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I am the master of my schedule. If an opportunity to spend some extra time with my family comes up, I will often take it. If the Texas Rangers are playing (hopefully for a while longer) I’ll cut off work a little early to make sure I can catch the game on TV. If I’m behind on paperwork at home, no big deal. I’ll just get that done before I start with my work for the day. Need a long lunch? OK, I’m not on the clock. I’ll take an extra 15 minutes and watch a favorite show on DVR.
My work is too often the master of my time. If the iPhone is in my pocket, I’m always tempted to pick it up even at family activities. If I’m watching that Texas Rangers game, it may be with my MacBook in my lap dong a little busy work that didn’t get done. Did I take a longer lunch? That probably means I’ll close up shop at 10 that night instead of 9:30.
The notion that we can work to live, not live to work is monumental mental shift. It may be the biggest shift in workforce dynamics since the labor unions a century ago. In that time, workers stood up for their rights to a decent wage, vacation time, respect in the workplace, and legal force they did not have alone. Today, workers are standing up for their rights to choose the times they’ll work, how they do that work, and where they do that work.
For those of us in Generation X and those in the Baby Boomer generation, we’ve been known to say we “live to work” and often connect our self-identification with our job/occupation. For those in the Millennial generation, they “work to live” and value time with friends, family over time spent at work. This generation is more likely to tell their boss when they plan to come to work and when they plan to leave, as there are important things to do outside of work – yoga, exercise, movies, etc…Balancing work and life is vitally important to this generation but not as much for the current generation of office managers and organizational leaders. The challenge for the Millennial employee is understanding and respecting the structure of the organization
I want that balance in my work life, too. As a business coach with a passion for younger entrepreneurs, I want them to achieve that balance. And it must be achieved. It won’t happen by brute force or unreasonable demands. If the under-30 workforce wants work/life balance, it will have to be earned, either by the slow but steady change of large organizations or by the re-invention of the workplace on your own terms, in your own business.
Either way will require a lot of work.
I’m a Gleek. I’m sappy enough to enjoy the poignant moments. I’ve been around high school students enough to appreciate the roller coaster ride with its high highs and low lows. Musically, I dig harmony and Glee has great harmonies and music.
And this show doesn’t mess around. It has tackled homosexuality, blended families, discrimination against women and minorities, and the sports vs. arts debate in schools, just to name a few. This week’s episode was, for me, the high point of Glee’s audacity. They tackled prayer in school. And forgive my mixed sports metaphors, but they hit a home run. They didn’t just have a friendly conversation in the principal’s office about it. In a 60 minute show, I found one question coming up over and over again in the show: Who are we to weaponize our beliefs? By “we,” I mean humanity in general and certainly Americans. When have we done this, you ask? Tuesday night’s show provided many pointed observations.
Mercedes and several other friends prayed with Kurt‘s dad against Kurt’s wishes. They weaponized their faith in prayer. Yet Kurt was similarly guilty when he refused to accept those prayers as genuine concern for him and his father. He weaponized his belief that there is no God.
Kurt summed up his disgust with God and those who believe in Him–that many Christians believe he (Kurt) made a choice and should be punished for that choice. He sees that he was made that way and that others are punishing him for being who he is. We–I– have weaponized our beliefs about homosexuality.
Kurt was a victim again in this show–when Sue Sylvester attempted to use his disgust towards his friends in Glee to prosecute Will Schuster for allowing his students to sing about their faith. She weaponized her faith in the government to regulate religious practice.
And then there was Finn and Grilled Cheezus. When Finn saw an image of Jesus in a grilled cheese sandwich he made, he took that sign to mean that he had a direct connection to God to ask whatever he wanted. He weaponized his spiritual awakening for his own benefit, praying for the chance to take the next step sexually with Rachel and to win the quarterback’s job over the new kid in school.
In the end, Kurt was touched by his church experience with Mercedes, yet still skeptical at best. Finn was confused, hurt, and doubting God more now than ever before. Kurt’s dad showed the faintest sign of recovery from his heart attack. How did it happen? Was prayer involved? Was it his deeply powerful connection with his son?
