Unhappy Millenials: What We Can Do to Succeed in Life and Business

The Challenge

It may be a stereotype, but one that bears some resemblance to the truth. From my experience, the Millennial generation is, well, different. Better in some ways for sure, but also worse perhaps in others. I should know, I'm one of them.

From what I've observed, the way people have always gone about relating to young people (and motivating and disciplining young workers) doesn't work on Millennials. We respond to different kinds of incentives and approaches that the people in our lives - whether they're family, friends, or coworkers - need to be aware of if they want to have successful relationships with us.

Here are some characteristics of the Millennial generation:

1. We're ambitious.

The prosperity experienced by our parents left Millennials feeling tremendously hopeful about our lives and careers, and remarkably confident in our abilities - sometimes to the point where we expect to exceed our parents' achievements without much effort.

2. We're impatient.

Ever heard something like this from the Millennials at your business: "When am I getting a promotion? I've been here four months!" Millennials want to know very quickly whether we'll be able to move up the ladder, and how fast we can climb.

3. We require constant praise.

Millennials expect to be rewarded for their excellence right from the start - and on an ongoing basis. We've been told our whole lives how wonderful we are: from our adoring parents, from coaches and teachers boosting our self-esteem, from our colleges and universities spurring alumni pride, and from a society that idolizes youth and panders to our demographic to sell us products. Anyone could get used to it, and we certainly have. But then after college, we're expected to work in business environments where there are no trophies for participation. When praise isn't automatic or constant, we're easily bruised, and would rather look somewhere else we imagine will better appreciate us, rather than muscle through challenges by virtue of our hard work and perseverance.

4. Money can't buy our love.

Millennials require more from a career than a salary and job security. We want to feel that we are following our passion, contributing to a company's success, and improving people's lives. We want economic prosperity, just like our parents, but we also want to feel fulfilled in a way our parents didn't think about as much. We've had it so good all our lives that we can't imagine we would ever lack (or have to work hard for) life's essentials. Millennials believe we deserve to feel rewarded in every way for our time. We also believe in a work-life balance that gives us lots of time off to pursue our dreams.

5. We need results to be happy.

Millennial workers want to feel we're involved and contributing even if it's our first day of training on the job. We have very high expectations, which can lead to unhappiness if those expectations aren't met. We have grand aspirations, which is terrific, as long as those aspiration can be fulfilled. When they're not, Millennials can become easily discouraged.

6. We're entitled.

"Of course everyone will find a fulfilling career," Millennials seem to believe, "But I am so unusually wonderful that my success will not only stand above that of my peers, but will also come without me having to pay my dues to achieve it."

So, on top of my entire generation having lofty goals and high expectations for our careers, Millennials also believe he or she is destined for success based on our innate talents, without having to work very hard for it.

This can cause serious problems when Millennials enter the job market. Our parents knew that many years of hard work would eventually lead to a great career, but Millennials consider a great career to be a given.

7. We want to hack everything.

Mine is the generation of Tim Ferriss's 4-hour workweek, Google Maps, growth hacking, freelancing, automation and outsourcing. Our motto is "There is an app for that." Because we're used to pre-made solutions for every problem, we can become frustrated by time-consuming grunt work. While our baby-boomer parents had a billowing economy to help them, they also knew the value of hard work, something they may not have successfully passed on to us.

8. We're not used to working with people face-to-face.

Millenials do everything through our screens. We talk, date, get news, find food, and do most everything else through our mobile devices. We're used to working with people remotely, so we sometimes lack the social skills to collaborate closely with their colleagues in a real-world work environment.

9. We compare and despair.

Social media provides a space where people can present the most flattering versions of themselves. This leads Millennials to believe that our actual lives are inadequate, because we compare ourselves to the most flattering photographs and experiences of the people we see online. Even a good, rewarding life can seem disappointing compared to the idealistic self-images projected by the people we see on social media. This can make Millennials feel frustrated and unhappy, as we believe, "Everyone else is doing so much better than I am, looking so much better, having better vacations, more adventures, and cooler parties. And I spend my time looking at what they do instead of doing it myself!"

