I have a friend who just landed a very impressive job at one of the biggest companies in the country. I won’t name the business, but trust me — it’s a place that is a very big deal, that could set my friend up for life. He’ll have everything: a starting salary that is more than I’ll make by the time I retire, every benefit you can imagine (and some you could make up), an enviable 401K package, paid parental leave, even extra perks like a paid gym membership and daily meals provided.
When I asked him about the job, do you know what he talked about the most? How he can’t wait to see what the next thing is. He’ll put in some time at this place, but he has no intention of staying forever and he hasn’t even started working there yet!
“Is there really a step up from there?” I asked. “What could possibly be a better place to work?”
He didn’t have a lot of specifics, just insisted that there would be something else that he would do after 3-5 years. I pressed him on his lack of contentment and finally, he admitted that looking to the horizon — even unrealistically — helped keep him sane.
“If I think about being in the same place for the next 50 years of my life,” he said, “I’ll go nuts. If I think about this job as that permanent, I’ll scare myself into turning it down.”
He wasn’t exaggerating — he nearly didn’t take the job.
At a certain point in one’s life, I am sure contentment sets in rather naturally. You begin to get sentimental about your efforts at work, the house your children grew up in, the changes and progress within your church or hometown. But most Millennials haven’t reached that point yet. They haven’t spent enough time forming those attachments and instead are racing from opportunity to opportunity as fast as they can. Why? Because they know that pretty soon they will slow down and hit that spot of contentment. They will be tied down by responsibilities that are unavoidable. And they are trying to delay it as much as they can.
In one of my favorite interviews regarding generational issues, author and public speaker Jason Dorsey jokes that if a boss asks a Millennial the typical hiring interview question, ‘where do you see yourself in five years’, the Millennial will respond, “In your chair.”
This generation is known for being overly ambitious and having a reach that exceeds their grasp. Part of their motivation comes from a sincere place of excitement and talent. But another sizeable part comes from a feeling of suffocation and fear.
Millennials — especially the beginning of that generation — aren’t just “young people” anymore. They are young people who see the end of their youthful tunnel. Birthdays now make them feel old. If they don’t have kids, they are starting to consider their biological clock. Their metabolism is slowing and they are confused about their weight. They recover slower from injury and workout regimens. These issues are normal to everyone older than they are. But it is the first time this group is feeling it and it is fueling desperation alongside their ambitious drive.
When you see this discontent or zealous determination in your employees, don’t be alarmed or offended. Realize that their attitude comes from a place of desperation and fear about themselves, not a lack of respect for you. Feel free to take advantage of their ambition — more often than not, that can be a good trait in an employee. By letting them spread their wings, flex their muscles or grow, you are actually helping them feel better about where they are at in life.
Emily Enger is a Millennial farm kid turned farm journalist. She also works in marketing, serving as communications director for a nonprofit that covers nine rural counties in northern Minnesota. These opinions are her own and should not take the place of legal or professional advice. To comment or pitch future topics, email her at emilygraceenger@gmail.com . For reprint permission, email editor Joan Kark-Wren at jkarkwren@leepub.com .