Why Your Theory About Millennials And Participation Trophies Is Wrong

Each generation is different than the one that came before it.
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Millennials are lazy and entitled. At least, that’s what we keep hearing. Every Gen-Xer and Baby Boomer has an opinion about how the participation trophy has ruined all 74.9 million of us (read here and here and here, for reference).

Millennials are the largest living generation. We make up the majority of entry-level positions in the workforce. We’re your customer service rep, your personal trainer, your CPA, and your hairstylist. We’re also the founders of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Quora, Dropbox, Lyft, Tinder, Tumblr, Blue Apron, and thousands of other websites, apps, services, and tech companies that you use and rely on daily.

Many of us graduated college with thousands of dollars in debt only to realize that our fancy degree will get us an office gig that barely pays above minimum wage. If we put in the work and dare to ask for a living wage, we’re entitled. If we don’t make our office job the top priority because we’re managing 2 or 3 other jobs on the side to pay the bills, we’re lazy. For millennials, it often feels like we win some, but lose most. And no amount of participation trophies in the workplace is going to change that.

Rather than making the broad and incorrect assumption that millennials are entitled and lazy because we received a cheap ribbon from Michaels after losing the science fair, let’s examine some of the real reasons why the millennial generation is different from those that came before us.

We were the first generation to grow up with the internet.

Most millennials grew up with technology and the world wide web at their fingertips. We’re the first generation that could find a welcoming community online if we didn’t fit in at school. We could chat and connect with people all over the world, many who seemed much different than the type of people in our outer world. If we wanted to learn about something, we could look it up online and find a plethora of information and opinions about the topic.

Because of the internet, many millennials view individualization as a strength. We realize that each person is different and unique. We stand up for each other and will tell our elders to chill out when they criticize someone for daring to be who they are.

We also know that there’s a variety of opinions and resources out there and so we’re not quick to believe everything we’re told is true. Many of us are expert researchers and fact-finders. We know when we’re being lied to, taken for granted, or underpaid.

We grew up being taught that conformity is the enemy.

From “The Little Mermaid” to “High School Musical,” millennials were reminded over and over again that we don’t have to stick to the status quo. We prefer to honor individual strengths and talents rather than group people into neatly packaged boxes. We resist stereotypes and being grouped together as a generation because we understand that regardless of race, gender, religion, or birth year, every person is different.

We don’t expect ourselves or anyone else to try to fit in, and we have an urge to leave our own particular stamp on the world. We do this by blogging, creating Youtube channels, making art, or starting our own companies. We’ve discovered ways to forge our own careers doing what we love rather than feel obligated to climb the corporate ladder.

Technology and automation have completely changed the way the world works. We grew up with it, we understand it, and we are comfortable adapting to it. In fact, it’s much more likely that technology, rather than trophies, defines our generation.

So what’s with the participation trophy myth?

Are some millennials entitled and lazy? Of course. Those type of people exists within all generations. Likewise, people in earlier generations wanted a lot of the things that millennials want today. They wanted to feel accepted, respected, and to live a purpose-driven life. Those are innate human desires. Perhaps to an extent, the participation trophy myth stems from envy as Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers see millennials take shortcuts to get the things that they had to work longer for. I didn’t say harder because I don’t believe that millennials aren’t hard workers. For every millennial that spends the work day scanning Facebook, there are others out there working 80+ hours a week to make amazing things happen.

Participation trophies are pointless. Even as kids we knew that. It’s fun to take home something shiny but at the end of the day, no child’s sense of worth comes from a participation prize. If we grew up more confident than the last generation it’s because we felt accepted and valued as individuals, and I don’t think many people would argue that a child shouldn’t feel those things.

If we grew up more confident than the last generation it’s because we felt accepted and valued as individuals, and I don’t think many people would argue that a child shouldn’t feel those things.

Contrary to popular belief, just like we didn’t care that much about participation trophies, we also don’t rely on fun workplace perks. It’s a bonus to work at a company that values culture and employee happiness, but we can do with or without ping pong tables and Friday afternoon beer carts.

Millennial entrepreneur and public speaker Carlos Gil said, “As someone who used to work at Linkedin and had access to bean bags and free lunch and a cool work environment, that stuff at the end of the day doesn’t really stimulate growth or innovation if you don’t have the support system around you.”

Each generation is different than the one that came before it. Each individual within a generation is different from the millions of other individuals born in the same decade. That’s one thing that the millennial generation seems to understand pretty well. All we’re asking is that Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers try to understand it as well.

And please, please, quit getting so worked up over those meaningless participation trophies.

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