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By Katie Marshall
By the year 2020, Millennials will make up more than half of the workforce. And yet we are still not entirely sure how to transition them from the education world to the professional working world. Do we offer more advice or less? Do we demand they take internships during school or should they start with them as their first professional role? Do we give them the answers, and if so – what are they? We’re kind of sure, but not entirely.
So this is for the regimented, the overachieving, the ones with the overflowing trophy cases and 2-page long resumes, despite what Career Services recommended about 1-page resumes (you had too much awesome stuff, sorry about it). This is for the perfectionists; the charismatic extroverts who snatch up every leadership role they can and for the steady focused introverts who hone in on the medal after the finish line. This is for the artists who won’t show their work until it is as close to perfect as possible and this is for the engineers who rebuilt their models so many times they can’t even count (just kidding, it’s 394, obviously you counted). This is for anyone who has ever been worried that they’ve worked so hard and it still won’t be enough. This is for the ones who highlight passages in “50 Steps To Reach Success” books because they want to know the right answer for the big question: what am I doing? And how do I do it right? This is for the ones who aren’t interested in the alternative options or waiting until later to figure it out. They want to know now. This is for my Millenials and even my Gen Z-ers and anyone who said “Preach it, girl” when Hermione said, “I’m going to bed before either one of you gets us killed, or even worse, expelled,” because girlfriend had her priorities in check.
I get it. I’m thinking maybe you do, too.
1. Actively practice gratitude.
You know what they’re saying about us. We’re entitled, expectant, and we want things. All the things. We’re lazy or trophy hungry and we don’t know how to talk to anyone except our imaginary computer friends. We’ve all heard it. And we all know that while it can be partially true, it is not entirely. We are more than our trending topics. We are here, we believe, because we have a purpose – to do the best we can at whatever we are the best at. So do that. Don’t change that drive for anything. In doing so, incorporate gratitude into everything that you do. This is not to say that you completely erase yourself from your accomplishments. Give yourself credit. But thank those that helped you succeed. Acknowledge them in your publications and presentations. Be mindful that you are the culmination of effort from your teachers, families, friends, and mentors. Thank those people often.
2. Train your impulses.
A recent Microsoft study reported that the average human attention span is 8 seconds – 1 second less than a goldfish. Whether it’s due to social media (probably), or just the internet in general (for sure), we are used to being able to do things immediately. And not just immediately – but when we want to and at exactly the precision level we desire. However, the good stuff – the finding yourself stuff – takes a long time. Much longer than your schedule allows. Raise your awareness of how often you reach for your phone or tune out of something that is not immediately gratifying. Try small challenges with yourself – can you stand in line without looking at your phone? Can you listen to an entire song before hitting “next”? How many nights can you go without watching something on TV? Train your small impulses to work for you. Those small, aware moments of quiet recharge your batteries, which you need on full if you are going to change the world.
3. Ask for feedback.
Not just the good stuff, the bad stuff, too. Ask others for their perspective of you. Thank them when they give it to you. Most people default to polite, nice responses, but if you want to fix your blind spots – those things that you don’t know you don’t know – ask for specifics. What can you improve on when presenting to a group? What can you do more of to learn more about the business? What would they do in the situation you are in? Take the feedback as intel – every bit of information can help you grow.
4. Ease your anxiety by asking yourself “What if?”
I heard once that only the fool is certain. To me, this means that declaring your certainty is cutting yourself off from possibilities. It is easy to get into the habit of deciding that you have to do things, and that you have to do them a certain way. This easy habit can create a lot of stress, trust me. So if you’re in one of those “I have to get this done then go there and there then back and do more of that other thing” situations, take a moment and ask yourself open ended questions. What is the end goal and how else could I accomplish it? What if I didn’t go? Where else could this happen? Remember that 6 + 3 = 9, but so does 5 + 4 and so does 10 – 1. There is more than one way to do something and you do not have to do anything, ever. It is all your choice. Choose how to do it in a way that will result in the best possible outcome.
5. Be the observer.
Use mindfulness to observe your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, your situations. Be in the moment. Watch what you are doing and how you want to react and respond. Ask yourself what you want to do or what you want to happen.