Why are Millennials this way?

Millenials in much of the developed world grew up in a time and place that presented us with all the advantages of the developed world that our parents may not have had, and that our grandparents never dreamt of. We were raised with the unlimited promise of the Internet, higher education, and the free market, but without ever having to experience the deprivation, wars, and economic slumps of the 20th century that made our parents and grandparents truly appreciate these gifts.

Our Depression Era grandparents were obsessed with economic security. They raised our parents - the baby boomers - who were encouraged to choose practical, secure careers that they hoped would provide stability in an unstable world. Baby Boomers were taught that there was nothing stopping them from getting a great career, but that they'd need to put in years of hard work to achieve it. The Baby Boomers succeeded beyond their parents' expectations, though they did so in a time of unprecedented economic prosperity. This left Boomers feeling optimistic, but also with a somewhat inflated sense of their self-worth.

Millennials were raised by Baby Boomers with that same sense of optimism and possibility, but also with an even greater sense of entitlement and self-satisfaction. Boomer parents told us that we could be and have whatever we wanted. Since Baby Boomers experienced so much easy success on the rising tide of economic growth following World War II, they never fully instilled values of hard work and perseverance in their children.

The Solution

Millennials like me who want to engage the world in productive relationships need to adjust our perspectives, aspirations, and expectations in order to work with the non-Millennials in our lives and businesses. We know we're special and wonderful, deserving of all the riches of the earth, but other people may not, and we're going to have to work hard to prove it to them.

Here are a few changes we can make that will help us foster better relationships and encounters with the non-Millennial world.

1. Understand who we are.

The first step is to know this: We're not that special.

Just like overcoming an addiction, the first step is to admit that we're addicted. We're addicted to praise, acceptance and reward. But the truth is, we're just like everyone else, and we need to adjust our expectations accordingly. See that older person standing there at your business meeting or your family gathering? I know it's hard to imagine, but they are just as full of knowledge, ideas, and talents as we are. They are just as worthy of praise, admiration, and success. Once we understand that we are no better than other people, our expectations will more realistically match our reality, and we'll become happier, more appreciative human beings.

2. Assess what we already know.

We spend a lot of time online, engaged on social media websites or other places in the "virtual" world. Consequently, we have a lot of ideas that aren't reflected in the real world. It's important that we ask ourselves questions like: What resources do I have now? What are my skills? What is the reality of the world I live in? In the words of Peter Thiel: What do I know to be true that no one else knows? These questions will help us come up with creative answers to guide our way forward.

3. Revise how we think.

If you were alone in a room with a car and wanted to figure out how it worked, you'd probably start by taking it apart as much as you could, inspecting the parts, and seeing how they all come together to form the car. Millennials need to do the same thing with our thinking. We need to revert to our 8 year-old selves and start questioning and deconstructing our reality, resuming the "Why? Why? Why?" game our parents and teachers shut down when we were children.

4. Take action.

We should spend more time rolling up our sleeves, and less time figuring out how to shave an hour here and an hour there. When we start to get our hands dirty, realizations about what we truly want, what's truly possible, and the way we're living our lives follow logically from there. We also feel the value and necessity of hard work. When we go on Instagram and look at our friend that works in private equity and just bought a Porsche, we're engaging in a self-destructive thought process. We think, "If he followed this career path and could buy a Porsche, I should follow the same career path so I can buy a Porsche too!" This is a very persuasive train of thought for following the wrong career path, and one in which many find themselves.

. . .

A different way to ask the same question would be the way Elon Musk responded when asked why did he decided to build the Tesla Gigafactory instead of asking Panasonic (one of the largest suppliers of lithium-ion batteries) to produce what he needed: "We're going to need, probably, like, 10 or 20 of these things," he said. Then, he paused, raised his broad shoulders toward his ears, and smiled. "Somebody's got to."

It's that kind of vision, innovation, and willingness to work hard that has brought Elon Musk so much acclaim, and can help Millennials find our own paths to success, however we choose to define it.