Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why being a Millennial in this economy is great

I keep reading and hearing about The Plight of the Millennial. My peers everywhere are complaining about the economy, leaning on down times as reason for lax attitudes, and whining about how bad they have it.
A potential employer recently opened our interview conversation with: “times are tough for young people. I’ve been talking to quite a few candidates and I hear it’s been pretty hard to get a job.”

I knew what I was going to say in response. I was going to say what I thought, and I didn’t bother pussyfootin about it: “honestly, Rob, this is the only economy we know. We don’t have any other times to compare it to, so as far as I’m concerned, it can’t be ‘bad.’ It just is.”

And listening to the morning talk show driving to my client site recently, I heard a fellow 24-year old call in and complain that she simply could not move out of her parents’ house. She couldn’t find a “real job” and, well, she had all these student loans to pay. (Yea, I was mad about that for the better part of the morning.)

So let’s tackle some of the most common quibbling – which I’ve not only been subjected to but also associated with – and set some things straight:

·         You’ve had a slow start to your career? Can’t find the dream job you were promised? You may not be developing your career as quickly as you would like, but at least you didn’t lose the job you’d had for 20 years. Not getting an offer means that now you have time to explore your options and better define your career path. Things are moving slowly; you have time to analyze; respond; redevelop your goals. You have time to find your calling rather than chase what probably wasn’t a fully developed dream.

·         You have student loans? You may have student loans, but you know what else that means you have? A college education. It’s one thing our parents’ generation largely didn’t have, and it’s one thing they made sure you did.

·         You don’t have any savings? Countless baby boomers don’t either, now that they’ve lost a lifetime’s worth of 401(k) accounts. And they don’t have another lifetime to start from scratch and rebuild it; we do.

·         You don’t own a home? Did you see what happened to home-owners everywhere over the last few years? Not having a mortgage right now means you won’t go through a foreclosure. Incidentally, homes aren’t the best performing asset right now. (Buy some stocks instead. It's what you're supposed to do in a down market. Did you sleep through Econ I?)

·         You’re not married? Neither is anyone else in the 40% who's divorced in our age group. Our generation should be taking that decision more seriously to begin with.

·         You live with your parents? Well, to be frank: you need to grow up. You need to move out. And you need to start living your life before you wake up in your childhood bedroom at 37 and realize you missed it.

I'm sorry for the tough love, but you guys gotta know that a.) I believe in our generation and b.) we need to get our act together. Being a Millennial in this economy is anything but a misfortune, and I wish that we would, as a group, stop treating it as such. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the greatest time in history to be between the ages of 20 and 30. We have opportunities available to us that generations before only dreamed of. It only requires we recognize and leverage them. Being a Millennial right now will:

·         Teach us discipline – we have student loans. And we have to take our jobs seriously, because recruiters aren’t lined up outside the door as promised. All this means is that we’ll have to make more intelligent decisions – with both our finances and our Friday nights. Skills that will likely be valuable throughout life.

·         Teach us creativity – gone are the days when you got a degree in something, got a job whose title mirrored your major, and worked your way up the ladder. Now we choose our course – and what a fantastic reality! Here’s one thing our parents didn’t lie about: you can be whatever you want. Your success and satisfaction depends on you doing what you want. And leveraging opportunities around us to create that.

·         Teach us to identify opportunities – similarly, this economy will teach many of us to think outside the box, to exercise foresight, to extend ourselves toward the horizon and around the market’s learning curve.

·         Give us a chance to do it better – things don’t improve when everything’s running smoothly. Nobody cares to fix what isn’t broken. It’s not until things aren’t going as planned that people start going back to the drawing board. And that’s where we are – dry erase marker in hand, waiting. It’s the time in the economy when great suggestions are made, great ideas come to life; when game changers make their presence known, and leaders develop a following; when society is redefined.

