Over the years I have become kind of obsessed with millenials and the workplace. While writing about teens at the same time as my son–an amenable and highly capable serial underachiever–was applying to college, I became stuck on the horrifying notion that the way we are bringing up our children today is preparing them poorly for tomorrow’s workplace.
Rather than worry about college, I started worrying about how my kids were going to find their way through the work world.
The model my husband and I show them through our own work behaviors is one of extreme diligence born of a deep-seated and authentic interest in our work. This is combined, for both of us, with a clear understanding that in order to do what we do, we MUST work well with other people. So we live with compromises; we have learned to persuade, manipulate and direct; and we respect others while also having firm opinions.
In my case, this has been earned only after decades of experience. There’s been a fair amount of failure and pain along the way for me, but that’s been necessary for me to learn. Navigating the work world did not come all that naturally to me, but I am a doer with high standards for others and for myself, and so by nature I just kept forging ahead. I trusted that each hurdle had some hidden reward.
When I wrote my first book, I was astonished to learn just how guilty mothers felt if they didn’t focus 100 percent of their energy on their kids. Since that’s basically impossible, most mothers feel guilty most of the time.
Except me. I love work so much, I don’t feel guilty about doing it. I also need to do things like shower, lounge around, and go out with friends. Anyway, my point is this: it was and still is truly perplexing to me that modern (western) attitudes to parenting seem to require that we dedicate ourselves exclusively to our kids or–so goes the accepted theory–we’ll screw them up.
I think the opposite is true.
Now, years later and in the middle of working on my 7th or 8th book, it’s all coming full circle. I’m reading about how ill-prepared these kids we’re raising really are. They are driving employers crazy because they are demanding without having earned the right to be so. A recent Wall Street Journal article explains these kids expect high pay, flexible schedules, promotion within a year and great vacations. When they don’t get this, they quit, knowing of course that they can always fall back on their parents.
And then at the end of the article, I read this: “After all, the grumbling baby-boomer managers are the same indulgent parents who produced the millennial generation.”
I loved this Harvard Business Review article that looked at work from the touted “find your passion” perspective. It offers up four things kids should focus on in order to prepare themselves for a satisfying work life:
- Develop situational awareness: “There’s too much focus on knowing the self. Balance this with knowing the world.”
- Look into problems that affect you in a very personal way. “We’re more likely to be motivated by problems we can relate to on a personal level.”
- Connect with people working on big problems. “In a world where problems are by their very nature interdisciplinary, just getting to know people who are passionate about one problem leads to discussions on how other problems can be solved.”
- Take time off and travel. “Forget about traveling as a tourist… The broader and richer experience pays dividends down the line.”
And I would add here are a few things parents can do, too:
- Let your kids fail every now and then.
- When you say no, mean it.
- Model a good work ethic, and talk with them about your work.
- Make them get real jobs when they are teenagers.
- Think long term instead of short term.
- Take time for yourself when they are little, so they grow up understanding they’re not the center of the universe.
- Feel less guilt, and enjoy the moment more.
- Forgive yourself for being imperfect.
What do you think? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d love to hear your opinion.