As a women born in the early 80’s, I am a millennial. Phew, I said it! This realization did not come easy to me, in fact I have spent the last 6 years ignoring that I could even be classified as one. I have been known to say things like, “I’m different”, “these characteristics do not describe me”. “oh, millennials these days”. These claims accomplished very little, other than creating an illusion that I some how curtailed the negative stigma attached to this generation. Characteristics such as needy, narcissistic, impatient, and seeking special treatment are those which I adamantly denied, all the while accepting the positive attributes such as driven, intelligent and over achieving.
In my first couple years as a new professional, supervising undergraduates kept my denial at a healthy level (if that’s even possible). I was managing students who were several years younger than myself, thus the spectrum of millennial traits was from one end to the other. Comparatively, I felt I was in different generation from my 19 year old counterparts. Two years ago, when I began supervising professional level staff members, I was astonished. They were only a couple of years younger than me and I was still seeing some of the same traits I recognized in my undergraduate staff; smart, driven and competitive, but also at times needy and impatient. It was during a conversation about this very topic with my supervisor that I came to the realization that I too was guilty of these same qualities. In deep reflection, I began to recall instances where I screamed “millennial”. For example, when I started my first job as an Area Director I questioned and challenged everything my department did, expected recognition for a “job well done” even when I was responding to a minimum expectation, and often thought about how lucky my department was to have me in their midst.
As a I write these words I feel a sense of embarrassment for the way I carried myself in certain instances. Entitlement as a young, white, and educated woman contributed to my behavior on many occasions. This is not to say it has all been negative. There are many attributes which have aided in my success as a young professional and have helped my department to grow in many ways. My point is this; simply denying the fact that you are millennial does not make it any less true. Taking ownership and responsibility for our natural tendencies only makes us more self aware of the areas in which we need to grow. It can be a hard pill to swallow, but the advice I have given myself can be summed up as Acknowledge, Honor, Adjust and Move Forward. Although this has felt like a 12 step program from me in many ways, I have managed to shorten it to 4:
•Acknowledge your actions, thoughts and behaviors and do not abandon your natural tendencies.
•Honor yourself for who you are.
•Adjust the things which are not productive or do not positively contribute to your organization, and
•Finally, move forward and put your self assessment into action.
I have learned to appreciate the freedom of being able to acknowledge my shortcomings. After all, we are in the business of higher learning, so self discovery is paramount to the success of our departments and in turn our students. How can we lead our evermore self focused student population, if we continue to be in denial of our own shadows? My challenge to other millennials like me is to continue to challenge yourself equally or more than you challenge others. It is a daily struggle, but I have found deep fulfillment in recognizing who I really am as a part of the journey to growing into who I really want to be.