The millennial myth

I recently read an article written by a millennial named Sierra. The article started like this:

“Dear baby boomers and Generation X, quit telling us we we’re not special. Believe me, we know.”

I started really thinking about what Sierra said.

I’m a millennial myself, and I want to make it clear that I’m not speaking for everyone here, but I think that most of us would agree we were awarded for participation when we grew up. If we won last place, we still got a pizza party. When we colored outside of the lines, our parents still put the picture on the fridge. We got a trophy for playing soccer even if our team lost every game and we never made contact with the ball once.

We grew up being told that we were good at everything we did (which, maybe felt good at the time), but now how do we know what we are really good at? We can’t possibly be talented at every single thing we do. If we don’t know what our weaknesses are, how can we begin to improve them? We’ve also been treated the same as our peers—we all got trophies, awards, and honors—but now we are coming to the scary realization that the real world operates a little differently. We have to make ourselves stand out somehow, but we don’t even know how to begin.

There’s a lot of talk around millennial stereotypes. We have been called the “boomerang generation” that refuses to grow up. We say, “When did we have the chance? You guys made all of our decisions for us.”

I am really into this topic because in addition to being a millennial myself, I started a company in college when I was 21 and now employ more than 500 millennials in my company today.

When I was 21, I wanted a pair of jeans that I couldn’t afford. I asked my parents to buy them for me, they said no, and I put an ad on Craigslist to clean a house so that I could pay for these jeans. I cleaned one house, bought the jeans, thought that was the end of the story but it was just the beginning. The woman who hired me asked me to come back, she told her friends about me, and before I knew it I was cleaning houses five days a week.

My company, called Student Maid, just celebrated six years in business. We only employ students and we clean stuff – we scrub toilets, we vacuum, we dust.

We are known for the impact our culture has on the students who walk through our doors. Organizations frequently recruit from our graduating class of Seniors because they know our students are confident leaders who possess skills that most graduates nowadays simply don’t have. Why? Because we work really hard to reverse the effects of the praise overload we have been given our whole lives and we tell the truth about what to expect in the real world.

Since most of you won’t have the opportunity to work at Student Maid, here are some things we teach our students that you can apply to your life right now:

1. Failure is critical: It is the only thing that will really give you self-confidence. We have to fall down completely by ourselves and get up completely by ourselves in order to grow and learn.  What does this mean for you? Encourage the people in your life to let you do it…alone. When you have friends who need your help, try to stand back and let them figure it out…alone. We have to help one another grow up and this is the only way to do it.

2. Own our definition of success: We don’t define it like any other generation. Success, to us, is unique to each one of us. For other generations, success was more cookie cutter: they went to college, made a lot of money, had the corner office. For us – college was an expectation so while it means a lot to us, we don’t associate it with success like the generations before us did. And as for money – sure, that’s important, but we are looking for more than that. It’s about living, not just surviving. Success to us is loving what we do and who we do it with. Other generations might not understand this, but it’s okay. Own this definition and follow it.

3. Have realistic expectations: There is a book called The Defining Decade that I love (you should totally buy it). It’s written by Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist who talks a lot about what causes fear and anxiety in millennials. She asks, “Why do they tell us we can be anyone we want to be? Why do they tell us we are swimming in a sea of opportunity?” Well that’s assuming that money and experience don’t matter, and they do. The fact is, when we graduate we won’t be swimming in a sea of endless opportunity. We will be doggy-paddling, fighting to stay above water, and there might only be five or six opportunities that can get us out of that water, if that. There aren’t endless opportunities and that is okay.

4. Extend an olive branch: We know that we aren’t the best at communicating. We purposely call places after hours just to leave a voicemail so we don’t have to talk to a real human being. But what is so funny is that we actually want to communicate to others (in fact, we are desperately hoping that someone will start a meaningful conversation with us). We want mentoring and we want to learn from other generations, but why don’t they offer to help us? Why don’t they take us under their wings? Because you have to ask. They can’t read your mind and they are afraid you will reject their help. So, extend an olive branch by starting the conversation.

If you like this topic, make sure to catch my TED talk, The Millennial Myth.

Credit // Author: Kristen Hadeed

Learn more about Kristen Hadeed and her keynotes at You can also follow her on Twitter at @KristenHadeed.