Dissecting Millennial Entitlement and Feelings of Disappointment
The Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain’s host Shankar Vedantam reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.
Hidden Brain is one of my favorite podcasts. The drivers behind human behavior affect all of us because guess what, we’re all humans! It’s intensely interesting to listen to a dissection of what makes us do the things we do or feel the way we feel.
On Hidden Brain’s episode “Me, Me, Me”, Shankar interviews Jean Twenge, a researcher author of the books The Narcissism Epidemic, and Generation Me, which takes a closer look at Generation Y, better known as Millennials.
This was especially interesting to me because I am a Millennial. It’s always fascinating to hear about the popular opinion on my generation; in my business (media/advertising), Millennials are talked about constantly.
But unfortunately, the popular opinion is not that great. The key points from the podcast point out that:
- Due in part to the fast rise of social media, there was also a rise in narcissism in Millennials.
- Millennials are becoming even more separated from being a community (communal society) and instead, are raised to be as individualistic as possible.
- The high self esteem boasted by Millennials does not actually correlate to high performance and results.
- With ego inflation given by parents (i.e. “You can do anything!”) at a young age, Millennials are growing up to be depressed and anxious as adults because of the discord between their expectations and reality.
While I do think most of things that they pointed out are valid, I want to hone in on the concept of high self esteem and in turn, the depression and anxiety Millennials feel as they reach adulthood.
As mentioned in the podcast, high self esteem does not actually have anything to do with actual results. The example mentioned is that most Asian Americans score low in self esteem but have some of the highest academic scores in the country. Millennials are already giving themselves a high worth before achieving anything that is actually noteworthy and deserving of high self esteem. They are in essence putting the cart before the horse. Not to say that they shouldn’t have confidence in moving forward with what they are doing, but self esteem should be built slowly over time and not driven forward as a motivator to do something. The skill is developed and the self esteem and confidence should build over time.
I went to a conference recently that was about women empowerment and I was extremely lucky to be able to listen to the personal story of one woman’s rise through the ranks. Throughout the whole talk, I couldn’t help but notice that this woman had no qualms about tooting her own horn. When she spoke about getting a promotion, she said it was because she was good at what she did. She knew her shit (excuse my language) and she had no problem telling people exactly that. It was fascinating to me because if she were a Millennial, which she was not, her speech would have been considered conceited and overconfident, but she actually had the experience and long history of employment to back everything up so I could see no fault.
This basis of having experience to support confidence is definitely key and definitely something that Millennials lack, but this lack of experience shouldn’t be a driver in preventing Millennials from also taking risks to further their careers. Which helps me segway into my next point…
I want to mention another podcast that ties closely with this which is Megan Tan’s Millennial, a podcast about coming of age. Specifically, I wanted to mention the episode called ‘Double Life’. In it, Megan has to make a decision about whether she wants to quit her stable public radio job or quit doing the Millennial podcast. There’s one point in the podcast that she mentions talking with different people in her life looking for advice, and most of the advice is telling her to keep her stable job. But she continued having this feeling that told her she wanted to pursue her own business. What really resonated with me is when she questioned whether her tortured thoughts were just due to ‘Millennial entitlement’. Was she just unhappy and depressed because she was a Millennial and as such we have high expectations and would never be satisfied? Is that our fate? To be perpetually unhappy?
Just because we, as Millennials, perhaps do not have the experience that others do and do not have the years of knowledge that older generations do, does not mean that we should be called entitled because of wanting to pursue happiness. I definitely believe that ‘Millennial entitlement’ is a real issue. Perhaps tying in to Hidden Brain’s point of being raised to believe we can do anything.
It’s one of those “What do you mean I can’t do that yet? My parents told me I could!”
Parenting is hard. I believe that for a fact. But it can’t be denied that for a while there, parents revelled in telling their kids that they could do anything they wanted when they grew up, as long as they did well in school, got good grades, and worked hard. This is exactly what my parents told me. I worked hard on my studies, got good grades, went to a good university and still realized that no, I would not be making a 6-figure salary straight out of college, and no, the best companies will not hire me with no experience. These are the realities that, while obvious to those out in the workforce today, were not explicitly laid out to us. I had no real work experience coming out of college, which is a huge regret, because I was ‘focusing on my studies’.
And that’s why I take up arms when somebody mentions ‘Millennial entitlement’ not because I don’t believe it exists, but because I don’t like the generalization that young people trying to pursue their dreams at the extent of a stable career are ‘entitled’. How is that entitlement when they are working hard, maybe not in a typical career path, but in other ways?
Millennial entitlement to me means those people that expect raises and promotions every couple of months or get mad because things aren’t handed to them on a silver platter. But if somebody is feeling unhappy at their job and want to pursue something different? That’s not entitlement. Everybody has the right to pursue happiness.
I’m sure most Millennials, at this point, do question themselves at every moment about whether they are doing the right thing, is it just our fate to be unhappy, will we just always be unsatisfied? But I believe that pursuing a path of happiness is everyone’s fate.
So just go for it.
Thank you to the Hidden Brain and Millennial podcasts for giving me some food for thought!
An Entitled Millennial 😉