Time Magazine calls millennials the “me, me, me generation (who are) lazy, entitled, narcissists.” Others claim they are “self-interested, unfocused, and technology obsessed.”
I guess they’re right. I’m no generations expert. But here’s the problem with the disparaging labels so many talking heads want to give the kids: they apply to me, too.
There is no one in my world who matters more than me. Of course, like any husband and parent, I’d give my life for my wife and family––and possibly a few close relatives and friends. Honestly, I’d have to think about that list more. But these gut checks don’t really serve as a convincing counter-argument to selfishness. A natural protective instinct is hardwired into all of us. I don’t have a choice there.
Short of life and death situations where my family is at risk, I’d prefer to spend my time thinking about what I can do for me.
Virtually every moment of my day is spent in service of me. Yes, I do nice things for people often, but if I’m honest about it, I do them because they make me feel good about myself.
I love to be served, and I’m a really big tipper. But that’s because it makes me feel good about what a generous person I am, and it buys me a friendly smile and greeting the next time I come around. For me, it’s not just a fair business exchange, but an elegant one.
You may think I write these posts for you. On some level, I do. But I wouldn’t write them if I didn’t get something out of the process for myself.
Maybe that means I’m narcissistic. Or maybe that’s what all of us do, and millennials––and I––are just more willing to admit it. I like that about us (there I go again).
When I was a kid, I used to wonder if the entire world existed just for me. I imagined that when I strolled around a corner everyone I’d left behind stopped acting because I was out of sight, or better yet, that the world I couldn’t see vaporized then reappeared just before I hit the next turn. The first time I saw The Truman Show, I thought, “I was right!”
I also work a lot. I’m away from home just about every week and often work 10-hour days. But I’m lazy. In fact, one reason I work so much is so I can earn enough money to pay others to do all the things I’m too lazy to do, like mow the yard, vacuum the pool, wash the car, and clean the gutters.
There is no one more obsessed with technology than I am. I get new phones and laptops more often than I get my teeth cleaned. I buy a new TV annually. If they change the acronym that describes the picture from HD to UHD, I gotta have it. Or even better, if they make the screen .01 inches thinner or three inches wider, I’m in.
I’m a first adopter’s first adopter. I owned the first Betamax, CD player, camcorder, digital tape recorder, and cellular phone––the one the size of the President’s “nuclear football.” I buy them because I like the way I feel when I do––and because they’re fun.
It’s also fun to sit on the couch and watch the Geeks from Best Buy try to mount my new 80-inch LCD on the wall. I’m such a good person that I even let them show me how to work the remote, even though I already know more about it than they do, having spent two hours in the store playing with the darn thing.
Does that make me entitled? That word gets thrown around a lot today, and I’m not sure I know what it means. If it means I have a right to think what I want, say what I want, and do what I want––except yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater––then yeah, I’d agree that I am entitled.
If it means that I have a right to have everyone else take care of me and my needs, then no, I am not entitled––not because I’d mind everyone else taking care of me. I just figure they’re actually too busy obsessing about themselves to do an adequate job of worrying about me.
What I’m trying to say is that I think we all are all about ourselves. In fact, I don’t think I’d trust someone who claims they’re not.
How could we be anything but self-absorbed? We exist within ourselves. The person we are with every moment of our life is our self. The person we constantly talk to and who constantly talks to us is our self. We cease to exist when our self does. Given all of that, how could we not be selfish?
Maybe we ought to give millennials a break. Consider that they’re just trying to deal with the same dilemma we’ve all dealt with for far more years: how can we get as much pleasure out of this existence as possible without coming across as a total narcissistic a-hole?
Is it really millennials’ fault that their parents haven’t taught them to mask this motivation as well as previous generations?
So yeah, I guess I’m the oldest millennial, all about myself.
But then, there are those brief moments when I do have the feeling that I’m more than just me, that this separation from others I experience is just an illusion. That we are all part of the same cosmic stream, and that my real purpose for being here is to simply do for others.
But fortunately, as I say, those moments are short-lived, easily interrupted by my new 16-inch subwoofer blasting an explosion from the latest Jason Bourne movie. Thanks, technology, for saving me once again.
Two last things about me:
I spoke with Maureen Anderson, host of the Doing What Works podcast, on safety leadership. Listen here.
My book, Heretics to Heroes: A Memoir on Modern Leadership has won another award–Bronze Medalist in the Memoir category from the Axiom Business Book Awards. When I told him I won the bronze, my millennial son with the dry wit responded, “In other words, you lost.”
What a fun post! And spot on. Underneath it all, people fundamentally move towards what feels good and away from what doesn’t. Why I love the millennial generation is we share a strongly-held core value to make a difference in the world.
Guess that makes me an early-adopter, ahead of my time! 🙂
Thanks, Synthia. And great point––I love and share millennials’ determination to make the world better, too. It turns out selfishness and selflessness aren’t mutually exclusive.
Thanks, Cort. From another 60 year old millennial. Absolute poetry and 100% truth.
Everyone acts out of self interest, and selfishness can be a wonderful virtue.
We all need to stop lying to ourselves. When we deny our own truth, we deny our own potential.
That’s a sharp observation, Joe. Nixing the lies we tell ourselves is the first step toward getting better in any situation.
I think the article that calls the millenials “the me, me generation” is trying to make the point that their perspective is absolutely necessary to make a better world according to the current challenges of the humanity today, but at the same time their lack of social skills, their inability to conect with other human being heart to heart or with the wind and the nature, gives this generation a huge disadvantage to enjoy the real life and to connect with their real self.
Great point, Samuel. I am just arguing that those traits aren’t unique to millennials. We all have them and in some ways, have to fight them.