In the spirit of the best writing, the writers of this show declined to answer, leaving that for their viewers to decide. The writers of the show openly questioned God and our beliefs about him, however devoted or skeptical we may be. Yes, I’m OK with questioning God, especially if it comes at the expense of our easy answers, answers that we too often weaponize against those who see the world through different lenses.
Retro is what’s next. When my parents saw me wearing tight jeans in middle school, asking for Converse high tops, and listening to the Beach Boys sing “Kokomo,” their comment was predictable: “Everything comes back in style eventually.” Sure, Mom and Dad.
Not long ago, my five-year-old son asked for his first Transformer. I caught myself wondering why I didn’t save the 50 or so Transformers I had when I was in elementary school. Then, as if my parents had pre-programmed me to say it, out came, “Everything comes back in style, eventually.”
In a previous post, I introduced you to James Townsend who works in the Admissions office of LeTourneau University in Longview, TX. In my conversation with JT, I was struck by a comment he made regarding effective recruitment of Millennials. Part one didn’t surprise me:
Ten years ago the students thought sending email was cool and chatted with one another via instant messenger. They still enjoyed visiting with college admissions counselors by phone and receiving college brochures in the mail. Over the past ten years that changed dramatically – email is only for business type communication, few of them use instant messaging – preferring to text or chat and post on Facebook instead. Most of the college material received in the mail still went in a big box under the bed and [they questioned] why the college would waste so much money and kill so many trees to send so much unsolicited mail out.
Makes sense. But JT makes an observation that surprised me. Perhaps it will surprise you, too:
The trend we are noticing for 2011 is that students are coming full circle and now want personalized communications – actual phone calls, handwritten notes, and actual signatures on letters.
Sounds like the paper and pen factories better not close up shop just yet. To what can we attribute this appetite for an “old school” approach to communication? Here’s a few suggestions. I’d like to hear yours in the comment section.
- Face to face communication and note writing never really left. They were drowned out by the never-ending buzz of social media.
- High school students want you to bend over backwards for them, and they’ll test you to find out how far you’ll bend.
- It’s about standing out among the noise. 10 years ago, standing out meant going with social media. Now that everyone’s caught up there, it’s face to face communication and hand-written notes that make you stand out
- Millennials value community much more than their parents do.
Let me read your suggestions. And while you’re at it, here’s your coaching assignment. Ask a 20-something, “What kind of impression does it make on you when someone takes the time to write a note or meet you in person?”
Recently, you’ve read my interviews with a college career coach at Abilene Christian University and a professor at Texas Women’s University who specializes in first year students. I have to say that my conversations with higher learning administrators and professors is fast becoming on my favorite pastimes in blogging. Here’s interview #3.
James Townsend and I knew one another at Abilene Christian University, where I was a student and he was a recruiter and administrator. A great guy and a good friend, I’m grateful for the time he’s given me via Skype and by email. Our conversations touched on the spirituality of college students, how well they’re prepared for college life and learning, and what they can expect as they leave college life for their careers. Here’s a quick bio of James:
[Even before] graduating from Abilene Christian University in 1989, I began a 24 year professional journey in Christian higher education as an administrator, consultant, and first year experience instructor. Most of my professional life has included visiting with high school students and parents about the college admissions and financial aid process and the best ways to transition to the collegiate environment. I completed my MBA at LeTourneau University in 2006 and am currently working towards a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership in Higher Education through Grand Canyon University in Arizona. I’m currently the director of admissions for LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.
I asked James the following questions. I look forward to sharing his responses with you in the coming days:
- Compare graduating high school seniors now to graduating seniors ten years ago when you started at LeTourneau. What changes have you noticed?
- How well prepared are students for college? Where are they well prepared? Where are they lacking?
- Share a couple of stories about students who’ve really impressed you.
- What can this generation bring to any arena of life (work, home, whatever) that’s unique and needed?
- What are the biggest challenges this generation will face? Specifically, how are they going to have to grow?
I know James as “JT,” and of everything he told me, one phrase stood out. This generation has the numbers, the relative youth, and the resources to maybe just maybe be right about this:
This generation always believes there is something bigger and better around the corner.
