Monday Musings…. In Praise of Millennials and Gen Z’s!

For the last number of years, we have been bombarded with article after article bashing these two generations that are simply trying to find their way in this world, just like every generation before them.

The Millennials (those born between 1981-1996), have been branded the ‘entitled’ ones, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of their educators and employers. Time magazine, in 2013, went so far as to call this the Me, Me, Me generation, pasting the labels of Lazy, Selfish, and Shallow on their lapels, citing evidence from a glaring spike in narcissistic personality disorder diagnoses. Millennials, after all, grew up in the participation trophy era, which ultimately primed their young minds for expectations of “promotion regardless of performance”. Technology, the pundits have said, has ‘dumbed’ them down, and combined with parents who have coddled them, has resulted in their stunted development towards becoming responsible adults.

The Gen Z’s (born between 1997-2012) have fared no better; in fact, when it comes to mental health, they are known as the most stressed out generation. Their daily decisions seem to be based on input received not by parents or teachers, but from social influencers on Instagram and YouTube. They are slaves to the blue light, but defend their screen time as essential to keeping informed and connected with the rest of the world. Who needs in-person conversation?

This poses a real challenge for educators. How do we get these two generations engaged and prepared for the real world? Do we have to become like the ringmaster in the Barnum and Bailey circus tent and entice the crowd with a plethora of spectacular or absurd choices hoping to draw their attention away from their navels or Notebooks? I actually had a former dean instruct my department years ago to come up with “sexy” titled general electives?? Really??

Well, the Ringling Bros. Circus became defunct in 2017, and while I’m sad to see an entertainment icon fold, it sent a message that we don’t need to send in the clowns (or ‘sexy’ titled gen eds) anymore to draw a crowd. So, what then, will draw the attention and capture the interest of the Millennials and Gen Z’s today?

Discipline. Yes, you read that right – discipline!

Now Baby Boomers, your mind is likely going to the ‘strap’; and Gen Xers, yours is going to the ‘time-out’ chair. But you’ve got it all wrong.

Discipline should not be equated with punishment; it has everything to do with training, and training to become better, stronger, and wiser than you were yesterday. And, believe it or not, there is a hunger for this type of discipline among our young adults today.

My proof? Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020.

I’m teaching a course for students in first responder programs, and two weeks ago, commented that I had wished that one of my sections had started at 5:30 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m. We are learning about hardship, struggle, and sacrifice, and how the obstacles in our personal and professional lives can seem insurmountable. We discussed how with training and a life of discipline we can overcome any challenge we may face.

A student then piped up, “I’d come at 5:30!” This was followed by another voice and another, until a chorus erupted: “Let’s do this!” And so, having secured entry to the building at that hour, we agreed that we would meet the following week at 5:30 in the morning.

My alarm went off at 4:00 a.m. I drove through the dark county roads with zero traffic, arriving shortly before 5:00 a.m. and lo and behold, my first student was already there! By 5:30 a.m. 40 out of 43 students were sitting in class, in full uniform, ready for their three hours of training. Some drove from over an hour away to be there, on time. I was supremely impressed.

No one dozed off, in fact they eagerly participated as it if was mid-afternoon. With each concept learned, they mastered it in practice. They embraced Jocko Willink’s theory that discipline equals freedom, for by 8:30 a.m., they’d already accomplished more than their peers in other programs. These Millennials and Gen Z’s broke every stereotype of entitlement, slothfulness, selfishness, and shallowness. No one was even on their devices. We met, face to face and soaked in the training.

These are not only the rescue heroes of tomorrow, they also represent the potential of the present-day pupil, who sees not only the challenge, but the value of embracing a strong work ethic. They don’t just want to settle for mediocrity, they want to become unstoppable, as Tim Grover would say.

Every generation has had it’s entitled and lazy people. It has nothing to do with the year you’re born or how your parents raised you. Deep inside each person, I believe, is a drive to become better, stronger, and wiser with each passing day. But that drive just gets you to the starting line. Action is essential.

This life is not a spectator sport or t-ball tournament, where you’re rewarded merely for your effort; it’s about embracing the challenges, pushing past our default quitting mindset that wants the easy route, and actually getting results by following through on your commitments to train, each and every day.

Build your life on the foundation of discipline and you can't go wrong.

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© 2020 Connect the Thoughts: Charlene Mahon