Last week I attended the Gallup Great Workplace summit. The bulk of the conference was devoted to how millennials want to work and live. Like any good Gen-Xer, I roll my eyes when people start talking about the gentle snowflakes that are the people born post-1980. I'm part of a generation that has been, largely, irrelevant for its entire existence so excuse me if I can't muster sympathy for how misunderstood you are, child.
I have to admit, however, after a full day immersion into Gallup's newly-released report on millennials, I have changed my tune. What millennials want from their careers - purpose, opportunities to learn and grow, an understanding that there is no difference between their being and the work they do - that's what I want too. They just aren't waiting until age 40 to ask for it or discover it...
And I think that's pretty awesome.
I spent the first 20 years of my work life working for a paycheck. I never considered that there could be more to my job than a means to attain the "stuff" that I was raised to believe matters - a house, a vacation here and there, and a healthy retirement fund. I really thought I had it all figured out when I made my way to the nonprofit sector and realized that I could do all that and help people at the same time.
Just before I turned 40 I started a mentoring program with my-then CEO. I was challenged to answer questions like, "What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?" and "What (or who) really matters to you?' (FYI - no where in there was an answer that closely resembled, "A kick ass Marketing Director who can sell stuff to people that they may or may not want," which is exactly what I was at the time.) A few years later I started my graduate program at Case Western and was challenged to answer all the same questions again.
Six years later I have a pretty clear idea of what matters to me and my one non-negotiable has become that I don't ever want to do work again just for a paycheck.
Now don't get me wrong, I like my paycheck... a lot. Like a lot, a lot. But the paycheck alone isn't enough. And neither is just working for a nonprofit mission. My work isn't just to help others, it is the truest expression of who I am so the requirements are different. I need to be able to contribute in a way that capitalizes on my strengths and allows me to use my real talents. I need space and freedom to learn and grow which also means lots of permission to fail. I need to know that I don't have to hide the best parts of me at home to fit in. I need an environment that embraces my personal mission as a means to attain the organization's goals.
And, by the way, I want all of that on my very flexible terms - where I can spend an afternoon in the sunshine should it finally decide to show itself in the state of Michigan without fear of being reprimanded for not clocking in and out at a specific time - because I'll work my ass off the rest of the time as long as the work is meaningful, interesting and appreciated.
Simply put, let me be me - free from fear or shame - and I will move the heavens and earth. And I don't fault anyone that is striving for the same - not a millennial or anyone else. Becoming the truest expression of oneself is the most noble purpose any of us can hope to serve.