Many thoughtful and interesting articles have recently been written on the state of millennials (30-somethings and younger) and why millennials behave differently than previous generations (check out a good one here and another here). As a member of this group and a person with a psychology, business, and leadership background, I’d like to add my experience to this compelling discussion.
We millennials were brought up with the notion that we could “be anything when we grow up.” I can remember sitting cross-legged in pre-school and my teacher, Ms. Gail, reassuring me of my endless potential on a daily basis. Like many others in my generation, I began to construct dream after dream, each a bit loftier than the previous. One day I was going to be a baseball player; the next I wanted to be a paleontologist studying dinosaurs. Every dream one-upped the previous in some way.
I became obsessed with “trading up.”
This desire affected every aspect of life, not solely my career aspirations. When I’d meet a girl who was cute, I’d be excited for a short time but then begin to wonder if there might be someone better. When I finally became good at baseball after practicing and trying for years, I became more interested in conquering the world of soccer…and then hockey…and then track… and then I wanted to be a rock star.
In college, I was a psychology major my first year. However, that wasn’t enough, and I picked up a second major…and then a third…and almost got a minor before it was said and done. The cycle continued on through my high school and college years and I found myself regularly looking for more.
I became greedy towards my self-improvement.
With this pattern in place, it is hard to be happy, because nothing is ever good enough. I found this cycle leading me towards moments of depression and disappointment. Nothing ever seemed to satisfy me. I think we can also see this becoming more and more a part of the millennial culture. Think about music: 20 years ago, a single would come out that was amazing and people would listen to that cassette/record/cd over and over again. The top single 20 years ago was Mariah Carey’s “Dreamlover,” and it stayed in the #1 spot for more than 2 months – and was all over the radio for years (I can still hear the ear-piercing scream of her voice). However, nowadays, look at how short the longevity of music is: singles come out today, get massive radio play for 2 weeks, and then disappear (how quickly did that awful Harlem Shake appear and disappear?!). Millennials are trading up even in music they listen to and there is a desire for more, newer, faster, now.
After college, I worked at a rapidly growing church in Chicago in a musical role, using all of my talents, passions, and gifts in a relatively satisfying job, but after just a year, I desired something new. Then I landed a cool business management job for over 4 years that paid me well and was enjoyable…but I chose to leave that life to attend graduate school in California. In graduate school, I made a life-altering choice to end this cycle:
I decided to become satisfied.
It sounds simple and it was simple enough… but I had to teach myself that opportunities were not always infinite and I needed to become thankful, content, and joyful in the opportunities I was harnessing. In one of my classes, a student asked a successful guest lecturer what advice he’d give younger people and he replied “Practice satisfaction where you are now because if you don’t, you won’t be satisfied when you get to where you want to be.” He also told us to continue to grow, learn, and better ourselves as well – but to be content and at peace.
I made a decision to pursue joy and happiness in what was already in my life and not in what I didn’t have. And things changed.
I began working part-time for a great retail company that advocates the same values that I believe in wholeheartedly. The job was a blast and I felt at home, satisfied, and grateful. Instead of attempting to find another direction with a direct application of my degree after graduating, I elected to continue down the path with that same retail company. My job made me happy, largely because I recalibrated my lens of satisfaction in a counter-cultural way. Then I was promoted to a managerial role, which made me even happier…but I have continued with that company through thick and thin thus far.
Sure, there are other jobs, other companies, other roles, and other teams that would be fun to be a part of. Sure, I feel tempted like many other millennials to “change it up” every few years. However, instead of longing for something different and continuing to go from job to job, I’ve chosen to be satisfied, grateful, and content with the opportunity I’ve earned and it’s changed my whole life.
I have observed a significant trend with other millennials towards buying into the trading-up idea. I’ve witnessed 20 and 30-somethings working hard to attain a job and once they’re in, they fall into the dissatisfaction/depression of “now what should I do?” Depression, job turnover, divorce, and a sense of entitlement are at all-time highs in the Western world. Careers that our parents’ generation would fight to keep for 30 years and now voluntarily given up after a few years – and that length is continuing to shorten. Our generation is truly the never-satisfied generation.
If you are a fellow millennial, I have a challenge for you: break the temptation to always trade up. This idea is often a greedy and overly idealistic lie – and it harms us on many levels, from broken marriages, unstable social lives, and depression to careers and monetary greed. Don’t mistake this for being a call to stick with a company or job that you absolutely hate – and don’t reject a desire to better yourself in your current job or situation. The real truth is there will always be something bigger, better, sexier, faster, richer, or whatever else… but maybe where you’re at today is also pretty special.
Change doesn’t always equal improvement.
Focus on the wonderful bright spots around you in your life. If you don’t see them, look harder and they will appear.
More often than not, our satisfaction we seek is not going to be found around us but instead from inside of us.
Practice satisfaction where you are now because if don’t, you won’t be satisfied when you get to where you want to be.
To summarize all of this, give this classic Louis CK video a view if you haven’t before. He pretty much nails it.