Actually, Millennials Are Pretty Awesome

Disclaimer: I realize the risk of writing about any generation and painting things with a broad stroke. So, please read this piece as a counterbalance to Simon Sinek’s video. 

Last week, I noticed a Simon Sinek video making its rounds on Facebook. The main premise is that technology, instant gratification, and bad parenting has led to a millennial generation that is lazy, entitled, and depressed.

I didn’t appreciate Sinek’s characterization of an entire generation, so I created a short video response:

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Full disclosure: I’m not a millennial. I don’t have a man bun. My hairline is actually receding. I’ve never used Snapchat or rode a fixed gear bike. I’m on the tail end of the Gen-X. However, I have a lot of respect for the difficulties millennials have had to face.

See, millennials didn’t crash the economy. Millennials didn’t get us involved in wars we couldn’t afford over speculation about WMDs that didn’t exist. Millennials didn’t blow up the national debt.

They were in school at the time.

And the participation trophies Sinek complains about? I’d argue that the millennial generation’s drive for purpose and making a difference is often a reaction, not a result, of the participation trophies they received. They want something more than a shiny medal at the end of the day. (Honestly, this is true of just about any generation in their youth)

Many of the millennials I know aren’t entitled. They’ve had to battle hard for their jobs, paying higher costs in college tuition and stepping into a more competitive workforce, knowing that their career could move overseas or suddenly become tech-sourced at any time. They’ve had to pick up side hustles just to make ends meet. They’ve delayed starting a family, not out of a lack of maturity, but because it takes longer than ever to reach financial independence. They paid higher rates for college because previous generations gutted funding. They stepped into an economy that was broken.

In between the Facebook posts and the selfies, they’ve had to pick up side gigs just to make ends meet. They’ve delayed starting families because the corporate latter was cut out from beneath them. They have faced massive barriers every step of the way only to see Boomers and X-ers wagging their fingers and telling them to buck up and try harder.

And yet . . .

Despite these obstacles, I’ve seen so many millennials starting new companies, developing innovative strategies, and finding success.

When I think of millennials, I think of my former student Alejandra. She grew up with few advantages, having to learn a new language and a new culture. But now she is a teacher in the low-income neighborhood where she came from and she’s changing the world. She is researching new strategies, experimenting with new methods, and designing amazing learning experiences for her students.

Every day.

I think of Jose, who was the first child in his family to graduate the eighth grade and now he works as an engineer. He is leading a team that’s tackling some of our biggest environmental challenges.

I think of some of the members of my cohort who graduated into a busted economy and worked for whatever wage they could get until now when they can go back and get a master’s degree in education and change the world.

These are the millennial stories that defy the stereotype of the lazy twenty-something playing video games in the basement. These are the stories of hope, perseverance, and creativity. These are the stories of people younger than me who continue to inspire me every day.

I often write about creativity and innovation. And, while I don’t think those attributes apply to any one generation, it seems that the tumultuous global environment, the explosion of technology, and the constant constraint millennials have faced often lead them to think differently than previous generations. Does this make them less compliant? Perhaps. But it also leads to passionate workers and creative thinkers ready to rewrite the rules and solve complex problems.

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This post is also available on my Creative Classroom podcast. If you’re someone who enjoys listening to podcasts on the way to work, this might be a great way to “read” my blog. (Note: if you enjoy the podcast, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes or Google Play). You can also listen to it below:

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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