Those Damn Millennials!

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MillennialsI was having brunch with a couple of former classmates over the weekend and the conversation turned to Millennials. My classmates are mid-career and are now being asked to manage or oversee the work of their younger coworkers. And rather predictably, they were pretty displeased with the performance of their colleagues, lamenting, “Why are these Millennials so terrible?”

We stopped ourselves before the conversation became too vile. For one: I pointed out that everyone at the table, by definition of age, was technically a Millennial. Except for me. I am a proud Generation X. I always feel that that needs to be pointed out. And two: we wondered if we were just being too harsh on a group of people who are just now making the transition to the professional world. I think there is some truth to this second one– that young people are just now learning the ropes, as we all have had to as we became working professionals– and maybe we should cut them some slack.

While I think there is a lot of truth to the latter, I have to say that I have struggled with some of the young people that I have recently encountered. Where they automatically get some slack for being newbies to the working world, they also exhibit some attitudes and behaviors that make the rest of us shake our heads.

I thought about how to position this post: should I be snarky? Instructive? Empathetic? And I think what I will just do is describe of the behaviors and attitudes (as gleaned via conversation) and give my two cents about why this will be a handicap if not adjusted over time. I should note that none of this is indicative of all Millennials and in many cases is described in an exaggerated manner. But it’s food for thought, perhaps, if you recognize any of the traits within yourself.

1) Laziness

One of my friends works at a telecomm company and recently had to interact with a new grad colleague. She would give him a project, check in with him and find that he had rushed through it and done a bad job. This would happen time and time again. My friend–someone who I would consider a super high achiever having attended a notoriously competitive NY city-based high school and then a major Boston metro-based university– remarked that she would never think to perform so poorly. I countered that I noticed this in a young colleague at work. She told me about her aspirations in the working world (and they were high) but time and again I would see her coming in at 10 am and leaving at 4. She would also frequently be laying fetal position in Love Sacs placed throughout the office.

So what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that Millennials are held to expectations of high performance from the get-go. Listen: we all fuck up when we start working. I did, he did, she did, we all did. Your first few years of work are just an insane panoply of fuck-ups and embarrassments that build skills, knowledge and character. But it’s strange to hear people with big dreams and then witness them not putting in the effort to grow and do a good job. I’m not sure if it’s that they don’t know yet or if the ease of an Internet-dependent life from the time of birth has made them expect an ease in life (like– has a Millennial ever had to track down a piece of rare text on microfilm in a university library basement library? ‘Cause I have), but it just seems like Millennials expect everything to be easy and rewards to be effortless. It’s not. You have to work for it. And when you do it wrong, you put in efforts to do it right.

2) Questionable choices

I watched a young colleague strut in one day wearing shorts. Like denim shorts. Like short denim shorts. Like short denim shorts you would wear to a picnic. To work. Now I’ll admit: I’ve worn shorts to work before. But with wedges. And they were chino. But ok, I get it: sartorial confidence. It’s fine.

But whether it’s selfies or pics to facebook of drunken debauchery or tanktops and flipflops worn to the office, Millennials do things that make the rest of us go, “Whaaa?”

At my last company, a group of coworkers (“the partiers”) would routinely come in to the office hungover. Listen: we’ve all done it. I get it. I’ll admit (anonymously) that in my past life, I have come in to work stoned. I’m sorry– I know you expected better of me. So it happens. But it’s weird to see it happen… and then happen… and then happen… Because when you keep doing it, it doesn’t seem like you knew it was a mistake. It seems like it’s a questionable choice that you are flaunting.

So I guess ultimately what I’m saying is: we all make questionable choices as young people. I’m certainly guilty of it and to a certain degree, you have a grace period by the end of which, you should have your shit together. This grace period seems very long for Millennials. As in, they are not picking up on context clues and these bad choices seem to be going on longer and on fuller display than I remember being acceptable back in my day.

3) Unearned confidence

So I don’t actually know that this point is super legitimate. But I guess I am surprised at how much Millennials seem so confident in what their lives will be– there doesn’t seem to be that feeling of uncertainty that I remember from my youth. And yet, when they pitch their ideas and plans, they seem… well, they seem really bullshit, if I am to be totally honest.

