By now, there's a good chance you've seen this viral video about "millennials in the workplace," which has over four million views. Even if you haven't, you can probably guess that it doesn't take a kind view of millennials, because "Eh, they're basically fine" is not a recipe for viral success.
If you're on social media, you've probably seen people share it with comments like "insightful" and "this," which translate to "I agree with what he's saying, but can't make a compelling argument as to why." And the media certainly loves it:
The speaker is Simon Sinek, who, among other things, is a "leadership consultant" and sells books and courses on how to make people work better. It's suspicious that a man whose livelihood revolves around being paid to solve problems in the workplace is telling us that there's a big new problem in the workplace that needs to be solved. But the larger issue is that his speech is vapid, full of baffling generalizations, and, frankly, a little insulting. So at the risk of being a sensitive, self-entitled snowflake, allow me to explore how this random middle-aged man didn't "perfectly explain" anything.
Sinek says millennials "confound" business leaders because they're unhappy in the workplace, despite being given a "purpose" and lots of free food, because millennials are apparently kindergartners settling in for snack time. The first cause of this problem is supposedly "failed parenting strategies," although Sinek says those aren't his own words. Okay, then whose words are they? The words of someone who dedicated years to studying millennials academically? Or the words of some grumpy manager who's upset that his employees want a living wage? And how did someone else's words find their way into your mouth?
Also, hey, please don't casually assume that my parents were terrible. Kind of a dick move, man.
Sinek rattles off a bunch of generalizations about how millennials were constantly told they were special when growing up, as opposed to all those other generations who were told they were useless pieces of shit. He also says that millennials got into honors classes and got top grades not by earning them, but because their parents complained to teachers. Wait, was that an option? Weird, when I got bad grades, my parents just told me to study more. If any of my peers' parents were yelling at the school to make their kids look smarter, I certainly wasn't aware of it. My experience was hardly universal, but anecdotes from chain emails complaining about kids these days that your grandma sends aren't universal either, and that didn't stop Sinek from citing them like gospel. And he certainly can't cite legal precedent, as states like California have an education code which states, "[T]he determination of the pupil's grade by the teacher, in the absence of clerical or mechanical mistake, fraud, bad faith, or incompetency, shall be final." There's no clause that makes an exception for "really, really pissy parents."
Sinek then sets his righteous crosshairs on participation medals. "They got a medal for coming in last," he says, raising his eyebrow like we should all find this equally hilarious and appalling. Sinek says "the science is pretty clear" that this awful act devalues hard work while embarrassing the people who came in last. Weird, it took me five seconds to find science that says the exact opposite -- that rewarding effort encourages kids to keep trying, and helps them see the value of hard work. Huh, maybe the science isn't so clear. And maybe, just maybe, giving a kid a plastic knickknack when they're eight doesn't forever shape their psyche.
I'm starting to think that the show you were on needs a new, less ironic name.
Simon -- can I call you Simon? I'm going to go ahead and call you Simon, since you seem to be on such familiar terms with me and my generation. Simon, let me tell you about my participation trophies. I got them for playing soccer, and they were handed out from a bag at the end of the year with all the ceremony of communist factory workers getting their lunch rations. My response was not "Well, clearly I'm going to be handed a six-figure job as an adult." It was "Neat, a trophy! Now I'm going to go back to thinking about Pokemon or farts, because I am a child." Later it was a nice reminder of time spent playing with my friends, and as I got older, eventually only the teams that won were rewarded. This did not shock and sadden us -- it was what we expected, and wanted, because we were actually capable of observing adult society, and we noticed that pro sports teams weren't handed many trophies for constantly losing.
But Simon says all of this caused us to drift through life until one day we entered the "real world," which to Simon means the workplace, because once you step outside the office, reality dissolves into a hypothetical cloud. And once in the "real world," we were all stunned to discover that we weren't special and that our moms couldn't make our bosses give us promotions. And so "in an instant, their entire self-image was shattered." What? Do you think no millennial ever watched their parents struggle with their career? Do high school and college exams, where you are literally graded on your performance and told that it will shape your future, not count as a "real world" which can affect your self-image? What the fuck are you talking about? But Simon is convinced that because of this, millennials have lower self-esteem than previous generations. Hey, that sounds like a conveniently vague, borderline-impossible-to-measure "fact" that you made up on the spot. Oh, and what data we do have suggests that you're wrong.
Data, as a reminder, is the factual stuff you can't cram into a shareable Facebook image, thus making it antithetical to Simon's career.
Simon then discusses social media addiction by pointing out that texting, Facebook, Instagram, etc. can give your brain a hit of dopamine. While that's true, Simon disingenuously compares it only to addictive behaviors like smoking, gambling, and drinking, while ignoring that you can also get a release of dopamine by exercising, accomplishing a goal, or getting a hug from a friend. Also, that's a vast oversimplification of what dopamine is and does, Simon, but that's another problem. Simon argues that we have "an entire generation that has access to an addictive, numbing chemical through social media and cell phones." Sure, and we all have access to drugs and alcohol too. Have you noticed that, while some people struggle with alcohol addiction, we haven't become the first generation in human history to be made up entirely of alcoholics? Because most people are in fact capable of consuming in moderation?