6. Remember that it’s not always about you…
Maybe the reason they sent you a short, clipped email because they were in between meetings, not because they hate you. Maybe they genuinely forgot about the plans you discussed three weeks ago – you’ve done that before, too, haven’t you? And maybe there’s more going on in your life than just your impact. It’s not always about you. In fact, for most everyone else, it very rarely is. Let this thought free rather than deflate you. What if it really was all about you – every decision ever made, every terrible thing, every good thing – all of it hinging on you? How would it feel to be the party planner of life rather than a welcomed and honored guest? You’d be running all over the place, tripping over streamers and yelling at the weather on one phone and getting yelled at by fate on the other. It would be awful! Let people be themselves and quiet that voice that says everything happens because of something you did.
7. … but when it is, kill it.
However, we are all given opportunities to shine. And when you see one, go for it. Go for it big. And please, remember to enjoy it. These shining moments are what we remember the most about our lives later, in retrospect.
8. Learn how to cheer for yourself.
Okay, fine, I’ll admit it. I love getting trophies. I love awards, especially the superlative ones that highlight a quirk or well-known thing about me. I love the feeling of acknowledgement and I love, oh my GOD, I LOVE winning. It’s been ingrained in me for years and although I realize there is more to life than being #1, I have caused many outrageous scenes over things like Scrabble and Wii Tennis. This love of succeeding is not entirely a bad thing, but it can create an expectation that any time you do something awesome, or even well, or even just on time, you will receive positive affirmation. I don’t think that’s wrong. But I do think we look for this affirmation in the wrong places. We share minor accomplishments on our Facebook statuses and text our parents or list our accomplishments out for our bosses so that they can praise us. They don’t, always, or even often. There is too much to do in the Real World to spend every moment praising each other. So learn how to celebrate yourself. The way you talk to yourself is so important. You generate the voice you hear the most often throughout the day. So give yourself the affirmation – to you, from you. Not in a screen shot, not in a #humblebrag, but inside your head and for you, only. Cheer yourself on. Acknowledge your hard work and feel good about it.
9. Accept that your failure does not mean the end of the world.
I know that you know this on a superficial level, but I need you to accept it on a bones-deep level. I need you to believe that even if you miss a deadline or make out with your friend’s date at a party that the world will keep going, and you are still worthy of going with it. Your story is not a still life painting. It is a dynamic, breathing, heart-beating and occasionally heart-wrenching narrative with crossed out words and doodles in the margins and coffee stained pages. You do not end because of a mistake. You begin again, and better, and smarter because of them. Let yourself live, even if you do something wrong.
10. Admit when you don’t know or have made a mistake.
Humility is the antidote to Millenial Entitlement, most of which comes from years of being told that we are very special and that we have to be the most special to get the job, relationship, or amazing opportunity that we want or from hearing that if we meet certain criteria – school, experience, great recommendations – we will achieve certain things. However, a big truth I learned is that people who can create these opportunities or select you for them choose humility over arrogance and an honest connector over a sleek networker more often than not. You do not have to be perfect or the best or know everything. It’s actually a turn off to hear someone state that they are the best. However, you do have to try your best and learn as you go. Admit when you’re not sure. Ask for help when you need it. Fess up to a mistake. These things will build your credibility and let people know that they can trust you.
11. Stay conscious of your word choices.
We shape our realities with language. Every idea came to fruition because it was communicated. Everything in your life can be spoken into existence. It can also be removed before it ever get the chance. You can run a marathon, but will you put in the months of practice running beforehand? Do you actually hate that song, or do you dislike it? Are you starving, or are you hungry, and what is the difference? If words create our reality, then their definitions can free us from hurting ourselves without realizing it. If there’s a word you use often, think about why you say it. What prompts it? Do you really mean what the definition says that word means? Choose your words with purpose, both those that you say and those that you think. See how your life changes because of it.
12. If you’re going to talk shit, know your shit.
It’s easy to regurgitate an opinion. To keep improving and growing and becoming the person you dream about you must keep learning. Watch TED talks, research, and study topics that you hear in common discussions – political events, world crisis, hot topic issues. It is so easy to find out information these days. Do so diligently and create your own perspective – including questions! – before expressing someone else’s opinion as fact.
13. Learn how to do things that you are not great at but still love (or at least want to do).
You’ve come this far because you found a few things that you were good at and then you became great at them. While recommending that you take on more activities is the exact opposite of what most relaxation technicians will tell you, there is huge benefit in trying things that you are not immediately or innately good at. If you can learn to enjoy something without “winning” at it, you can train yourself to try and fail and keep going without beating yourself up. Trying something new allows you to experience the value of building a skill, which takes time, energy, and persistence. Stepping out of your comfort zone requires courage, which is more of a muscle than a genetic gift. You have to use it for it to grow.
