Is my generation—Gen Y—insanely entitled as the Time cover story seen round the world argues—or hopelessly misunderstood? A little bit of both, if you ask me.
The world has sold us a bill of goods from the time we were placed in the arms of our loving helicopter parents, and now we’re all a little disappointed that we are no longer getting awards and trophies just for showing up.
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We’re also sure our path to greatness is one blog entry, tweet, or LinkedIn connection away, and it won’t come from climbing the corporate ladder, and certainly not fetching coffee. (Woe to those Baby Boomers who want to teach us otherwise.)
Born in 1984, I, too, am a brand 'guru' and shameless self-promoter who, upon being given this assignment, promptly asked my editor if her web developer would please embed my Google authorship code.
I once stunned a recruiter years back by suggesting she pay me $6,000 a month for an internship position when I was fresh out of college. (Oops.)
I "microblog." I do check my Twitter follower count daily. I have a Facebook business page. But I explain to anyone who listens to that I legitimately do such things for others, not just myself, and that’s where a lot of the misunderstanding comes in. Allow me to explain. (And while I do, please do follow me on Twitter.)
A few months back, I finished Jean Twenge's “The Narcissism Epidemic,” a myth-busting tome by the clinical psychologist whose main area of clinical research has been the me-me-me-ism of narcissism.
Twenge explains that narcissism at its core is not the mere asking for things or even belief in oneself, but that it is over self-entitlement and an ingrained belief that you're superior to others.
Most people afflicted with narcissism, she says, are the ones whose entitlement goes too far and who are never actually going to be aware of this, since they'll simply justify their actions.
So is there an ‘epidemic’ among my kind?
The Problem With Gen Y
The problem—as this 29-year-old sees it—is that too many of my fellow millennials were taught that they should not be afraid to speak up and ask for things (and, yes, that they can accomplish anything since they’re so damn smart). Now they're taking that premise and running with it, public opinion be damned.
So let’s focus squarely on careers, which, let’s be honest, seem to be the biggest source of pain with Gen-Y for everyone. I mean, no one seems to mind our behavior at the local multiplex, but a common lament I hear amongst Gen X and Baby Boomer professionals alike is that of Gen Y’s haughty attitude in the workplace.
Envision this scenario: The average 25-year-old sauntering into an interview late, underdressed, cell phone in hand, and then not even thanking the prospective employer for the interview itself, at a company she didn’t bother to research before showing up.
So whom do we fault for this crappy behavior?
In the Kim Kardashian-with-over-ten million-followers, and the did-you-know-Justin-Bieber-was-discovered-on-You-Tube? era, these happenings are a kind of misguided "proof of success" that has dumped gasoline on the already badly burning fire.
The fire is the fact that Gen Y thinks they can accomplish almost anything, but few are explaining to these young adults the exact difficulty involved in becoming the personal brand guru, entrepreneur or "start-up rock star."
Our experience of history is that people actually can accomplish almost anything: look at examples ranging from the Wright brothers to advances in medicine to the creation of the internet in our time. We believe in all this awe. The problem has become 20-somethings’ badly skewed perception of how hard those feats actually are to accomplish, or whether they even are cut out to try.
And sometimes when it’s explained, it just isn’t mattering to them. That’s when I feel Gen Cry is culpable.
Dear Gen X, Please Know This ...
But, amongst all that bad behavior, I'd like to defend some millennial behavior that just isn't. Our addiction to social media being seen as exclusively narcissistic being a prime example.
While blogging/Tweeting/posting can be tools for exacerbating narcissistic behavior, they are not evil in and of themselves. For example, I learned day one in business that being successful is about how many people you can serve. Having a personal website, social media accounts and a blog is a phenomenal way to help others—some of whom live around the world, and almost all of whom you will never meet—24 hours a day.
On a similar note, websites like LinkedIn and Vizify are not a waste of time. In fact LinkedIn is now becoming a major recruitment tool, and the people not partaking (think: older generations) are missing out.
Not all millennials who open up a web and social media presence are intending to do it 'Snooki style' where they will be tweeting what they ate for lunch.
RELATED: 8 Mistakes Not to Make on LinkedIn
After about five or six years of conducting business on the internet, I started getting repeat questions from people about how they, too, could succeed online.
I was spreading myself thin having the same conversations one on one—as I would never turn anyone away who wanted advice—and I realized it would be much more useful if I could write my advice down somewhere, and share it to all in blog form. It saved everyone time, not just me: People no longer needed to take out a cocktail napkin to write stuff down as they talked to me—they could just visit a website.
Not all millennials who open up a web and social media presence are intending to do it 'Snooki style' where they will be tweeting what they ate for lunch, who they are better than and where they will be tanning next. There are many who do recognize this helps no one.
Finally, a Tweet's Worth of Advice
Then there is the complaint from the younger generation about their need for satisfying work. Not only is this demand somewhat normal, but it probably makes sense from a company perspective to properly place anyone of any age where they feel the work is fulfilling, as you will get the best out of that member of the team.
Now, all that said, Gen Y needs to understand a few things: The first one is that work, no matter your position, is not always going to be fulfilling. That is not what "work" used to mean. We flat out need to be tougher about these things. Or go home to mom. (And many of us have.)
Also, casualness at work doesn't mean you shouldn't also learn to speak properly (please stop saying "like" and "um"), and casual Friday usually doesn't mean show up looking like a slob. I, for one, a person who works from home, will get more done when I dress up a bit, like, um, in a button down shirt and khakis.
Finally, if you can't muster the energy—or mask your disgust at being asked—to do something mundane, or slightly less than soul-fulfilling at work, I beg you to think about your grandparents.
I did have four grandparents in my life growing up, I am down to just my maternal grandmother now. And I can tell you I find it to be a majorly good exercise in mental re-framing (as it’s called), to picture what any of those four depression-surviving adults would have done, or felt in countless junctions in my career.
Which brings me to a final note on selfishness versus selflessness: Narcissism comes in when we ask for things not expecting to have to do anything or add value in return. The worst of us don’t even realize we do that.
Healthy self-promotion comes from asking appropriately, after we've worked our butts off for others. Cultivating this kind of attitude (forgive me that this rhymes) and gratitude will not only make you feel more fulfilled in life, but you'll probably get more back in return.
Just like a recent fortune cookie message told me: "Those who give freely daily are seldom needing to ask for anything."
I just couldn't resist tweeting that.
Brad Hines is a business writer, at the eponymous bradfordhines.com and on Twitter where he is a digital marketing and social media strategist. He is the founder of Hungrykids.org, a non-profit that is partnered with the United Nations World Food Program to raise world hunger awareness.