The trouble with my generation

I love Simon Sinek. This video has been making the internet rounds as of late. As a millennial myself, I think that my generation has a lot to offer the world if we could channel our perspective into something productive, and I think Simon would agree.

While I don’t agree with everything he is saying here, I absolutely agree with his indictment of millennials need for instant gratification.

The need for instant gratification

I once had a long chat with my Grandma about what made her happy as a kid, and she looked a little amused and said she hadn’t thought about it much because she was working too hard. She was finally able to settle on a memory she had about swinging on the gate when she was letting the cows in and out of the pasture. This was her fun time, a few minutes each day, when she swung on a gate while in the middle of an arduous and crucially important task.

For previous generations nothing was automated– if you wanted to eat a cookie, you had to make it. If you wanted to heat up some leftovers, you had to build a fire (and also preserve the leftovers). If you wanted to know how much money you had, you had to keep track. If you wanted to own something, you either had to make it, or you had to find out how to get it, or you had to learn how to live without it.

If you wanted to know something, you had to research it, read about it, and think about it. These are all tasks that are automated for my generation. Literally no effort is required. Think about what it takes to read a book like Les Miserables or a Tale of Two Cities. My generation watches the movie, reads the Spark Notes, or asks Siri for a synopsis– and that is probably good enough to pass a test in their Literature class. But when you take an experience and reduce it to the smallest possible iota that could be earned from it, you lose so much– how much vocabulary, context, character development, and emotions are lost when you read a synopsis vs. reading something epic? It is true that you may have gained the knowledge, but you have completely lost sight of the skill. It is a focus on product, rather than process. Knowing, rather than learning.

I think that this has lead to three unique problems for millennials:

1) Impatience
Example: when I started dating my husband, he would often watch three different shows at once by flipping back and forth between three channels during the commercials. I thought I was going insane.

Anything that takes time to curate is often seen as not worth it. Remember when we were teenagers and we would sneer at passion– teasing people who cared about something because it just so uncool? Millennials never grow out of that. Why care about something and develop your skills at it? There’s an app for that– or I can just go online and order it from Etsy. Plus– Who has time to care about something and get better at it when there’s a new season of Gilmore Girls on Netflix?

2) A total misunderstanding of their own talents and abilities

Example: If I am not good at this immediately, I am a failure at it and should never do it again.

I am not one who is prone to regret, but of the few regrets I harbor they are all related to things I gave up because I didn’t excel immediately. Piano. Dance. Foreign language. Poetry. In each of these cases, I recognize that I had siblings who excelled in those areas, seemingly without having to work very hard. I was embarrassed that I had to practice piano twice as long as my brother in order to be half as good, so I gave up altogether. As an adult, I now know that my brother is an incredibly talented musician, and that I actually wasn’t half-bad at piano– but because I was only comparing myself to him, rather than focusing on my own talents and abilities, I got lost. I felt like– hey– why care about piano when I could be focusing on writing, which is something that I am way better at and don’t have to work so hard at? I’ll just do that instead. I would give anything to go back and try again– because (duh) it’s not about being the best. It’s about enjoying the ride. My brother is a professional musician, and I am a mom who would like to be able to play along with her kids when they are singing Christmas carols. I don’t need the same level of skill as him, and by only focusing on the things I was already good at, I missed out on a lot of character building experiences when I was young, and the stakes were nice and low. That leaves millennials like myself with two choices: either learn those lessons in college or early adulthood– when the stakes are much higher– or don’t learn them at all, steer clear of them forever. We all work with people like that. It is not, shall we say, a pleasure.

3) Equating HARD WORK with failure

Example: “I have to work harder at this skill than so-and-so; so I should give up. I must not be meant for this type of work.”

I’m not saying that we all have to be rock stars or NFL football players. I’m not saying that it’s never okay to give up on something– I, for example, have zero interest in basketball and would really consider it a waste of time to develop my skills in that area. At some point, as we discover both our strengths and our interests, and we will start allocating time to the things that we care about the most (to help your focus on this: I tell my students to think about a problem they want to solve).

In the end, as someone who makes hiring (and firing) decisions, I will take someone with  good work ethic over someone who claims to have an inherent talent any day of the week. Talent is fantastic and also needed, but hard work can make up for a lack of talent– where talent without hard work will only get you so far.

Plus– just a tip– I have noticed over years of being on interview panels that the people who claim to possess amazing talent are often the people who disappoint the most when it comes to actually getting a job done. But those who are willing to admit that they have skills they are working on and things that they’d like to learn, but have a proven track record of being a hard worker? They will never let you down.

So what is this doing on my professional blog, rather than my personal one?

Because what Simon Sinek is talking about in this video, and what I have outlined here, in a nutshell, are why schools are failing. Schools as they are today were designed by people who were looking to create a workforce of assembly line and factory workers. And those schools were populated by kids who lived on farms, or if they did not, had other responsibilities at home– character building experiences were inherent. They came to school already knowing about nebulous topics like personal responsibility, accountability, effort, and the reward that comes from trying again. These are processes that cannot be automated. It’s the difference between mowing down a field of hay by hand, baling it, and selling it for very little money, using that money to re-invest in next year’s crop; and reading an article about that process. Even the most well-written article would be hard-pressed to help you understand the heartache, frustration, and rewards of farming.

Until schools wise up to the fact that they are designed to create workers for a workforce that no longer exists, using students that also no longer exist, and training teachers to teach these non-existent students in this totally outdated way, the system will continue to fail, and will eventually be pushed into total irrelevance.

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