So this was me: I graduated from college and I had no idea what I was doing. I tried this, and I considered that, and sometimes I changed my mind. And if you were to ask me back then what I thought I was doing, in real time, I probably would have admitted, “I am trying this, and I’m considering that, and I keep changing my mind.” I know a lot of my contemporaries were on a much straighter path but I remember conversations with them and they seemed very humble about what later turned out to be super impressive lives. And in my case, I asked people a lot of questions and I used this knowledge to inform my later choices.

But I talk to Millennials, and they’re like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this and then that and then this will happen.” They say it like it will happen with the snap of a finger. And sometimes the rationale is so very off and yet, despite pushback, they insist, no no, they are going to do it this way. I was talking to a young person who was barely out of college and sort of in her first job (as a contractor). She told me that if things didn’t work out jobwise, she was going to take the GMAT and go to business school. I usually don’t tell people outright that I went to bschool (b/c why would I– it sounds kind of obnoxious) but in this case, I did mention to her, yeah I did that. I wasn’t expecting her to react but I did expect her to ask me questions. Instead, she went back to what she planned to do related to graduate school. I probably sound kind of pompous saying that I felt slighted when she didn’t ask me questions so I’ll retell the story using a parallel:

Millennial: I plan to pan for gold and strike it rich.

Me: Oh I panned for gold on Gold Mountain. I struck it rich.

Millennial: Ok. Well I plan to pan for gold on another mountain, a mountain that you haven’t confirmed totally has gold, and I plan to strike it rich.

Like, I did that thing you are aspiring to. Why wouldn’t you ask me for tips? Why would you think that you have to re-invent the wheel of something I just told you I did? She went on to talk about her plans. Her plan was ridiculous. I just kept eating my sandwich.

I know I sound bitter about something that is none of my business. But I feel like with the evolution of the internet, our networks are bigger, our access to information is better, we can make better, stronger decisions. And yet we’ve kind of come round full circle to ignorance being bliss. A very I-don’t-care-that-you-did-the-thing-I-plan-to-do-because-my-thing-is-totally-different. I mean, I suppose everyone learns things in their own time, but shit– when someone is giving you a shortcut to potential success, I really don’t understand why you wouldn’t at least consider it.

Oh, you silly Millennials.

I don’t think the fear ever ends

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mark cubanAfter my last post, I was chatting with a former colleague. She talked about the impact of fear on her professional choices– that she feels an immense sense of fear with the pursuit and acceptance of each new opportunity. I forget the corollary to that comment– whether it actually impacts her choices regarding taking on challenges or if she was just making a comment about the presence of the feeling. She then added that that was one reason for considering graduate school– that I had and others had commented on feeling more confident having secured an advanced degree. She said that it felt like it would help her with the fear.

But then I disagreed. While going back to school did yield me opportunities to learn new skills and frameworks, I actually don’t think it took away the sense of fear that I too experience every time I try something new.

I started thinking about fear in the context of my current situation. To recap: I was let go from my last job because of financial reasons. It was a huge ego blow. I started a new job about 6 weeks later due to a professional contact. Starting a new job is always hard: you feel a little bit useless because you’re still learning everything. But if you are a type A person like me, you feel this immense level of responsibility, like you need to prove that you’re the right one for the job, right then and right there.

For this reason, I feel a lot of fear these days, though I think I’m doing a pretty good job. And I guess the fear is really just: I hope I’m living up to the expectations of others. And despite having a lot of work experience and advanced degree– I don’t think this fear has mitigated since my earlier professional days. In fact, I think as time goes on, the stakes seem to get higher. And therefore, I actually feel like my sense of fear has increased.

I think the fear exists on several levels. The world seems just generally less stable now (so this is more of a statement about the economy, I guess). I grew up in Silicon Valley and back in the 80s and 90s, a person could work at the same, blue chip tech company for their entire careers. They didn’t have to keep up, they didn’t have to worry about downsizing. Life was good and so long as they didn’t suck, they were golden. The tech industry just feels so much more erratic now. The blue chips aren’t stable (in fact, they are probably the greatest at risk). Working at a startup isn’t stable. Even working at a startup where an ideal outcome (IPO or acquisition) isn’t stable. What if you help a company do the impossible and then you are let go due to talent consolidation? So the economy in which I work is a scary place.

