embracing my “Inner Millennial”

I would probably need more than two hands to count the number of times that my boss told me he wished I was just 5 years older. Or that my hair had a couple more grays (I’m typing this knowing that I found 3 this morning. It’s becoming a now weekly ritual to find at least 2 long strands of gray framing my face.) I remember one time being a little daring at my salon and decided to have my stylist give me some bangs – which I hadn’t had since I was about 10 years old- and my first thoughts out of the chair were “NO. I look 5 years YOUNGER now.”

Of course – all the wants were for good reason. I had the very fortunate experience of being directly involved with clients through my agency from the start of my career, at age 22. I was introduced to Marketing Directors and CEOs as a key member of the account team and I was forever eager to make a good impression. I always tried to bring unique ideas to the table. I studied other brands, and prepped long hours for the meetings so that I would sound smart and be able to contribute something of value. Sometimes people liked my ideas, and I got to bring them to life – other times people were simply just polite, acknowledged my contribution, and then buried the idea under more important meeting notes. I didn’t have a ton of experience putting the ideas into action at this point– but at least I HAD ideas. I knew these ideas worked. I witnessed them working first hand.

When you walk into a meeting, no one asks you your age. They assume if you look young, you are young and you have little experience. They assume if you look older, you are older and you have some experience. I couldn’t pass off having experience – but perhaps if I only looked 5 years older people would just assume I had it. Maybe perhaps my ideas would have been taken more seriously.

And I hated the word millennial. As little as 5 years ago when I started my career, it was almost an insult to be called a millennial. Being called a millennial was another way of someone telling you that you were young, inexperienced, and had crazy ideas for how the world worked or should work. The stigma was just so negative.

But “young, inexperienced, and crazy” – is actually a good thing. It wasn’t my age that needed to change – it was my perspective about my age. Just as you would advise any new company in the “digital era” that you must embrace what makes you unique and different and find your market, us “millenials” needed to embrace what makes us unique and find our fit. That’s when we will succeed and that’s where we will thrive. Defining myself as a millennial is a no brainer for me and here’s why: By 2025, we are going to make up 75% of the workforce.1 By modern millennial terminology, “majority rules!” But really, scratch that. If we make up 75% of the workforce, we also make up an outstanding part of the population that companies are trying to sell goods and services to. In order for companies to sustain, and even to thrive, they have to be willing to adapt to selling to new markets – even younger markets. Taken a step further, they also need to understand HOW to reach these markets by “modern day standards”. The daily habits of the average millennial are completely different than that of older generations. How does the company fit in? At some point, just like the baby boomers before us, we are selling goods and products to our peers and friends – what we need more than experience is knowledge and a plan to apply it.

Technology is changing the way we live 10x faster than it has in the pastmaking the need for experience less relevant, and the need to be a forward thinker and “observation”-ist, more relevant. Our lack of experience can work to our advantage. I graduated from college only a few years ago – but I graduated college without ever having owned an iPhone. It was a big deal for me to have my email on my phone so that if my second class was canceled while I was still in my first class I knew I could go straight home. Now I can unlock doors in my house with my cell phone. Say what? It’s not so much about mastering skills to leverage your whole life anymore – you have to master other things, like being adaptive, open to change, and being able to see how change in technology is changing the world, so we know how to help change business along with it. We need to stay two steps ahead of our own experience to succeed.

Ideas are what powers innovation. Innovation is what drives change and change is what’s needed to remain relevant and competitive. So what if my idea has never been done before? Old ideas get overused and stop working. Take email marketing for instance. Is it effective? Yes. I’ve seen email marketing be totally effective for a lot of companies. But every company now signs you up for some kind of recurring email. Competition catches up, and saturation occurs. When saturation occurs you need differentiation. Maybe my idea has never been done before, but it’s different, you need different, so let’s consider trying.

We compete as a team. I could write an entire blog post about my dislike of the “everyone gets a trophy” culture. On a pros and cons list, I believe the cons outweigh the pros. BUT there are By not rewarding “only the stars” we were taught to focus on strengthening the team. When leadership stopped being rewarded it became less about outshining our peers and more about utilizing them to work toward a common goal. I’m not going to get a trophy for being an all-star MVP, but the only way that I win, is if my team wins. There is power in competing as a team and in sharing ideas and working together. You can accomplish more with 3 driven people than you can with one. Maybe that’s why according to Forbes Magazine a whopping 88% of us would rather collaborative work culture than a competitive one2.

…and we realize its about more than “just us”. We want to make an impact. We’re about the betterment of people and society. When I started building out Blend, I felt like something was missing. I had my portfolio, but I had this feeling that my company was lacking a cause. My company needed to exist for more of a reason than simply making money. I wanted my company to stand for something I believe in, and DO the one thing I know I want to spend my life doing – in friendship, in relationships, in work, in life: contribution. I needed to know I was making a difference somehow – that the work I did matters to someone other than me. When I brought up to a friend that I wanted to make charitable donations or investments as a portion of my business income a thing from the start (despite affordability) she remarked – “that’s the millennial in you”. Turns out, I share this want with about 64% of millenials2 – but seriously, how empowering is that? At some point we will leave the world a better place than we came into! We’re change creators.

We speak. We have the platforms to do it. Whether it be in a long Facebook post that half our friends complain about and half our friends like. A 140 character tweet. A photo. A video. A blog. An online journal. We are lucky enough to be enjoying the earliest stages of our careers in a society where we are able to speak. We still need to learn when it’s appropriate to speak up, and when it’s appropriate to stay quite. What is smart to say publically, and what is not. But we don’t lack the confidence to do it when the timing is right. We aren’t afraid of the rejection. We are quite used to the idea that “not everyone is going to love everything we say” – that’s social media 101.

Living in a world so different from our elders can be a little haunting. We have to accept that sometimes we aren’t going to get answers or the guidance we need from those with more experience – the world around us has changed so much that past experience sometimes won’t apply. But if we embrace it, stop being fearful of making mistakes, and embrace the things that make us unique, we can use it to contribute to our own lives, our companies, and society in big ways that only us “dreamer millenials” could even think of!

Data Sources:

1 http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacobmorgan/2014/08/22/the-future-of-work-how-millennials-are-changing-the-workplace/

2 http://www.forbes.com/sites/robasghar/2014/01/13/what-millennials-want-in-the-workplace-and-why-you-should-start-giving-it-to-them/