A TIME magazine article on the generation declared: “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.”
Does this sound familiar? While it might sound like a description of the Millennial generation today, the article is actually from 1990 and is the Baby Boomers’ critique of Generation X—my generation.
There seems to be a kind of inevitable pattern: Every generation looks at the one behind them and thinks, “What’s wrong with kids these days?”
As a business owner who interacts regularly with other business owners, I sometimes hear about how Millennials are hard to manage, unfocused, self-involved, entitled, and can’t get off their phones long enough to do their jobs.
Whether you take these critiques as truth or stereotype may depend on how old you are. But regardless of your perspective, and whether you’re a member of this up-and-coming generation or you just know people who are, there is no disputing that in the next five to 10 years, the first wave of Millennials will be taking a more prominent role in world affairs.
For that reason and more, we could all benefit from better understanding their struggles—which, in many cases, aren’t so different than the struggles we all deal with in the world today.
Probably more than any other issue, professional friends tell me how difficult it is to keep Millennials off their phones and focused on their jobs. (One person told me that when given the choice between staying off his phone or losing his job, a Millennial employee quit on the spot.)
There’s certainly some truth behind this image of the phone-obsessed Millennial.
A Baylor University study recently showed that female college students spend an average of 10 hours per day interacting with their cell phones, browsing shopping sites and social media networks, and sending nearly one hundred texts. The same study showed that college males spend an average of 8 hours per day performing a mix of utilitarian and entertainment activities. Of the students in the study, 60 percent admitted they were probably addicted while acknowledging the related risks to their academic performance. If Millennials spend more time on their phones than they do sleeping, how can they expect to get through an 8-hour workday where they are separated from them?
Of course, it’s not just Millennials who have an unhealthy attachment to their phones.
Most of us have figured out through personal experience that cell phones are addictive. The reason that smartphones are so addicting is because they trigger the release of serotonin and dopamine—the “feel good chemicals” in our brains—providing instant gratification, just like addictive substances do, says therapist and addiction expert Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D.
Just think about how anxious you get when your phone isn’t immediately within reach.
All the focus on social media has earned Millennials the reputation of being narcissists, constantly taking selfies, putting their lives on display online and thinking every person needs to know about the most insignificant minutiae of their lives.
From Facebook “friends” to 140-character Tweets and Snapchat photos that self-delete in 10 seconds, Millennials, as a whole, live in a virtual world where so much is intangible and instantly disposable. Perhaps this is why Millennials often report being unable to form lasting friendships or strong bonds.
While they know they can set up a date with their friends in an instant, they also know it can be cancelled just as quickly if something better comes along.
Technology-focused people of all ages may lack the ability or inclination to form strong, personal connections offline. What’s more, the same devices that connect us to our virtual friends are often used to divert our attention from our problems and can even make us feel worse: Research shows that the more time someone spends online, especially on social networks, the lonelier they feel and the less life satisfaction they experience.
Facebook, in particular, has been found to generate strong feelings of loneliness, frustration, misery, anger, and envy for nearly one-third of all users. Millennials have been raised to experience life through these filters, so they are particularly susceptible.
An acquaintance of mine who runs a day center for adults with developmental disabilities, recently hired a 21-year-old. After three months on the job, the employee demanded a raise because she felt she’d learned a great deal and was just as capable as the long-term staff members.
The owner explained that she was taken aback at the employee’s inability to understand what it meant to receive rewards only after “paying your dues”—especially since this employee had been caught texting at work four times in the past few weeks. Somehow, none of this mattered to the employee, the owner said. She felt she deserved a certain level of compensation, and she demanded it without reservation.
As a parent and family physician, I understand how important it is to foster a strong sense of self-esteem in children.
However, this hyper-sense of entitlement that some people associate with Millennials seems to come from a particular form of self-esteem building that backfired on a generation of parents. The idea was to constantly tell children how “special” they were and that they could be, do, or have anything they wanted just because they wanted it.
Millennials were the first generation to grow up in what we call “the cult of equality,” a philosophy that falsely insists all human beings are the same. They were the generation in which everyone got a medal just for running the race, and for whom many high schools abandoned academic ranking, honor rolls, and valedictorians.
It’s this everybody-wins/we’re-all-the-same mentality that ingrained an attitude of entitlement into many Millennials. Whether it was a foot race or a final exam, there was a general, collective push by adults to make sure underachievers never had to feel bad.
But this doesn’t work, because children know when they receive undeserved awards—and this can actually harm their self-esteem. And at the same time, this can suggest that hard work isn’t required or valuable. This inadvertent deception has deprived many Millennials of the most valuable growth experience in all of life—learning from failure. When we deny our children the opportunity to fail, we deny them the opportunity to grow.
As a result, many Millennials face a rude awakening when they enter the real world and quickly find out they’re not so special, that a promotion requires more than just personal potential, and there’s no credit for coming in last. These experiences can be the final shattering of an artificial self-image.
One thing we must remember is that many of the challenges Millennials find themselves facing today are not of their own making. It is those of us in the generations who came before who created the economic and societal conditions Millennials are dealing with today. Equally important is the fact that Millennials are no less capable than any other previous generation that struggled to find their place in the world.
Some might say that it’s now the place of corporate America to help Millennials adjust to the working world, find a sense of purpose in their work, understand what commitment and long-term professional investment means, discover healthy ways to cope with rejection and failure, create healthy relationships with technology, and foster in-person bonding and proper social skills.
I couldn’t disagree more.
The most important step toward growth and change is taking personal responsibility for one’s own life.
I would advise anyone (regardless of age) struggling with these kinds of issues to learn patience.
Don’t quit that entry-level job because you feel like you’re not being paid what you’re worth or that you’re not making an impact on the world (yet). Invest in yourself by committing to the work at hand and finding meaning to attach to it, even if it’s just a small amount. Things take time, so allow yourself to experience the joy that is the journey you’re on.
And for anyone who is worried about what the world will come to when Millennials take over, just remember what was once said about you and the capacity of your generation. Try to see yourselves in these kids—you might be surprised at the similarities you find.
For more health and inspirational insights from Dr. Sadeghi, please visit Behiveofhealing.com to sign up for the monthly newsletter, check out his annual health and well-being journal, MegaZEN, or for daily messages of encouragement and humor, follow him on Instagram and Twitter @drhabibsadeghi.