By Emily Jordan – Guest Contributor
On one February morning, every teacher in my school received an “Intent to Return” paper in their mailboxes. When I saw that paper in my own box, my palms immediately started sweating, my throat tightened and my heart started pounding from somewhere deep inside my chest.
I was 22 years old and had no intent to return for the following school year. It was my first job after school, and in just 2 months I would be graduating with a Master’s in teaching, which would surely be useless the moment I slipped this notice back into my principal’s box.
But I was so unhappy, so unfulfilled, and so full of dreams and ideas of my own that the decision to quit came easy. It was living with it that was diﬃcult. I had always wanted to be a teacher. I had endless daydreams of my own classroom, of helping a struggling student, giving a math lesson, reading aloud, passing out papers. This was what I wanted. So, why was I leaving? Why, at 22 years old with a bachelor’s degree and 2 months from a master’s, bilingual and with international work experience, was I quitting my first ever salaried with benefits job?
I remember thinking that maybe you were right. Yes, you, from the generation above us millennials (or maybe even the one above that.) You, the one frustrated with 20somethings like me who just don’t know the value of hard work. You, the man or woman who believes we don’t want to work, we’re entitled, and only interested in instant gratification.
I was terrified of it being true: that I was lazy, entitled and didn’t want to work. After all, I knew other unhappy teachers, other miserable employees from other companies, and they were all sucking it up and not quitting their jobs. Was I actually one of those stereotypical, whiny millennials who bailed when she didn’t get her way?
Yes, I thought about you when I decided to quit after just one year— what you’d think of me and what you still might think of me 2 years later after having never returned to traditional employment since.
But I know now you’d be wrong if you concluded I was entitled, lazy, or only in it for the instant gratification. Because now, I run my own business as a health & life coach for young, unhappy women. I’m self-employed and have relied on my own creativity, courage and ideas to support myself, and even as members of separate generations, we both know how little laziness or instant gratification is involved in starting your own business.
This stuﬀ is hard work, just like teaching was, but it’s the kind of hard work that comes with a sense of purpose and fulfillment at the end of each long, sweaty, exhausting day. That’s the kind of work I was raised to do, and that’s how I know I am not an entitled, work-ethic-less millennial. I’m a hard worker just like you. I want to feel productive, successful and proud, just like you. I’m willing to come in early and stay late, just like you. Perhaps the greatest diﬀerence between you and me is my tolerance for work I’m not connected to.
You yourself have no-doubt been in a position where you’ve had to do work you did not enjoy, tasks that not only did not give you life, but sucked the life right out of you. You know that feeling: the feeling of wondering what the point is, being fed up with the rigmarole and hoops to jump through, and the indescribable fatigue and relentless frustration that sits square on top of each new day’s list of things to do.
It’s an awful feeling that anyone in the workforce is bound to rub up against at some point or another, both you and us millennials. Feeling purposeless and unfulfilled in your work is not generationally specific. What is generationally specific, however, is the courage to listen to that discrepancy between what you do and what you really want to do and to act on it.
Choosing purpose over a salary is most definitely a millennial thing to do, and it’s exactly what I did as I placed a shaky check mark in the blank next to “I do not intend to return for the 2016-2017 school year. Please consider my position a vacancy.”
So, then, how are you supposed to work with us? Are you to defeatedly accept that we’ll only work if we want to work? Or are we supposed to start sucking it up and doing our jobs, ignoring the voice inside saying, “This is not who you are.”
We need to get on the same page. We need to understand each other’s expectations and then work to meet those expectations as best as possible.
For starters, the word “work” itself is already a point of diﬃculty. We’re all using this word “work,” but it’s clear we’ve got diﬀerent ideas of what this means.
“Work” for you is a concept completely void of enjoyment. It’s what you have to do to live. You don’t ask questions, you’re just happy to have a job and be able to provide for yourself and your family. It’s separate from play, and you work hard now so you can stop working later.
But we were raised by you with a much diﬀerent perception of “work.” “Work” for us is supposed to involve something you like doing. It doesn’t have to be just one thing, either. It can be a multitude of things, a combination of hours and titles that fit together to not only provide for ourselves financially, but also emotionally, spiritually, and fundamentally. We do have the luxury of designing our work, and therefore do not have to feel that sense of fear-induced gratitude for work that generations before us know all too well.
“Work” is diﬀerent for you than it is for me. I need more than just hours and a paycheck. I need something meaningful, something with purpose. We’re using the same word with vastly diﬀerent perceptions, and if we’re going to work together (which we are), then we’d best at least understand what we’re talking about.
We also need to make sure we’re both coming in with clear expectations. An expectation of a millennial employee might be the opportunity to work remotely. This is often met with bitterness and the assumption that we don’t want to work, simply because we expect to be able to work outside of the oﬃce.
Why not address expectations like these rather than meet them with the poorly drawn conclusion that our expectations come from a sense of entitlement? Perhaps, instead, they stem from logical cultural, technological and professional advancements and not a sense of entitlement. What good does it do anyone involved to try and accomplish the same goal with diﬀerent expectations for performance? Understanding and being clear with expectations from both sides of the aisle is crucial if we are to work together.
Working with millennials, “The Generation That Doesn’t Want to Work,” doesn’t have to be impossible. A challenge? Perhaps. But the times they are a-changin’, and we need to change with them. Let’s get on the same page so we can all do work that does more than just fill our bank accounts, but fulfills us as people.