I feel fortunate to be where I am – up to my ears in student loans, unmarried, and renting. I feel fortunate to be young in a changing economy, when I not only have the flexibility and energy to fully experience everything on the horizon, but also have the opportunity to lead some of it. I fully believe that there have been few times in our history with as much promise as this one, and, to be frank, I'm incredibly stoked about it. (And I don't even say "stoked.")

I just wish my peers felt the same. (C’mon, guys. We got this.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New job first impressions

I've had a job since I was sixteen - some of them for as short as two weeks; others for as long as two years. Needless to say, I've had quite a few "new jobs" and "first days," and have noticed that, much like most anything in life - from a first date to your first experience with an exotic food - much of your perspective lies in and is founded on that initial interaction. Like a life partner, sometimes the chemistry sits right. And sometimes it doesn't.

There have been jobs that never "felt right" from the beginning - maybe I'm more sensitive than most, or entitled enough that I permit myself to conclude more than I should from first impression, but I do know that there has been a job or two that, from the very first moment walking into the office on the very first day, didn't complement my psyche. And, no matter my effort, that inital feeling of dread never fades. One of these jobs - a full time position after college - lasted four months. The other, fortunately for me, was an internship. It lasted two weeks.

Some jobs, though, always "felt right" - not only from the first day, but sometimes from the moment I walked in for the interview, or the moment I shook someone's hand. Maybe I was in a different mindset. Maybe I felt more determined, more disciplined, less entitled. More likely than not, though, it was simply a good chemistry - good fit.

In my experience, the deal breakers deteriorate the rapport. And it never gets better. The deal makers, on the other hand, lay a foundation of trust, comradery, and positivity that only grows as you continue there. Good rapport.

Good rapport happens when you get the sense that your employer is willing to go to bat for you. They like you, they believe in you, and they aren't afraid to say so. In turn, you begin to feel the same for them - you want to go to bat for them, too. You pound the Kool-Aid. You'd take a bullet. (Okay, maybe not that extreme... but in a metaphorical sense.)

And when you walk in each day feeling that way about your firm - like a fantastic life partner that means a lot to you - you're happier.

How do you feel when you walk into your work place? Burdened? Uplifted?
How do you feel as you walk out? Energized? Exhausted?

Choose a place that makes you feel good. The signifiers, if you're paying attention, will be obvious sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Our generation needs to learn to move on

When the world seems as though it's "falling apart," it's very likely that what's actually failing is not the physics of the world, but the way you've built it up around you - the structure and the "normal" we've tried so hard to create, when too contradictory to the way to things should be, it crumbles.

When things fail, there are countless reasons. But there are only two appropriate responses: evaluate the fallout to prevent it in your next effort, or take it as a sign and move on. The least appropriate response, just to be clear, is to sulk and mourn over the loss.
Our economy, our market - and, incidentally, our ways of interacting with them and defining ourselves in relation to them - have changed. Old standards that we took for granted have been replaced with new norms, and while some of us have successfully adjusted, the unfortunate reality is that many of us are lying awake at night, clutching the tattered remnants old dreams to our chests and lamenting the fact that we don't have our own houses and a couples of little wailing mouths to feed like our parents did "by now."

The fact is, somewhere along the line, we created that norm. As a society, we defined, sought and defended something that has only been "normal" for a few generations.

Life - and the meaning of it - goes deeper than the white picket fence, and it can't be summarized in the simplicity (and, quite frankly, shallowness) of "The American Dream."

Life is more that that. It's about success, sure, and building relationships and lifestyles, making love and doing good work. But it's also about being awake for it all - about looking around every day and being engaged enough to notice changes in our world - and the world now available to our generation - in order to identify what's not working and opportunities for what may.

And when things don't go right - including those "things" that we once held sacred - we need to roll with it.

So when your college degree doesn't land you on the "right" career path (which may or may not have been your father's) or you can't save enough for a down payment or you find yourself baby-less at 32, you need to deal with that, accept it as part of our new reality, and adapt.

Be creative. Be innovative. Be your own generation rather than a replication of what worked before.