When I saw the headline for Salon’s “How baby boomers screwed their kids — and created millennial impatience,” by Simon Sinek, I was excited. I’ve long agreed with what I first read in The M Factor: How the Millenial Generation is Rocking the Workplace: that the Baby Boomers, as parents of Millenials, had contributed to the latter generation’s supposed sense of entitlement. Sinek rightly points out that this “entitlement” is in fact a desire to advance quickly, fed by our Boomer parents’ roles as raising us to expect success quickly.
However, as far as the rest of the article goes, I have beef. First, the Millenial (sorry, it’s the most recognizable term for the generation I’m at the oldest pole of) generation as a group does believe most types of success are available to us. That doesn’t mean, as Sinek states, that we have a “horrible short-circuit in [our] internal reward systems.” What it means is that we expect our work to be recognized at the same scale of our peers–and that we do see the older generations as our peers if we share an office with them. It can be chafing for those other generations to know we believe we’re equals (or should be, anyway) in the workplace. We’re just the “self starters” every workplace claims to want.
What worried me more, however, was Sinek’s assertion that Generation Y has “confused real commitment with symbolic gestures.” It’s a view I find absolutely false. I choose work based on its good for our society, and encounter others of my generation that have done the same daily. This generation puts their money (or energy, as it were) where their mouth is. Just because they choose to do it differently than another generation doesn’t mean the dedication is any less genuine.
Then, of course, there is the inevitable section of the article about technology, distraction, and isolation. That topic deserves a post of its own, but in brief: that’s not just a Millenial problem, if it’s a problem at all. As an introverted person, I feel more connected, not less, by the availability of communication technology.
Sinek’s point is that these patterns of instant gratification and isolation are tied to high suicide rates and school shootings by effectively cutting off this generation’s coping skills. I’m not a psychologist, but I think the direness he imparts is histrionic. These same “isolating” tools help people find the very tools and outlets that could save their lives.