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Thursday, December 1, 2016

What Haven't Millennials Destroyed?

I am probably the most unlikely person to write an article explaining or defending the behavior of the Millennial Generation. I am a solid Baby Boomer, born in 1952 and poised to turn 65 in a little more than a month. 

As an interested reader and researcher, though, I have had the misfortune to read a number of articles recently, supposedly written by credible journalists (if such a thing exists anymore) and in noted newspapers and magazines (same caveat). In these articles, the Millennial Generation has been blamed for the departure of all sorts of things we have come to know (and love?) over the last half-century or more. 

Things that are considered standard for America’s households and culture. This murderous mayhem, as recounted in supposedly serious journalistic accounts, in just 2016 alone, names the following items that this generation has been responsible for the disappearance of (a partial list, mind you): bar soap, “normal” names for babies, the Olympics, diamonds, paper napkins, vacations, running for exercise, trees, the wine cork, the McDonald’s McWrap, the golf industry, the movie industry, the automotive industry, the cereal industry, the workday, the suit, the San Francisco music scene, the focus group, the cubicle, crowdfunding, Canadian tourism, Gen X retirement savings, retailers, restaurants, Home Depot, bosses, malls, gyms, credit, wine, email, light yogurt, car shopping stereotypes, the history of communism, talking, and themselves.

 If that is not enough, go ahead and add in that Millennials are also apparently responsible for Brexit, lusting after food, lying about their parents’ mistakes, having great sex while also simultaneously not having enough sex. They’re not motivated to save money, they put federal IT systems at risk, they caused the AT&T merger with Time-Warner, and they’re responsible for Trump’s rise. And they did this all in one year!As I said at the beginning, 

I’m not the official defender of the Millennial Generation, but wait a minute! This is a large group of people, but they’re between the ages of 18 and 34 and they’re only getting started in life. If they can be responsible for all of this in just one year, imagine what they’ll do when they really get going! Here’s what I do know. I work very closely with a couple of Millennials. One is my business partner and co-founder of Grilo Enterprises. 

He is not at all interested in destroying things or killing off businesses. I find him eager to learn, sensitive to the needs of others, anxious to do some good in the world, and to exert positive change for our clients. He motivated me. I’m the one who has spent a lifetime trying to motivate others. His enthusiasm and zeal to do good things has reinvigorated my life and has been an inspiration for me to get excited about my career again. 

After giving me all of this, he talks to everyone who will listen and tells them how much I have done for him! I don’t get it. If he is typical of his generation, and I think he is, then we have a wonderful world waiting for us. Like many in his generation, he grew up, not wanting, but not experiencing excess. The Great Recession forced him to work hard and to value everything he has. He is extremely frugal and wastes little. 

He is mindful of his diet and his health (a lesson I could have used 40 years ago). When I bought a little container of Dixie Cups for the office bathroom, he just didn’t get it. He still won’t use them. They cost money, they’re a luxury, and they may be bad for the environment, all issues that are very important to him and his generation. Wonder why they don’t use paper napkins? Millennials have been forced to make some tough choices in their young lives. Every indication points to the sad fact that the Millennials will be the first generation since the Great Depression (and possibly even in the history of our nation) that will not be better off and wealthier than their parents’ generation. That’s a hard pill to swallow. The job market has been brutal, wages are stagnant, if not lower. 

The Great Recession pushed them into deep debt with student loans, and, according to Forbes Magazine, 60% of college graduates from this generation have been unable to find careers in their chosen field. In the last government administration, much was made of the growth in the job market, but little was said about the quality of the jobs created. They were primarily low-paying, minimum-wage, service positions with little chance for advancement or even permanency. Because of the incredibly slow growth of the economy over the last ten years, we are already seeing many of these jobs disappear as Wal-Mart closes almost 200 neighborhood stores and chain restaurants begin drastically cutting back on locations and staff. 

They weren’t, perhaps, great jobs, but some job is better than no job (take it from someone who knows). What kinds of choices must be made in such circumstances? A working-class homemaker once told me that when things got tight in her household, the first thing to go was paper products. Paper napkins, paper towels, even tissues could be substituted for cloth products like real napkins, real towels, and handkerchiefs, which could be washed and re-used (what a concept!). 

Our Millennials are making just such choices. If paper napkins are too expensive, wasteful, and bad for the environment, then TOO BAD! If this generation couldn’t afford rent for a house or an apartment, or couldn’t afford to buy a home and had to move in with parents, does that make them responsible for difficulties in the housing market? Maybe, but only indirectly. 

Overall, it’s the general status of the economy that is the real issue, not a plot on the part of young people to sabotage these markets, industries, or products.I don’t mean to be critical or controversial here, nor even generational, but many of the problems faced by the Millennials stem from the quality of the education they have received, especially at the college level. Over the last 40 years or so, colleges have changed their curricula and have made themselves into vocational training schools. 

Declaring most majors in undergraduate programs prepares the student for a career only in that particular, very narrow field, and really only for a “beginner” position in that field without much room for advancement. Let me explain. The college I attended (yes, we gathered in caves for our lectures) described itself as a “liberal arts college.” Its stated purpose, even though we had several majors to choose from, was to teach the students, upon graduation, to be able to think. 

In other words, we were exposed to a broad spectrum of topics and requirements that were totally unrelated to our majors. I had so many requirements and pre-requisites that I was forced to take classes in summer sessions in order to finish in four years. I took life and natural sciences, literature, languages, philosophy, history, and so much more, in addition to classes in my major area of psychology. According to a recent article in Forbes, employers are looking for students who have skills in their major areas, but are also looking for “soft skills” such as critical thinking and shared inquiry. 

If a candidate wants even a beginning position they must also demonstrate knowledge in finance, marketing, project management, and business administration. Many people believe that they will acquire these skills as they go along in life and gain experience. Employers today are not willing to wait until you catch up. They can choose from a global pool of talented candidates who may well be better prepared than you are. All is not lost. I still think that we can turn things around and make a better world for all of us. I believe that this generation still has the potential to continue the unbroken strain of progress and advancement. You CAN out-earn and exceed your parents in Generation X. It will take hard work.

 First, don’t give in to socialism. If you hear these words from anyone, “Hello, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Turn and RUN AWAY! As valuable as it is, government cannot solve our problems. Remember the old saying, “a camel is a horse built by a committee.” 

That’s the government. It’s good at a few things, but not everything. There is nothing like private industry and the genius of entrepreneurs to move science and society forward. Just look at the heroes of your generation like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. No government involved. Progress. You may not like this next part as much as you liked the above, but don’t stop learning.

 Read, read, READ. If you can’t or won’t, then do what my business partner, Guigo Grilo, did as he prepared to found his financial firm – find a mentor. Guigo was not too proud to ask for help. He knew that he was missing some things and wasn’t understanding some things, so he sought out someone he trusted and took a leap off the cliff. 

There are lots of people out there from other generations who will be more than willing to share their expertise and experience. That kind of learning is better than any classroom you will find. Remember the old saying about education, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” Not, always true, perhaps. I have had some teachers whom I respect and cherish, but few stack up to the mentors I have had who were actively involved in the “real world”, day-to-day experience of business in a hands-on sort of way. 

You will be amazed at the progress you can make in a very short amount of time. Learn about finances. Find out how money works – especially how it can work for you. The principals are the same, whether you’re looking at the micro or the macro. They’re relatively simple and they can make a huge difference for the way you handle your own money, or the money of your company. My suggestion? Don’t need to take a class, just come and meet with us at Grilo Enterprises and we’ll teach you everything you need to know.