Many thanks to Ashly Torian, a client for the past six months, who provided this testimonial. You can learn more about Ashly’s personal training business at http://www.ashlysbodybalance.com
Dr. Guy Litton, professor at Texas Women’s University and their semi-official first year students’ supervisor, spent his valuable time with me recently. Yesterday, I shared some thoughts around his observation that the current group of college students is achievement-driven, to the point of missing out on more meaningful pursuits. In short, I think there are some connective threads between the achievement-driven approach Dr. Litton is observing in college and the short-sighted educational strategies we’re seeing in our educational system. If you read the comment on Tuesday’s post, you know that at least one Millennial is seeing this same dynamic carry over into the job market.
In spite of our system’s limitations and our own imperfections, there are always standouts. Dr. Litton shares two stories which I find uplifting:
This student overcame long odds
I had a student from a small town called Seymour, TX. She competed for a NASA internship with hundreds of other students from much more competitive and prestigious schools. Her goal was to become a high school science teacher. She had the “gumption” or “pluck” to compete with phenomenally talented students from all over the country for one of only 20 spots. I admire tremendously the guts she had in going after it and winning it.
Good thing this student wasn’t written off too soon
On the other hand, I had a student who was a first generation student (parents didn’t speak English) who was on probation after year one, but she had such a positive attitude, such curiosity about life and learning that she went on to graduate study at George Washington U, was a major worker for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and is now finishing her PhD in Public Policy. I tease her now and then about how insecure she was. Little did she know then that she had so much more than most of the peers she thought were superior students.
I’d like to hear from you: what other impressive stories have you seen or heard from our 20-somethings?
- An accomplished businessperson
- A polished and confident communicator
- A master at their craft at an early age
We need more good stories out there. It’s easier to point to negative trends and thereby paint an entire generation with assumptions and generalizations.
I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with Dr. Guy Litton, who teaches at Texas Women’s University in the English department. Dr. Litton spends part of his time working with first-year students at Texas Women’s, and I asked him recently about this generation of students that are now attending our universities. Over the next couple of posts, I’ll share his thoughts with you on how well prepared our next generation of college students are for life beyond high school, along with a couple of great stories that present a contrasting picture of how Millennials are occasionally portrayed.
In many ways related to my post about the pragmatic nature of the world into which Millennials are entering, Dr. Litton made the following observation of the Millennials he encounters:
They have a stronger work ethic, BUT they are so narrowly focused on achievement (David Brooks calls it the “Achieveatron” machine that is the school system today). They are focused on merit badges, extra points, gpas, filling up the resumes with little gold stars. They are not reflective, contemplative, deep, or sincerely seeking to better themselves. It’s a mad dash to employment without a thought for intellectual or cultural or philosophical fulfillment.
Pragmatism, indeed. My question: is there a connection between their “mad dash to employment” and the economic circumstances? Or perhaps, is the pragmatism simply an idea embedded in them by their years in school? Again, Dr. Litton:
We seem to have winnowed education down merely to math and basic reading comprehension/vocabulary. There’s no incentive or encouragement for students to learn things for their own sake. We always seem to send them the message that learning is important for “getting ahead.” What do you do with your life once you’re “ahead” though? It’s an education treadmill that’s dialed up at ever faster speeds where the runner is still stationary.
As a parent with a child starting school this year, I have pondered the pros and cons of the school system in the United States more than at any other time in my life. What, exactly, is our school system designed to do? What kind of student is it designed to turn out? To hear Dr. Litton describe it, our education system is designed to turn out myopic achievement that misses out on the greater value of learning.
Is it any wonder that Millennials find themselves in very pragmatic circumstances and, in my opinion, deeply in need and want of that which is more meaningful?
Next up, a couple of stories of Dr. Litton’s students that you’ll find impressive.
Dan Pink, in his recent book Drive, names three elements which must be present in the 21st Century workplace in order for employees to be motivated: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. I’ve discussed his work previously on my blog.
