Friday, June 27, 2014

Self-Awareness and Shiny Objects (ooo…was that a squirrel?)

Our world is changing if you haven’t noticed. In particular the biggest generation ever seen, The Baby Boomers, is getting older and retiring from the work force. This reality is changing the way we think, how our businesses run and…is that a squirrel…the general makeup of the available work force. The millennial as we are referred to is preparing to take the helms and drive our country…oooo shiny things…into the next phase of the future. Someone is cooking hot dogs downstairs and it smells delicious. What am I going to eat for lunch? What am I going to do this weekend?

The big white elephant in the room should be paid attention to now. We are easily distracted like a dog chasing a squirrel, the film UP! comes to mind. My mind wanders all the time. Most of our generation has been diagnosed as ADD or ADHD. We are all drugged up and over caffeinated. Starbucks and drug companies that produce Adderall, or the generic form, are making cash off our general characteristics. At the same time we are comparing ourselves to a different generation and coming up with self-defeating ideologies that hold us back. We can’t focus, we’re not reliable, we’re not loyal, and on and on these general assessments of a millennial goes when compared to the old way of doing things and the baby boomers that came before us.

Rather than trying to duplicate what a great generation did, it would be more progressive and productive to understand what they did, why they did it and how they were.  What was the norm and why? Well, think about it, Baby Boomers are considered to be born from 1946 and 1964 or post-World War II. So they were kids following the war, any idea what happened before the war? The Great Depression started around 1930 and lasted until about 1940 by most estimates. Most of us have parents or grandparents we can vividly recall ironing out used aluminum foil or washing plastic cups to save money and resources. Why did they do that? Well, simply put, they had to during the Great Depression. The war hits and during, but mostly afterwards we (USA) experience a huge surge of resources and money. We became wealthy, but we were not removed from our roots. Baby boomers’ parents experienced the Great Depression first hand and passed on habits and behaviors to their children. Those children now have children and grandchildren who no longer can accept those behaviors and ways of thinking, the world has changed drastically. Staying at a job for 30 years was considered common place for this generation. Working factory jobs and manual labor was the glue that held out country together. So we were taught by these folks and this became the norm, the baseline for what is considered standard. Our generation naturally compares ourselves to the baseline and comes up with a judgment on ourselves based off that analysis.

We have poor work ethic. We aren't loyal to a company. We believe in pipedreams. Our heads are in the clouds. Are we though? Is it fair to generalize these statements to our generation? Meghan Casserly does a great job at comparing the two generations in her Forbes article Millennials and Baby Boomers: At Odds or Peas In a Pod? The reality is that the world doesn't require what the baby boomers view as traditional or good any longer. We don’t operate in a manufacturing or industrial age anymore. We are in the technology age, which requires much less hard work than it does creativity. What are creative people though? Daniel Pink does a fantastic job in A Whole New Mind describing how right-brainers will rule the future. A right-brainer as a very loose and general statement is someone who is creative and brain chemistry is strictly different from those left-brainers, which many of the baby boomers are. We have a huge opportunity coming up quickly (the youngest boomer is 50) to become the next generation of leaders and movers. We have the opportunity in front of us to change things for the next generation. The question is, how do we resolve ourselves with this existing mindset that presently rules the professional world?

The answer is complex and many have opinions, mine of which is maybe a fraction of a percentage point in the grand scheme of academia and the professional world. But, since this is my blog, I’ll give you my thoughts anyways. The key to unlocking our full potential as a generation of right-brainers is self-awareness. I’d actually extend that prescription to everyone, self-awareness is the key to growth. If we don’t know how our minds work and how our environment is changing how can we anticipate being of any nominal impact? The key here is to learn as much as we can so we understand how to apply what we've learned, what we've learned about ourselves, not the past or the way things used to be. Here are books that have really helped me gain a better understanding of myself in order to position myself for greater success in the future:

Marti Laney offers great insights to how an extrovert and introvert’s minds work. Some of the book is cheesy and about relationships, but all in all Introvert and Extrovert in Love is a great read that helps you understand why you have such a short attention span. Mindset is a great read about how we view ourselves in comparison to the world. Pink introduces the idea of right-brainers to the general populace candidly and helps you understand why those youngsters or even why you act and think the way you do. So what? Read a bunch, but I can’t focus (you would understand why if you read these books). I’ll just wait until the boomers retire knowing there will be a labor deficit and we’ll all finally get the jobs we want and deserve, right? No, no sir, you are incorrect and taking a huge risk. Why not prepare yourself now for what is to come so when that day comes and the workforce experiences their own little rapture you are standing head and shoulders above anyone that would be considered competition.

I make checklists to stay focused. I go to a crowded coffee shop if I want to really focus on reading. Do I take Adderall? Yes, I take Adderall, but only when I needed it, understanding why and when I need it. My point here is, instead of seeing yourself as something less than, by educating yourself on, well, yourself you can become better and confident and well-quipped to rule the future. 

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