I love talking about millennials and I love talking with millennials. Born in the very early 90’s, I’m part of the generation myself and I have to say, I’m proud of it. Go ahead, categorize me, chances are you’ll be spot on. Do I panic if I leave my apartment without my cell phone? Absolutely. Did I study what many would call a ‘useless’ field in college? Yep, and I’ll be forever proud of that Sociology degree (and it’s turned out to be not so useless after all, Dad).
These characterstics aside, I also fit the less-recognized specs of a millennial: I stick to my values above all else; I believe in collaboration at the expense of competition; and I work for more meaning than a paycheck. I’m a change maker and an idealist, and like many others in my generation, I’ve learned that being an entry-level change maker can be really challenging.
I won’t tell you that I’m an expert, because I’m certainly not. But, I’ll let you in on some of the lessons I’ve learned.
Speak up. I frequently find myself being the youngest person in the room or on a team. I know this phenomenon won’t last long, but for a while I was censoring my ideas and perspective because I thought my age or experience rendered me unable to meaningfully contribute. However, I eventually swallowed my self-doubt and started to share my questions and ideas with my team members. The first thing I noticed after I started to speak up was that many times my contributions had a big impact on the cause, and my team’s trust in me only continued to grow.
Hold onto your passion. When I graduated college and left academia, I was terrified that the “real world” would strip me of my passion for social justice. And yes, some days it sure seems that the real world is trying, but I haven’t let it. I find ways to incorporate what I’m passionate about in every job that I do, and if I can’t, I set aside time to divulge myself by participating in local activism, listening to podcasts, talking with friends, and more.
You were brought on board because someone could see the passionate fire in your eyes – you give a damn about what you do. Weave that passion into everything you do, talk about it with everyone around you, including your co-workers. If you do I promise you won’t lose it.
Seek feedback. I’m the sort of person who truly loves receiving feedback – both praise and criticism alike. So, that huge event I just planned is over? Let’s convene to talk out what went well and what went wrong. I’ve got an annual review coming up? Great. I’m psyched, and I show up (literally and mentally) with lots of questions.
Learning to ask for, accept, and apply feedback is a crucial aspect of creating successful impact from your work. You’ve got so much to learn from the rest of your team. Whether you formally or informally ask your leadership and peers about what they think of your work – it’ll only help you grow.
Understand resistance, and build from it. Often, ideas and perspectives can fall into one of three buckets: 1. doable, 2. not doable, and 3. intimidating. It’s important to fine tune your ability to drop your ideas into the appropriate buckets with whatever feedback you’re given. What you see as an elephant in the room may be a security blanket for many on your team, but that does not mean that what you’ve just voiced should find a home in the second bucket. After all, change can be scary.
So, be strategic. How can you talk about the issue your idea seeks to solve in an approachable way? This does not mean censoring aspects of your perspective, but rather meeting your team where they are. What case can you make to advocate for change? You know there is a case, or you wouldn’t be starting the conversation. Is there someone else you can to talk with in order to gain some organizational or historical context and workshop your ideas?
Meanwhile, if your insight does fall in the second bucket, don’t let that shake your confidence in speaking up. Explore why your idea isn’t feasible, learn from it, and move forward.
To my fellow millennials: we are a huge force in the world. The work is up to us now, and we’re going to do it well. Let’s do this.