More students (and people in general) are embracing the risky and uncertain path of the entrepreneur/artist. The education system is being challenged more than ever. Online platforms—whether it be your own blog, Facebook or Twitter—is a part of who we are, what we do, why and how we do things. A business no longer requires a storefront but a forefront, whether it be a website or an app on your phone. Access to education and information? Right at your fingertips. How to do anything? YouTube. Some of the greatest books cost more to ship to your home than it is to purchase.
As Steven Pressfield eloquently observes in his Writing Wednesday series, he calls it The Free-Agent Mindset:
We—meaning anybody now living in the globalized/digital/satellite-linked/worldwide-web world—are faced with the challenge and obligation to make a primal shift in consciousness. This shift is as cosmic, I believe, as the transition from illiteracy to literacy in the Gutenberg era, from farm to factory in the days of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and all the post-Industrial Age changeovers since.
I’m not talking about external changes. Those are obvious. What’s perilous and critical and what we all need to become conscious of is the stuff inside. How have we had to change our minds and our ways of thinking about the world and about ourselves?
The poster child of this cultural and world change are the Millennials—or what Time has called, The Me Me Me Generation; also known as Generation-Y. This encompasses a group of individuals born from the years of 1980 to 2000.
The article goes on to express how my generation is lazy, entitled, narcissistic, and suffer from phantom pocket-vibration syndrome, but equally important, why we are capable of changing the world. Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation says:
At 80 million strong, they are the biggest age grouping in American history. Each country’s millennials are different, but because of globalization, social media, the exporting of Western culture and the speed of change, millennials worldwide are more similar to one another than to older generations within their nations. Even in China, where family history is more important than any individual, the Internet, urbanization and the one-child policy have created a generation as overconfident and self-involved as the Western one.
They are the most threatening and exciting generation since the baby boomers brought about social revolution, not because they’re trying to take over the Establishment but because they’re growing up without one. The Industrial Revolution made individuals far more powerful—they could move to a city, start a business, read and form organizations. The information revolution further empowered individuals by handing them the technology to compete against huge organizations: hackers vs. corporations, bloggers vs. newspapers, terrorists vs. nation-states, YouTube directors vs. studios, app-makers vs. entire industries. Millennials don’t need us. That’s why we’re scared of them.
Productivity has reached its true potential and now it’s time to reach ours. The focus nowadays seems to be going from external systems to internal systems (our self-talk, perception, worldview, etc.). Mastering our internal system—like the way the Industrial Age mastered productivity and created a safe, solid, and fruitful foundation for society to flourish—is imperative to innovation, growth, creativity, and learning.
But most importantly, it is essential for us to understand the cause of this narcissistic tendency in Millennials, and the most recent book that I read by Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, says it with utter brilliance. She defines shame as, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Now let’s tie this to the topic of narcissism; she goes on to say:
The topic of narcissism has penetrated the social consciousness enough that most people correctly associate it with a pattern of behaviors that include grandiosity, a pervasive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. What almost no one understands is how every level of severity in this diagnosis is underpinned by shame. Which means we don’t “fix it” by cutting people down to size and reminding folks of their inadequacies and smallness. Shame is more likely to be the cause of these behaviors, not the cure.For example, when I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose. Sometimes the simple act of humanizing problems sheds an important light on them, a light that often goes out the minute a stigmatizing label is applied. This new definition of narcissism offers clarity and it illuminates both the source of the problem and the possible solutions.
When MySpace first came out—and after years of reflecting on my own behavior and lust for attention and acknowledgement—I briefly understood the power and function of an online profile. I saw—at the time of thinking this way—losers being somebody. Now, I realize the “shame-based fear of being ordinary.” Maybe that’s why I put up pictures of Johnny Depp or Colin Farrell smoking a cigarette or looking cool because I wanted to express that I felt or behaved this way. Maybe it was in hope to connect with others who were intrigued by these people. At the core of it, we yearn and would do anything for connection, to be acknowledged and accepted by the community—sometimes at the sacrifice of our own values, beliefs, and well-being.