The hunger for meaning in the workplace is, in my opinion, a symptom of a larger trend in Western culture: an over-emphasis on pragmatism has yielded a starvation for meaning. One could suggest that the Boomers spotted this starvation in their youth, Generation X resented it when they experienced it, and now Millennials are facing ever increasing levels of this dearth of meaning. Western culture is displaying a fascination, an obsession with pragmatism. Consider the pragmatic nature of the world into which Millennials are entering:
- As they enter the workforce, they are experiencing an economic downturn of generational proportions (it’s been four generations since a recession of this size) that leads to very pragmatic decisions about who will have work and who won’t.
- Their education has emphasized standardized testing in primary and secondary schools, measuring pragmatic skills over creativity, problem solving, and learning for its own sake.
(You can probably name other examples. Thought of one? Email it to me at email@example.com. I’d like to know what you think).
Pragmatism sounds like a disease, doesn’t it? It makes me want to ask, “Is there a cure for that?” For Millennials, MEANING inoculates them from the relentless pragmatism of what must be. Instead, meaning searches for what could be and what should be, with a hope that these are what will be. You could say that Millennials are intensely pragmatic about their search for meaning in what they do. If I want to lead Gen Y, pragmatism is required, just not pragmatism about things they believe meaningless.
Coaching for meaning can be a bit tricky. After all, who gets to decide what is meaningful? And what happens when what is meaningful to me isn’t meaningful to someone else? How can both perspectives be honored? Below are some coaching suggestions for bringing a Millennial’s pragmatic search for meaning to bring transformation to whatever context they find themselves. Warning: they will fail from time to time with these important decisions. But then that’s the point, isn’t it?
Co-Create Opportunities to Do What Matters
Consider the following questions to help a Millennial friend or colleague decide if what they’re doing now connects to what’s most important to them:
- If someone asked you to say what you believe in most, what would you tell them?
- If you could spend a year not working living that belief, doing something constructive for society, what would you do?
- What first steps can we take together to get you headed in that direction?
In the Workplace, Replace Meaningless Tasks with Vital Decisions
The tyranny of the urgent is something no one escapes. Nevertheless, if you want to lose a Millennial, clog their schedule with tasks seemingly unconnected to the bigger picture. Coach yourself with these questions:
- Which tasks am I assigning my younger employee simply because I disdain that task? How well have I explained how that task serves a larger purpose?
- On which decisions have I invited my younger employee’s input? How many of their ideas did I actually incorporate?
Sounds counterintuitive doesn’t it? A coach’s job is to point his/her client towards success. A coach should be the one behind the curtain quietly allowing the client to take center stage in his/her own progress and accomplishments. I’m suggesting a somewhat different strategy when coaching those under 30, one with long-term successes in mind. Coaching to failure is not a proverbial “stick your leg out to trip someone” gag. Coaching the largest generation in the history of the world is no laughing matter; it’s serious business. I propose that the sooner a member of this generation learns what it feels like to fail, the sooner he/she will begin learning from that failure.
What better environment is there to examine failure than coaching? Coaching is a pure-oxygen environment for breathing growth and transformation into an individual. If an under-30 client doesn’t fail while coaching with me, I will not have done enough to coach him or her. My client will not have learned enough. My client will leave with a less valuable coaching experience.
My premise is simple: I believe controlled failure in a safe environment will produce an “immune” response that better prepares next generation leaders for what lies ahead. Like dead diseases pumped into someone’s blood, controlled failure can provide a certain amount of inoculation against the fear of failure and its potential consequences. This controlled “failure” can’t be contrived. Coaching to fail means that the failure (1) is possible and measurable, (2) has real and potentially painful consequences, and (4) provides opportunities for multiple attempts at success.
Put another way, I’d rather my next-generation coaching client get “sick” of failure now than to “die” of failure in the future. Over the next few days, I’ll be writing about some of the diseases our next generation faces, and the antibodies coaching must produce in order for them to lead all of us into the next chapter of life, work, and faith. Those who intend to lead must learn to:
- Fight unfounded optimism with story-telling
- Fight risk-averse behavior with opportunities for creative thinking
- Fight inattention with critical thinking skills
- Fight shelter-seeking behavior with “exposure” to the elements
- Fight institutional skepticism with entrepreneurial experiments
You can probably think of other “diseases” to which those under 30 are prone. I’d like to hear them, with one condition: you’ve got to suggest an immunization.