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Trophies For All!

I've tried, I have.

I've tried extending opportunities to these Millennials. I dish it up for them, and all they have to do is a little bit of work and…

Disappointment. Every time. 

A little background: I run a blog writing service. We write blogs for businesses. Those businesses are run by people who are just too busy to write their own blog posts.

I thought when I started this that we'd have two great sources of freelance writers to help do that writing: stay-at-home moms and recent grads. The moms, I figured, have a spare hour every now and again and they are smart and some of them are good writers. They just lack an opportunity to write for pay. Zillions of them write for no pay on their own blogs, and that's all fine, but in general those are only read by the people they are already friends with.

That part has worked out very well. Many of our best writers are busy moms who make time for Blogmutt customers.

The other category is college kids, or recent college grads. They, right now, are either working at a coffee shop, or not working at all and either way living in their parents' basements.

I've been there. When I graduated the economy sucked and journalism jobs were hard to find, but you could always find work somewhere and I ended up at the Durango Herald and had some of the best times of my life.

While the Herald is still there, the reality is that the entry-level jobs for writers are far fewer percentage-wise than they have been in generations. I know there's lots of writing being done, but my job at the Herald was "Staff Writer." How many jobs with that title are out there today? Not many.

So I figured that these young Americans would be interested in writing work. Our pay is right in line with the industry, and it would be a lot better than spending all day asking people if they want room for cream. Maybe they could even make enough to move out of their parents' house, get a place of their own.

I really did try to reach out. I would get myself an invitation to go speak to college students anywhere I could, and recently got what I thought would be a perfect invitation to a class specifically designed to help graduating seniors from what for now is still known as the J-school to find work after they graduate.

The class had 35 students. I started by showing them this Ira Glass video. It's so good.

 

I then talked to them about the big idea in that video, that the most important thing is to work hard, to produce a body of work and to work regularly. As I looked around the room, I got a bunch of blank stares.

So I used the standard technique for engaging an audience, I started asking them questions. "Do any of you have anything lined up for after you graduate?"

After an uncomfortable silence, one of them asked, "You mean… a job?"

"I don't want to put boundaries on it," I said. "A job, an internship. Going into the Peace Corps. Anything in the works for after you graduate in a couple of months?"

More awkward silence. 

I then pointed to one of them. "How about you?"

"Well, I hear there's lots of jobs in San Francisco, but my parents keep telling me that I'll get free room and board if I move back home to Minnesota."

So, out of this class of 35 people -- people who went to college to study writing, need experience in writing, and don't have anything at all lined up -- guess how many of them signed up to be writers? One. One guy was brave enough to apply. I put him into the system straight away. After a week he wrote one post. One. The writing was fine, the customer liked it. Nothing glamorous. The posts we write at Blogmutt remind me of the "briefs" I wrote every day when I worked at the Durango Herald. Nothing groundbreaking, just work.

But work, it appears, is not what Millennials do. I'm not alone in discovering this, by the way. I've had this conversation recently with a lawyer, a CPA, a cell phone exec, and others. They all say the same thing: I asked a new associate to do something recently and they told me "no." They told me they had volleyball or something. When I was their age I never said no. 

This connected an important thread for me. I live by Wash Park and every weekday evening I see zillions of people in their 20s hanging out playing volleyball, drinking, having a grand old time. I've often wondered why there didn't use to be so many people hanging out in the park, especially people in their 20s. When this lawyer friend told me that about the associate who left work to play volleyball, it suddenly became clear: It used to be that young people worked. There was a time we were called "Yuppies" and that was short for Young Urban Professionals. There's nothing professional about the Millennials, so the term has just faded away. 

Look, I don't have anything against volleyball. You want to be a professional volleyball player, that's great. Play all the time. If you want to be a writer you should be writing.

Now… I don't want to be scrooge. It's great that people can have some fun with friends, but you get good at the things you do. Read Malcolm Gladwell. If you spend a lot of time hanging out with friends doing nothing, that's what you'll get good at.

I don't totally blame Millennials. It was your parents who gave you a trophy for finishing fifth out of six teams in your soccer league. They are the ones who came to school every couple of days dropping hints about how brilliant you were. They were the ones who helicoptered over you. They are the ones who offer you free room and board if you move back home. 

I was talking about this with a friend recently and heard about an office where parents regularly show up with their children to demand more for their children. This was not a middle or high school, or even a college office. This was the graduate job counseling office of a law school. These kids earn a law degree and still they have their mommies and daddies come with them to demand more from school because they deserve it because they are special! Is it the kids' fault for bringing those parents along, or is it the parents fault for going? Hey, there's plenty of blame to go around.

It was your parents who voted for Baby Boomer presidents (Clinton and GWB) who were just like them and those turned out to be the two worst presidents we've had since…

Yes, that's an interesting question. Since… I think, a similar pair in Wilson and Harding. Those were the ones, along with people of their generation, who were so self-absorbed and incompetent that they led us into the stupid first World War, left a screwed up Europe and eventually led us into the Great Depression. You know who got us out of the Great Depression and saved us from tyranny around the world? Well, now we call them the Greatest Generation. They don't like that title much. You know how they did all they did? There are still a few of them around, and they'll tell you if you ask them. They won't say they saved the world. What they will tell you is that all they did was work and work hard and work all the time and then work some more. 