14. Use what they think of you.
If you are anywhere from 15 to 30 years-old, someone, somewhere, has handed you a phone and asked you to fix it. Or they’ve asked you to explain what a Twitter is or what channel the Netflix is on. These are more than just endearing moments. They are opportunities for you to be the expert. You know things. You know things that not everyone from every generation does. So use it to your advantage. Create projects around social media or pop culture or online shopping and explain its impact. Be the tour guide and the translator to a world not every generation feels a part of, and include them in it. While you’re there, ask for their perspective, especially what they grew up with and how they learned to do things. The differences are fascinating. Plus, there could be something magical in the combination of generational perspectives.
15. Ask questions.
If you don’t know, ask. If you want to learn more, ask. If you can think of a different way to do it, ask if they have ever thought about it. In asking, we learn, and we honor those that we work with for their input and insight. We are a group of people that needs purpose in what we’re doing. If you can’t find it yourself, ask. And if there isn’t a purpose, ask if you need to do it. Declarative statements can be polarizing – someone has to agree with it or not to keep going forward. But to ask an opinion or to ask to learn more means you have an open connection and a listening spirit. It can’t hurt to ask, right?
16. Find big courage in small moments of being vulnerable.
Say hi to people, both those that you know and don’t know. Make eye contact and smile. Submit that piece you wrote to the magazine you love. Compliment a stranger. Raise your hand in the class you’re auditing. Present an idea to your boss. Volunteer. Dance. Do karaoke. We humans are survival creatures. We are programmed to stay where we know it is safe. Expand your comfort zone little by little by taking small risks when you can. Feel yourself getting braver with each one. We are not here to build a vacation home that we will visit some day. Each moment we have is a critical piece of the home that we live in. Build yourself a beautiful home.
17. Look yourself in the eyes and say I Love You.
We are such a photographed group lately. Selfies, group shots, and posed action shots (oh, wait, you mean you just always look at your coffee mug on the beach with that little smile and eyes tilted to the upper right corner…? Come on. This is a safe space. Be honest. You asked your friend to take it.) You are the only one who gets to see you like you do. You are the only person in the entire world who sees your mirror reflection from exactly your perspective. Appreciate that. I started doing this thing after reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s work of magic, “Eat, Pray, Love”: whenever I wash my hands or brush my teeth or see my reflection in a still moment, I look myself in the eyes and say “I love you” internally, to myself. In “Eat, Pray, Love,” Gilbert explains how she once saw her reflection and smiled, even waved, because she recognized herself as a friend. It’s easy to see your own flaws – you see them better and probably bigger than anyone else. Choose the harder road. Get to know what lives at the root of you and celebrate it. See yourself and love yourself.
18. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Try it their way, and then offer yours. Ask why someone believes something, then express your opinion. Listening to others first gives you an opportunity to learn and connect with them rather than immediately shutting them down. Plus, letting someone else explain their point can alleviate your anger over the situation – there is a chance you misunderstood or you had your facts wrong or they have a perspective that you did not see.
19. Look for ways to be inclusive.
You’ve been a member of teams for so long, why not create one for yourself? If there is not a network of young professionals already established where you are, create one for yourself. Or if you are new to an area, ask to join a group of friends to lunch. Remember that what you put out, you get back. Invite others to sit with you, talk to people about their day, and learn about them. You’ll be amazed at how much joy you get back. Kindness is a powerful thing. Welcome others and feel yourself welcomed.
20. Be gentle with yourself.
You have been hard on yourself more often than not. This stage in your life creates a lingering fear for all of us: that everyone else is doing it right and we, and we alone, are doing it wrong. You’re not. You are doing just fine. You will be great some days and really not great other days and some days you will be somewhere in between. Love yourself anyway. There is no trophy or certificate in the world that can justify you being here, in this moment, right now, because you are more than your accomplishments. You are here to do exactly what you need to do, and even on the days when it feels like you’re doing it wrong, you are doing it right. You will not change the world in a day and you will not become who you were born to be after a one-hour training session on leadership. Give yourself time. Give yourself breaks. Trust yourself. Trust the bigger plan for your life. Take some risks, make your mistakes, learn things the easy and the hard way, and keep going. You can do this. You will do this. Now, try your best to enjoy it.