I also think there’s that constant fear of becoming antiquated in Silicon Valley. If you Google “ageism in Silicon Valley”, you’ll see that this is a well-covered topic. It actually makes me think back to 2006, when I was working at Google and had invited my friend, an employment lawyer, to lunch at one of our cafes. He looked around at all the young faces and said, “This place is an employment timebomb.” (He then proceeded to take as many vegan cookies as he could stuff into his pockets.)  I worry a lot that I will be replaced by someone younger and cheaper. That my skills will no longer be relevant in the rapidly changing environment. I constantly have to keep up-to-date on industry trends, technology trends, social trends. So this invokes quite a lot of fear.

When I think back, fear is actually a reason that I considered NOT going to business school. There is something mildly comforting about a calm and mediocre professional life. What if I made it into a stable profession, let’s say HR, and just stuck around? Didn’t try to get ahead or progress up a ladder. How would that be compared to branding myself with an advanced degree and constantly being subjected to the assessment of employers like, Hmmm, she’s asking for more, but is she worth it?

Sadly, while I think the benefit of fear has propelled me into taking lots of risks in my life: taking on new jobs, traveling and living abroad, making 11th hour choices that fundamentally impacted the course of my life– I don’t think the fear goes away. It just moves. You see it. You know you have to go for it. You reach for it and maybe you get to it. But then it moves and you start all over again. It’s great for progress. But could life be easier and happier without it, perhaps?

What are you afraid of?

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screamI had been thinking about this post for some time: the idea of fear propelling your life decisions and the choices that you make. In light of various recent things, I thought this would be a good time to tackle this topic.

I first started thinking about fear when I had a discussion with a colleague about grad school. We were talking about the bump in salary following completion of a graduate degree. She made a comment to the effect of: “Well, I have my boyfriend so I figure even if I don’t make a lot, I have him to rely on.” I’ve never really outrightly said this before, and I don’t think it’s necessarily that controversial, but one of the main reasons I went back to school was for the potential of a higher salary but mainly b/c I don’t really know if I’ll ever have a man that I can rely on. It might just be me. And if it’s just me, given the high cost of living, I need to make sure I make a salary high enough that I can take care of all the life things that will happen. It also made me wonder if without that fear, if I was just super comfortable, whether I would take half the risks in my life. My guess is probably no. And in that vein, I wondered: is failure of being afraid pretty much a guarantee of failure– as in failure to get ahead? Or am I being terribly indulgent in my analysis?

I just attended a conference the past week. It’s in the same industry as my previous job and I knew that inevitably I would run into my former coworkers. And that I did: over and over throughout the conference. In these moments, it just sucks. There’s no nicer way to put it. When I ran into the boss that had laid me off (and I suspect had slowly decreased my workload to the point that I was redundant by design), I said hi. No hug (that would be overboard) but I said hello and I gave a smile. And I knew that I had to go see the company’s booth– not because I cared that much what it looked like. But it presented to me that challenge– the challenge that you have to prove to yourself that you’re not afraid of things and that you can push yourself to do the things that you know you have to do. Incidentally, when I got to the booth, my former coworker (the one that had been taking credit for some of my work) pretended to be on her phone the entire time, not even looking up once. I guess my takeaway from that experience is you have to push yourself and be the bigger person. This individual continues to disappoint me but I also know that these deficiencies will only continue to impact her in her life.

The third thing that made me think about fear is my friend’s recent launch of a clothing ecommerce site. She had written on her facebook something to the effect of: I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t afraid of what lies ahead on many fronts. Risk necessarily implies fear: you are taking what is likely a scarier road, but one that you have to take because you know that the result might be wonderful (on the other side, obviously, it could be a disaster). But you push through the fear, you try to arrange it so that success is the outcome, and then you work your ass off. This is true for my friend and I can say it has been true for a lot of the things I have tried in my life. Fear is that bugger that nips at your bottom. It pushes you forward b/c you know that you can’t possibly slow down and let it have its way with you.

So I guess I finish this entry with the question that starts the piece: What are you afraid of? What is the thing that is going to push you forward in life and make you take those choices that are full of risk, but also potentially full of reward?

Money!