As Brené Brown further explains on how we protect ourselves from shame and the outcome of being relentlessly pummeled by shame, I can’t help but agree with all the points that she makes:
The part of this definition that is critical to understanding shame is the sentence “People will do almost anything to escape this combination of condemned isolation and powerlessness.” Shame often leads to desperation. And reactions to this desperate need to escape from isolation and fear can run the gamut from numbing to addiction, depression, self-injury, eating disorders, bullying, violence, and suicide.
Shame breeds fear. It crushes our tolerance for vulnerability, thereby killing engagement, innovation, creativity, productivity, and trust. And worst of all, if we don’t know what we’re looking for, shame can ravage our organizations before we see one outward sign of a problem. Shame works like termites in a house. It’s hidden in the dark behind the walls and constantly eating away at our infrastructure, until one day the stairs suddenly crumble. Only then do we realize that it’s only a matter of time before the walls come tumbling down.
We humans are resilient, and when our brains encounter a first-time experience, it figures out a way to deal with it. Like the first time someone cut you off on the road, your initial reaction may have been to flip them the finger or lay your palm on the horn. Why, exactly, do many of us do this?
We humans have demands—like being treated fairly—and when those demands aren’t met, there are usually cognitive or behavioral errors. Every time I see someone Facebooking or tweeting a status about their misery, a person who is trying to be something they aren’t, bullying, addiction, etc., I see shame and fear. It’s inescapable. When I hear a guy ranting at the bar saying, “Don’t ever get married!!” I smell shame and fear.
Shame kills innovation, creativity, connection, and learning. How many of us were bullies or considered ourselves losers throughout school? How many of us tie our self-worth to the letter grade at the end of a semester or a sales quota at the end of the quarter? How many of us have tried so hard to fit in, only to be expunged from those who we seek their admiration and attention? How many of us have changed our wardrobes not because we genuinely like the style and that it accentuate our features, but because it accentuates the opinions of others about us?
Most of us define ourselves hierarchically and don’t even know it. It’s hard not to. School, advertising, the entire materialist culture drills us from birth to define ourselves by others’ opinions. Drink this beer, get this job, look this way and everyone will love you. What is a hierarchy, anyway? Hollywood is a hierarchy. So are Washington, Wall Street, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. High school is the ultimate hierarchy. And it works; in a pond that small, the hierarchical orientation succeeds. The cheerleader knows where she fits, as does the dweeb in the Chess Club. Each has found a niche. The system works. There’s a problem with the hierarchical orientation, though. When the numbers get too big, the thing breaks down. A pecking order can hold only so many chickens. In Massapequa High, you can find your place. Move to Manhattan and the trick no longer works. New York City is too big to function as a hierarchy. So is IBM. So is Michigan State. The individual in multitudes this vast feels overwhelmed, anonymous. He is submerged in the mass. He’s lost. We humans seem to have been wired by our evolutionary past to function most comfortably in a tribe of twenty to, say, eight hundred. We can push it maybe to a few thousand, even to five figures. But at some point it maxes out. Our brains can’t file that many faces. We thrash around, flashing our badges of status (Hey, how do you like my Lincoln Navigator?) and wondering why nobody gives a shit. We have entered Mass Society. The hierarchy is too big. It doesn’t work anymore.
Companies are starting to adjust not to just millennials’ habits but also to their atmospheric expectations. Nearly a quarter of DreamWorks’ 2,200 employees are under 30, and the studio has a 96% retention rate. Dan Satterthwaite, who runs the studio’s human-relations department and has been in the field for about 23 years, says Maslow’s hierarchy of needs makes it clear that a company can’t just provide money anymore but also has to deliver self-actualization.
It goes on to say that employees are able to take classes like photography, sculpting, painting, and karate. That’s pretty amazing and a core example of how the workplace can shift from rudimentary tasks to finding fulfillment, attaining mastery, creating value, and embracing purpose.
So what matters now?
