What right do I have preaching to the next generation of workers that they’re in for a reality check once they land their first job? Every right.
I’m a Millennial. I was born in 1990 and have had my hands on electronics for as long as I can remember. For us, exploring the jungles of the web and adapting to new technology is more like an instinct rather than a skill. Often, we find ourselves instructing our more seasoned colleagues on how to install a web browser or we roll our eyes and chuckle while demonstrating how to upload a photo on Facebook for our parents. We work quickly, demand results even faster, and always hunger for more information and stimulation.
Unfortunately, our confidence and adaptability directly feed into some other less desirable personality traits: We can be somewhat cocky or even delusional. I can still remember being a kid competing for my neighborhood swim-team and receiving a personalized ribbon after each race regardless of whether I had finished in 1st place or 8th. As we begin the steady migration from college campuses and suburban basements into the open fields of the workforce, cultivating humility and patience within ourselves is not just desirable. It’s required.
I work for a talent acquisition software company in the Silicon Valley, TalentCircles. Not too long ago, my boss asked me to provide her with a brief presentation and demonstration. I had been familiar with our solution and the industry we operated in for some time now and believed that I already had enough prior knowledge of the technology to give the presentation without any rehearsal. My thoughts went something like, “Not a big deal” and “Piece of cake” or “easy”. If you’re a Millennial and reading this, I know you relate to this inner-monologue. The following afternoon, when I was called into her office and the moment arrived to begin my pitch, my mind switched to television static. Immediately, my mouth became doughy and I started saying “um” before and after each word. It was one of those moments where you’d rather be at the bottom of the ocean than continue flailing and gasping for any coherent idea to enter your skull. Finally, I admitted defeat to my boss and told her I wasn’t prepared. Composure and improvisation were not on my team that day. Luckily, she understood and we started a discussion on the differences between success in school and success on the job.
Millennials are professionals when it comes to bragging about our achievements, skills, and experiences. Just take your pick of social media outlets and I promise it won’t be long until you come upon a status referencing what an “amazing” day someone had in Paris or the “amazing” grade they received on a final exam. As my boss and I chatted, we agreed that as any young generation before ours, Generation Y has been used to “bragging their way through” life. Like a party balloon, we begin inflating our egos with confidence and satisfaction from small victories that become even larger with the additional praise and support supplied by friends, family, and the media. We believe our previous success can float us through any task or problem, but soon discover that this approach to success is unsustainable and leaves us with no substance. Eventually, all of the hot air we’ve accumulated leaks out and abandons us when we need to nail an interview, complete a project, or simply get the job done.
We can’t brag our way through life anymore. Most of our career paths will bear little resemblance to school or college, where success was once measured in letter grades and you could float to the top by throwing together a paper or studying just enough to pass a test. As I’m quickly learning, there are countless moments on the job where you will either execute a plan or fail. Now, I realize self-assurance and intelligence are excellent qualities to have by your side when you secure your first job or are handed a challenging task. It’s okay to take pride in yourself! However, observing the work ethic and preparation skills I see in my veteran co-workers has shown me that if you’re truly productive, then you have no tolerance for being boastful. Despite bringing technological savviness and energy into the working world, Millennials won’t have all the answers right away. And that’s okay, as long as we’re willing to put the time and energy into making a difference and turn into … rebels with a cause.