But no. To Simon, we're all addicts incapable of forming proper human relationships or even sitting through meetings, and our lives are all going to be destroyed by our iPhones. Next, he adds a "sense of impatience" to our many woes. Amazon has next-day shipping! Netflix lets you stream movies! Tinder exists! But there "ain't no app" for job satisfaction and strong relationships, and this disconnect is making us hate our lives because we're not instantly making a difference in the world.
"You can Pokemon Go, but you can't Pokemon Go Up the Corporate Ladder, am I right?"
Hey, Simon? I know that changing the world through hard work and having the ability to stream She's The Man whenever I want are vastly different, because (and this is a key component I think you overlooked) I'm not a goddamn moron. Yes, some millennials have unrealistic expectations because they're still adjusting to adult life, but fucking no one is saying "Why do girls keep dumping me even though Amazon can send me six video games and a box of Oreos in 36 hours? Life is so confusing!" Tell my millennial friends who work multiple jobs or put themselves into debt so they can go to grad school to meet job requirements that they're impatient and demanding instant gratification.
Simon then tells us that we're standing at the bottom of a mountain, that love and job satisfaction are at the summit, and that we have to be patient if we're going to climb it. Millennials, you see, are simple creatures who need even simpler mountain metaphors to comprehend complex ideas such as "love." And if we can't learn to climb Patience Mountain? The worst-case scenario, he claims, is something we're already seeing: an increase in suicide rates. It's true that suicide rates are up, but they're up across the board. And the biggest jump is among middle-aged adults, a problem linked to stress caused by professional and financial problems. It's almost as if the real issue is economic conditions that affect everyone and can't be solved by inspiring mountain symbolism. But Simon glosses over that to warn all millennials that they'll never find "joy," regardless of how you care to define such a vague concept.
Simon's lecture on macroeconomics is just him talking about the yetis of avarice for 12 minutes.
Simon concludes by blaming corporations for not teaching millennials patience, social skills, and how to find fulfillment. "The total lack of good leadership in our world today is making them feel the way they do" is the conclusion our leadership consultant conveniently arrives at, arguing that companies need to work harder to make up for the failures of society and parents. And nothing spells "good management" like "substitute parents." His solutions include taking cellphones out of conference rooms and dinners with friends, and having more small talk instead. Solving an entire generation's problems is as easy as your dad's family dinner rules. Put down the phone and you'll enjoy life more. That's the ingenious, never-before-heard conclusion that this 15-minute video with four million views was building toward.
Well thanks, Simon. Now where's your pithy solution to the fact that salaries are going down while the cost of health care and education and housing is going up? What bold leadership solutions will help the fact that 40 percent of America's unemployed are millennials? Social media addiction can be a problem, sure, but that's like saying the biggest problem on the Titanic was that the food was too salty. Millennials aren't stressed out because their Facebook posts aren't getting enough likes; they're stressed out because the economy is shaky and society's reaction is "Stop texting so much and learn to love life, you self-centered kids!" Where I live, the unemployment rate is 8.5 percent. My millennial friends would like job satisfaction, but some would also just love to have a fucking job. Don't infantilize us. Don't act like you're some great sage gifting us with wise insights when you refuse to acknowledge the actual problem. You're like a mechanic lecturing us on the importance of rotating our tires when we came to you with cut brake lines.
Maybe if we all stop using Snapchat, school will get cheaper!
At least Simon repeatedly tells millennials not to blame ourselves for being narcissistic crybabies, as it's not our fault participation ribbons rotted our brains. It's also probably not our fault that the workforce is suffering from economic stagnation, which is affecting everyone, regardless of age. But it's hard to make a viral video out of the immense complications of the global economy, which is why you've condensed the problem to smartphones and our parents giving us trophies when we were six. Now, because your video was so successful, you get to go on a lucrative speaking tour, while we get to read irresponsible headlines that twist your already-dubious arguments into proof that we're a bunch of lazy narcissists who have something inherently wrong with us.
Maybe you can't be blamed for taking the easier path, as you were never given a reward for putting effort into your work.
But hey, why bother? Complaining about millennials is an industry now. Those angry headlines generate clicks, and Simon is far from the only person to have written a cash-grab book about how to "manage millennials," as if they're self-centered aliens who just arrived on the planet. But we're not unique. Baby boomers were dubbed the "Me Generation" because they were considered lazy and narcissistic. The goddamn ancient Greeks complained about their uppity kids. If every generation was as lazy as the previous generation claimed, we'd have already devolved into moss-covered sloth people.
You want to know the real secret to managing people well? Treat them as individuals, not a faceless mass sharing the same traits that you can conquer with the right cheat codes. And maybe don't ask if they need a sippy from a juice box when they express economic anxiety.
Meanwhile, the massive cultural and economic shifts that are underway cannot be comprehended and addressed by some random guy rambling fortune cookie wisdom into the camera, the media treating him as an expert despite an apparent lack of qualifications, and all of us going "Oh, yeah, he's totes right" on Facebook and then assuming everything is solved. Its as if we've given him an award for mediocre participation in the discussion.
Learn how the generation gap makes it impossible for us to all get along in 5 Lies Millennials And Baby Boomers Believe About Each Other, and see how teens are unfairly judged in 5 Complaints About Modern Teens (That Are Statistically BS).
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Imagine being trapped aboard the doomed Titanic on an icy Atlantic. . . with the walking dead. Check out Chris Pauls and Matt Solomon's Deck Z: The Titanic.