They did such a good job that they built America into this amazing powerhouse that could put a man on the moon, build the world's biggest and strongest middle class, survive Vietnam and Watergate. The only thing that they didn't do a great job on… was raising kids. Most of those kids were OK, but some of them were the classic Baby Boomers, the ones who wanted to take over because they had better hair. The classic Baby Boomers, I would say were Clinton and George W. Bush. And just like Wilson and Harding they were so self-absorbed and incompetent that they wrecked the economy and got us into another crappy war: the War on Terror. (Not taking anything away from the supremely awesome troops.)

Now before you say Clinton was not bad because the economy did so well while he was president, and we had peace, may I point out that he had many chances to get Bin Laden, and missed them all. He had a chance to stop the Enrons of the world, and didn't. The economy grew, but much of that growth was fueled by people cheating, and it was headed downhill at a pretty good clip when he was wrapping up. 

But it sure did seem like things were going well with the economy for a while there under Clinton... so much so that your parents thought they wouldn't really have to work that hard, and that's a value that you picked up on. It turns out that the most important formative years of childhood that most affect your attitudes about money come when you are about 10-11 years old.

Do the math. If you are 24 right now it means that you were 10-11 in 1999, right when the economy was the most frothy. You "learned" that if you just have a good business plan -- Pet Food On The Internet! -- you could make a zillion dollars. 

Well, you learned wrong. What you learned is the stuff that screwed us up. Luckily it's not going to get too bad. We're not going to let it. Who are we? We're Generation X, and we are a lot like the X Men. There aren't as many of us as there are of you, but we can do these amazing things that you simply can't do.

First thing we did was elect a non-Boomer president. Politics aside, that last election was between a borderline Gen Xer and a borderline member of the Greatest Generation. Both parties rejected the classic Boomers who were the early favorites.

Can you imagine if that election had been between Boomers John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani? <shudder>

Once the primaries were over, those that read about McCain learned that he's all Boomer in his views about how special he is because… well, you know, because he is. For me, the 2008 election was less about politics than it was about generations. 

Luckily the economy is now getting fixed, for real this time. And it's Gen X that's doing the fixing. Xers like Sheryl Sandberg and Sergy Brin. Xers like Brad Feld, Adeo Ressi, and Dave McClure. Xers like Jim Reiner and Ruth Bremmer

Boomers were all intent on replacing "The Man" with themselves because they really know how to change the world because they trust their gut. Xers ignore "The Man" and just go out and change the world. This is well laid out in the excellent X Saves the World, really the only book I've seen that lays out the case for how Gen X is quietly keeping the whole nation from a giant suck-fest that it would be if the Boomers and their Millennial offspring were left in charge.

The Boomers sure aren't going to save the world, for as much as they talk about it. It's us, we're going to save it by just showing up and working hard every day.

And as for you Millennials, well, Stop Whining! We're sick of you telling us about how you need to find your work meaningful. We're sick of you telling us about how you want balance. We're sick of you telling us that you can't work Thursday after 4 p.m. because you have your Ironic Polo Club. We're sick of you working somewhere for six weeks and then asking when you will be taking over as management. We're sick of it all.

And you know what we can't wait for? One point in time. That point will come when you realize that you are expendable. Right now you think that you should have all the things that come with hard work, and you should have them because you've always had them. (Soccer trophies!) You just don't want to do the work. 

But here's the rude awakening that's coming: The next generation. Our kids. My son comes downstairs every morning and finds me working, and he often falls asleep to the sound of my typing. He's started two businesses, and he's 8. We sit and watch Shark Tank together and he has a dead-on sense of which businesses will get an offer, and which will not. He has dreams about my current business, Blogmutt, in which he's solving business problems.

That's right. In his sleep he's better than you are awake.

And he's not alone. An 11-year-old relative of mine recently asked me if I was sad about Whitney Houston, "Because she's from the 1900s, like you."

Pause, and take that in for a moment. "The. 1900s. … Like. You."

She's not from the 1900s, she's from this century. She'll see you, born the 1980s or 90s as being essentially the same as the Xers born in the 60s and 70s. We'll all be lumped in together, and so you know how she'll judge us? 

By our work.

Have you invented Google? No. Then get back to work! 

Now, sure, you will say that Millennials can work. Look at Instagram. Yes. Let's do. Those are not whiney kids, those are people who are smart and work hard. They said it themselves: They saw the "wantrepreneurs"  all around them going to parties, hanging out around incubators playing video games, reading every story on TechCrunch and commenting on all the stories about how stupid an idea was and how unworthy it was of TechCrunch coverage. What were the Instagram guys doing while the Millennials sat around talking about changing the world? They were working. Solving problems. Focussing not on themselves but on their users. 

Now, you may be asking how I can write such incendiary things. Three reasons:

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First, I'm not worried about any Millennials reading this. If it's longer than a tweet, they can't handle reading it anyway and so they didn't make it this far. If they did read this far it's probably because they are one of the exceptions that are so amazing in part because they stand out so dramatically. Millennials like the "boys" pictured above working 14-hour days on an organic vegetable farm, or writers like Téa Obreht who taught herself English by watching bootlegged Disney movies and wrote every day for as long as she can remember. There are even a few entrepreneurs who show promise.

Second, Even if they did read this far they aren't able to do anything about it. It's like that scene from Bull Durham where Kevin Costner challenges the hot young pitcher to throw the ball right at his chest. The pitcher says he'll kill him, but Costner knows the guy won't come close. He doesn't, either.

Lastly, Let's say there's one Millennial out there who's read this far, is outraged at what I say, and decides that he or she needs to prove me wrong, so that person goes to sign up as a Blogmutt writer and writes 100s of great posts for dozens of different Blogmutt clients. 

Boy, that would really shut me up.