [we] want it”, is more than a little far-fetched. Once you get over the fact that we can watch movies whenever we want to on Netflix, this claim becomes plain stupidity, because Sinek evidently hasn’t taken class into account at all here, which seems kind of like a school-boy error. The idea that all, or even most of a generation, can be raised this way is plain mad, because pretty much anyone from a working or even middle class background simply, and literally, cannot afford to instil this belief because at some point or another the parents are going to run out of money to pay the bills or get food in. Who the hell prioritises having a roof over their head over attending to their kid’s every whim? At some point or another you see that you have to work and try in life to get what you want.

YouTube blogger and Linkedin employee Carlos Gil makes a decent point in his video in response to Sinek, in saying:

“as a parent it is essentially your responsibility… to instil upon your kids that anything they want to do in life can be accomplished, this isn’t a millennial thing… I’m more than certain my grandparents instilled this same set of values [on my parents], the key is you have to work for it.”

The promise of accomplishment is pretty much an incentive to try hard in life. Anyways, ‘Simon Says’ was a bad game anyway. My advice to any Millennials believing this stuff is don’t be disheartened; older generations grinding you down is just life, it probably happened to them too, hence why now the ‘grindees’ are becoming the ‘grinders’. Just persevere and we’ll show them we can take care of the world a lot better than they did. Maybe it’s worth taking on board the bit about putting your phone down occasionally, but in future, don’t believe every guy you see on YouTube spouting off about you and your peers, just because there’s cut shots to inspired looking teary eyed teenagers.

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