may16-02-78916547

Although generational differences are often overstated in the workplace, Millennials do face a unique challenge, thanks to the reality of modern 24/7 communication: “ruthless comparison” with their peers.

In a recent series of hundreds of interviews with twentysomething Millennials across the United Kingdom, I heard this over and over again. As one Millennial described the challenge, “We are a generation that is ruthlessly comparing ourselves with those around us and our role models at the same time. And if we are not doing something exceptional or don’t feel important and fulfilled for what we are doing, we have a hard time.”

The ruthlessness of this comparison creates anxiety and uncertainty in one’s self, as I heard repeatedly over the course of the interviews. If we’re going to address the problem, we need to know why it occurs. My interviews surfaced three reasons in particular: false representations of achievement on social networking platforms, the sharing of stories of hypersuccessful Millennials, and the rise in choices and options that Millennials have in building their careers.

  • Misrepresenting achievements on social networks. Millennials highlighted that they feel pressured to keep up with their peers’ accomplishments that are broadcasted through social media, and explained that they couldn’t help but make comparisons to their own accomplishments (or lack thereof). Interestingly, many interviewees remarked that they recognized these social posts were “curated,” ignoring the difficulties of day-to-day life and highlighting successes. However, even though Millennials recognize this, they spend increasing portions of their days connected to various forms of media, so comparisons are inevitable — as are the deflating feelings that come with them. Unsurprisingly, a recent study by the University of Michigan suggests that the more a person uses Facebook, the worse they feel.
  • Media stories of hypersuccessful Millennials. The media’s enthusiasm for youthful success stories can also create a misleading impression. Stories of a small number of Millennials’ profitable exits from startups or rapid climbs through corporations create an unrealistic idea of success for individuals early on in their careers, a reality many interviewees acknowledged but had difficulty embracing. For this reason, lists such as the Forbes 30 Under 30 are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they show Millennials their peers’ journeys and successes, but on the other, they remind Millennials that they’re never doing enough. Meteoric successes do sometimes take place, but they are rare, and they often require lucky breaks, great connections, or years of diligent and unrewarding work realities, which is glossed over in many media profiles.
  • Countless options in possible career paths and constant striving to achieve potential. In Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, psychologist Adam Phillips writes that “we are always haunted by the myth of our potential.” He attributes part of this to the relative affluence that Western society now enjoys; however, the reasons that Millennials interviewed cited for the emphasis on constantly exploring options include social media; entrepreneurship’s growth in prominence as an accepted life path; and a belief that they will work in many jobs rather than in a single career. Furthermore, many interviewees believe that realizing their dreams is possible, in part because of the proliferation of self-help media, whether a TED talk or a listicle. These resources seem to equip audiences with the information required to achieve any goal — but, again, Millennials described a double-edged sword. Even as they explained the appeal of self-improvement advice, Millennials also critically examined it, with one interviewee remarking that these articles suggest, “If you do these five things, you will become the person you are reading about….It’s like, well, they also have eyes, so does that mean if I also have eyes I will also be Elon Musk? No, of course not.” Interviewees remarked that this comparison to hypothetical future selves creates dissatisfaction, as they believe that the door is always open to fulfill their potential to a greater degree elsewhere.

While each of these three factors has deep roots and isn’t likely to evaporate in the near future, the Millennials I talked with did discuss some tactics for reducing ruthless comparison:

  • Reflect on the “golden threads” that connect your own hobbies and activities. Comparison through social media encourages us to look at what has been successful for others, but it does not lead to reflection on what themes continually surface in one’s own work. Through our education, reading, and hobbies, we all develop skills and interests. These competencies, or “golden threads,” as one interviewee called them, emerge time and again throughout a person’s career. The threads help us cultivate values and a sense of groundedness in an uncertain world. Indeed, as Albert Bandura, professor emeritus at Stanford University, writes in The Psychology of Chance Encounters and Life Paths, “Through this internal source of guidance, people give direction to their lives and derive satisfaction from what they do.”
  • Adopt a “long view” of vocation. Successful careers are built over lifetimes, a reality that was often lost on the Millennials I interviewed. A 2014 study by PayScale.com suggests that pay for women and men peaks between one’s late 30s and late 40s. But the Millennials I interviewed said it was a challenge to remember this. In an interview between Chip Castille of BlackRock and Laura Carstensen of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Carstensen states, “For the first time in human history, we’ve got more time. So we could make young adulthood longer. We could enter the workforce more gradually and exit more gradually. We could reach the peak of our careers in our 60s and 70s instead of our 40s and 50s.” Lengthening lifespans means that Millennials should think strategically about their long-term careers and life goals and what it will take to achieve them over 30 to 50 years rather than three to five years.
  • Embrace solitude. Interviewees often comment that having a 24/7 connection to mobile devices and laptops is psychologically exhausting, and that this interrupts time for individual reflection. Millennials should therefore view solitude — time spent contemplating important questions related to one’s work and life — as an investment in their own well-being. Crucially, solitude here is not time spent alone on a laptop; rather, it is being alone and free from distraction — an activity that is increasingly rare in society.

Millennials can be proactive in approaching these challenges by reflecting on what motivates them, thinking about the long term, and setting aside time for solitude — steps that together reinforce strong internal standards of success and bring focus to a person’s work life.

Source: https://hbr.org/2016/05/the-problem-with-millennials-theyre-way-too-hard-on-themselves?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=harvardbiz

Advertisements