Seth Godin, in his latest book, The Icarus Deception, is one that ought to be read by anyone who wants to understand the vast changes in our culture, workplace, and ultimately ourselves:
It’s easy to become a self-paraody, whining about the imperfections in an almost perfect world that gets more perfect all the time. We finally got the industrial world working the way it was supposed to; we found our safe spot, our mortgage and our houses and our dream in the suburbs. The connection revolution has made it easier to find what we want, get what we want, and complain about what we didn’t get.
Can we really produce more shiny objects to delight an ever-growing population? Can we give the people who already have endless stuff even more pleasure by giving them more stuff? The economy we live in today is very different from the one our parents grew up in. We have a surplus of choices, a surplus of quality, a surplus of entertainments to choose from. We have big-box stores and big-box storage units and big-box debt. But we’re still lonely. And we’re still bored. The connection economy works because it focuses on the lonely and the bored. It works because it embraces the individual, not the mob; the weird, not the normal.
This shift from “how can we make the world more awesome” to “how can we make ourselves more awesome so the world becomes more awesome” is a spark that has caught the attention of many and will soon spread like wildfire. We are leaving (or already left) the Industrial mindset and now starting to embrace a new one—one that is focused on championing our innate, human desires. The machine is oiled and running well, but the operator is sick and tired. Time for a change.
Like Steven Pressfield said, “How have we had to change our minds and our ways of thinking about the world and about ourselves?”
There are certain underlying patterns and themes that reflect what I’m talking about—mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Dan Pink offers empirical evidence in his insightful book, Drive, on what motivates us and what we should be focusing on:
Humans, by their nature, seek purpose—a cause greater and more enduring than themselves. But traditional businesses have long considered purpose ornamental—a perfectly nice accessory, so long as it didn’t get in the way of the important things. But that’s changing—thanks in part to the rising tide of aging baby boomers reckoning with their own mortality. In Motivation 3.0, purpose maximization is taking its place alongside profit maximization as an aspiration and a guiding principle. Within organizations, this new “purpose motive” is expressing itself in three ways: in goals that use profit to reach purpose; in words that emphasize more than self-interest; and in policies that allow people to pursue purpose on their own terms. This move to accompany profit maximization with purpose maximization has the potential to rejuvenate our businesses and remake our world.
Indeed, there is no escaping the wonder and changes going on in our world.
However, it’s important to make a distinction. Seeking purpose such as how to make more money isn’t effective in the long run—how can I make money quicker to buy this Gucci bag sooner so that others can accept me ASAP?
Pink shows a study on students graduating from the University of Rochester entering the real world. The study focuses on two groups with two separate goals—money versus purpose:
Some of the U of R students had what Deci, Ryan, and Niemiec label “extrinsic aspirations”—for instance, to become wealthy or to achieve fame—what we might call “profit goals.” Others had “intrinsic aspirations”—to help others improve their lives, to learn, and to grow—or what we might think of as “purpose goals.” After these students had been out in the real world for between one and two years, the researchers tracked them down to see how they were feeling. The people who’d had purpose goals and felt they were attaining them reported higher levels of satisfaction and subjective well-being than when they were in college, and quite low levels of anxiety and depression. That’s probably no surprise. They’d set a personally meaningful goal and felt they were reaching it. In that situation, most of us would likely feel pretty good, too. But the results for people with profit goals were more complicated. Those who said they were attaining their goals—accumulating wealth, winning acclaim—reported levels of satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive affect no higher than when they were students. In other words, they’d reached their goals, but it didn’t make them any happier. What’s more, graduates with profit goals showed increases in anxiety, depression, and other negative indicators—again, even though they were attaining their goals.
The shift from mass productivity to mass consciousness is a movement, a revolution. We can pinpoint our behaviors that spawned from shame and make new decisions and adopt new beliefs tomorrow. It is clear that money doesn’t buy happiness, but rather the pursuit of mastery, autonomy, and purpose creates it. Many Gen-Ys may be narcissistic and entitled, but nevertheless, the establishment they’re growing up in, the tools that are available and that are being created can facilitate self-actualization, pursuing meaningful work, creating revolutionary ideas and products, and leaving a dent in the universe.
There is always an ominous smell before it storms. It would be wise for us to start planting some new seeds now.