Millennials have received a lot of flak, and to be fair, we’ve been prone to dole it out as well. Everyone has been (or has met) that Millennial who wants to change the world, whilst playing Xbox for 12 hours a day. But, some of these stigmas are slowly being revealed as being just that – stigmas.
The main stigmas about Millennials are that we’re lazy, entitled, and lack loyalty or perseverance. However, various studies have shown that we are, in fact, prone to work longer hours and take less of our paid leave than Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers.
Our “entitlement” in the workplace may have been formed by our requests that companies adapt the way we work for us to maintain a healthy work-life balance, despite working longer hours. In other words, flexible working hours or the ability to work from home because we’re clocking more than 40 working hours a week.
We’re also perceived as entitled because we don’t want to slog through bureaucracy or corporate hierarchies to solve problems. We want to spend our time and energy on solutions, not the paperwork and politics needed to get to the solution.
Finally, our loyalty issues are probably born from the lack of benefits we enjoy as full-time employees. A pension fund or medical aid contribution from your company isn’t the norm anymore. So, blaming us for changing jobs every two years, in search of a salary that can help us maintain these benefits out of pocket, isn’t quite reasonable.
Why we can change the world
We are hyper-aware of the consequences of our actions and this is reflected in the way we live our lives, every day. We are keen to support social issues. We want to engage in work that is meaningful. Our brand loyalty and buying behaviours change the moment we learn a brand is causing harm to the environment or using child labour to make our cheap clothes.
For us, life is a little less about the quick buck and the convenient (and cheap) purchase, and more about getting meaning out of the work we do and the things we spend our money on.
Combined with these attitudes, we also have a sense that we can change the world. As Captain Planet told us so frequently, “The power is in your hands.”
Why many of us won’t change the world
Unfortunately, we’re all kind of stuck on the Superhero mentality. We like clinging to the idea that we will come up with that planet saving invention, the philosophical thought that will inspire millions, or be the person that helps pass the law that will ensure that corrupt bankers (or CEO’s) face the music.
While we’re fantasising about these possibilities, we look at what has been given to us, believing that this is mediocre and will have no influence in a global sense. What we have, according to us, isn’t “big enough” to do any good. And so, we fret and toil over the what “we could be doing” instead of focusing on the “what we should be doing”.
While we’re fretting and worrying about that “big thing”, whatever it is, we’re not actually doing anything that is changing the world.
Millennials are special, we just aren’t that special
Every generation brings with them new ideas, new ways of making meaning, and carves out a path for the next generation to do the same. Read that again.
Every generation does this.
That means, that even though we have been given a unique set of opportunities, it doesn’t mean that our desire to change the way things “have always been done” is new.
The reason I’m pointing this out is because in every generation, since the beginning of civilization, there’s only been a handful of truly memorable individuals.
In the grand scheme of things, they are the outliers, the rest of us are part of the bell curve. Which is a difficult thing to hear for a Millennial, because many of us have always been so certain that the fate of the world (in some sense) lies on our shoulders.
But if you let that sink in, you’ll realise how remarkably freeing the thought that you’re not that special is. There isn’t the burden of unmet expectations weighing you down if you come to accept this.
You’re no longer looking at your life as if it is one big failure. The worry of “what I should have achieved by now” falls away.
Instead, your mental energy can be focused on the things that are around you right now.
Which is where you will change the world.
The areas of your influence and control
I’ve tried reading Steven Covey’s 7 Habits, but I’ll be honest and say, it loses me somewhere along the third habit. (Maybe even the 2nd, I can’t be sure). But there is one thing that has stuck with me, and that is Covey’s description of the circles of control, influence, and concern.
Our circle of concern is big compared to our circle of influence, which is also larger than our circle of control. Our problems start when we spend our time thinking that we can have a direct influence on our circle of concern, when it is simply not within our power to do so.
Which is where we get caught up with focussing on what we “should be doing / achieving” instead of “doing what our hands have to do”.
How Millennials can change the world
Focusing on our circle of control and influence sounds unglamorous if you are an auditor, a digital marketer, a salesperson, or an architect who’s building shopping malls. It’s not the types of jobs that will get your name recorded in the annals of history.
But, here’s the truth, changing the world isn’t the activity of a real life superhero. Sure, those who have become known for their contributions to the world did good things, but the world doesn’t revolve around them.
They haven’t been my boss, who treats me with respect that resulted in a bolstered self-confidence and the ability to grow as a person. They haven’t been my friends and family who helped us pay bills during Lockdown Level 5. They haven’t sent me gifts and food when I was down and out with pneumonia.
These “greats” are great in their own way, but their contribution to my world isn’t felt as acutely the examples I mentioned.
In the same breath I’d like to add that I hope that my contributions to the areas of my control and influence will be great for those that fall within those spheres of my life. To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s only 5 people.
If I can make positive changes in the areas of my control and influence, I will have changed my world and created the space for others to do the same in theirs.
Now imagine a whole generation changing the small plot of real estate that’s within their control.