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PiggyBankI’ve had a pretty active social week so tonight I’m taking it slow and baking some chicken for dinner. Living in the city, though super fun and convenient, can really add up. Between Happy Hour on Wednesday, dinner yesterday and brunch today, I’ve paid about $100 for food in the past few days. So for tonight, some baked chicken, couscous and veggies will have to do.

Money is an interesting topic I think, particularly since, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve amassed contacts in different phases of life, and with different opinions as it relates to finances. And what is particularly interesting is that the richer people are, the cheaper they are. And vice versa: those people making what I expect are lower salaries, seem to be the worst with money.

Case in point: on Wednesday, I met up with three people with whom I attended business school. Two are consultants which means they certainly make over $100K (as the standard salary for post-MBAs is $120K, as far as I know). And all of us sat around complaining about how expensive things are in SF despite all of us making above-average salaries. Or my friend, a lawyer who, despite making (if I’m to guess) over $250K a year in salary, still drives the same car he drove in college. The friends who have sold companies still live very frugally (one couple still drives a Honda Civic). And finally, my friend texted me today asking if I had posted something to Secret. I said no and then when I went in search of what he thought I had posted, I correctly guessed that it was this posting:

IMG_0757Just for the record: I did not post this Secret. However, I agree that shopping at discount stores is very satisfying.

So there are a few things about this grouping of frugal people within my circle of contacts. Most of us are in our 30s which means that we lived in the SF Bay area before prices got crazy. We made entry level salaries when costs were reasonable-ish and our salaries paced with the rise of costs. In other words, we actually stood a chance of having money in our savings accounts and were able to save throughout our careers. Most of us have pretty good careers– namely because we attended graduate school or started our careers in blue chip tech companies. And generally speaking, many of us are minorities so many of us grew up having somewhat middle class sensibilities with a strong lean towards saving and being fiscally responsible.

I know another group of people mainly from friends of friends or colleagues. This second group worries me much. I was having dinner with my lawyer friend and we pretty much agreed this group of individuals is totally fucked financially and we wonder why they aren’t more concerned. I feel concerned for them much more so than they ever seem to be. They dropped into the working world when basic costs are through the roof. It costs something like $1500 for a room in SF (give or take, obviously, depending on where you are living). Not including engineers or people working in finance, a general starting salary is $50-60K. After tax, you’re looking at $40K take home. Minus rent you are looking at $22K that you keep. Assuming you are putting about $10K in retirement each year (which you should be– not totally sure that people are). That is $12K a year you are looking at for “everything else money” including anything you hope to put into savings.

So I have been kind of astonished at what these young people are spending their money on. Their roughly $12K per year of money. We’re talking $300 concert tickets. Brand spanking new iPhones and other tech doodads. Trips to South America. Eating out all the time. ALCOHOL. They are UBER-ing and Lyft-ing everywhere. They are paying for their homes to be cleaned.

I once had a coworker (kind of a numbnut, if you ask me) who admitted that he hadn’t put a single dollar into his retirement account that year. But he had spent once $900 on bottle service. I could not believe it. And I had another friend once admit that she wouldn’t be able to carry on for too long if she was to lose her job while also telling me that she was excited to go to an upcoming $300 per ticket music festival.

And I guess my opinion on the matter is part jealousy and part astonishment. I would love to eat out everyday. To socialize with friends and order that 2nd, 3rd, 4th glass of wine. I would love to buy the new must-have piece of clothing, tech gadget or whatever else. I would love to just NOT CARE what things cost and to live hedonistically. But I’m not rich and I know that in order to have a retirement to someday live off of and money in the bank to be able to afford a home of my own one day, I have to be responsible about how I spend. Despite having a healthy salary, I still buy nosebleed seats at the theatre. I still pack a lunch at least 2-3 times a week. I still take the bus.

I look at these young people longingly but with great judgment. What happens when they grow up and have nothing in retirement? What happens when they marry and have nothing to put down on a home? What happens when they wake up one day, an adult in their 30s and realize: for all that I’ve worked these many years, I have nothing in the bank to show for it? And why aren’t they worried??? Why aren’t they worried about these inevitabilities given their YOLO-inspired lifestyles?

Am I wrong? Am I being too tough? Or are these young people ticking timebombs of unavoidable penury?