I like Simon Sinek. I admire that he speaks the truth and calls things in out a compassionate way. However, I’m not content with the way he’s addressed the problem of Millennials feeling unfulfilled. I’m talking about that interview he did with Inside Quest about Millennials in the Workplace that’s circling around social media.
In the interview, Simon points out that Millennials are unfulfilled and that the consequences of this are depression, mental health issues and dissatisfaction in the workplace etc. He also points out the typical Millennial avoidance strategies – addiction to social media, pretending like we’re happy when we’re not, and giving up and moving on to something more exciting when we don’t get the instant gratification we expect.
Simon also offers a few solutions on how Millennials can create deep and meaningful relationships in order to enjoy more fulfilled lives. Suggestions, such as removing the phone and thus the temptation of addiction, and talking to our colleagues before meetings start. Great strategies, but neither looking close enough at the reason for the addiction, which, if not addressed will actually manifest as another addiction somewhere else in the person’s life.
So, let’s start with the why.
Why are Millennials avoiding creating deep and meaningful relationships?
I’m a Millennial. I wasn’t happy in a corporate job and I didn’t know why, so I left to go traveling. Fast forward 7 years and I’m on track to living the way I want to live. I work when I want to and I love the work I do. I travel, I write, I read, I play, I dance, I sail. Most importantly I have deep, meaningful, and emotionally connected relationships with the people in my life.
The 7 years in between has been an interesting ride:
My fiancé and I broke up.
I quit a few more jobs.
I traveled round the world twice, or maybe three times, who’s counting?
I worked doing jobs which allowed me to travel, but in 3 years never committed to one job, a romantic relationship or one country for longer than 3 months.
I fell in love and got my heart broken.
I fought my way out of a violent attempted rape.
I lost my father.
And finally, I reconnected with the emotions that I’d been subconsciously running away from.
I think if you’d told me at any point between my mid-twenties and now (early thirties) that I was running away from my own emotions, I would have looked at you with a blank stare or told you that you were talking shit. “I just like to travel and explore” was my go to answer, when the reality was that I was avoiding my emotions but I wasn’t aware of it.
I tried a lot of avoidance strategies and what worked for me was a mixture of moving from country to country so fast that I didn’t allow for deep connections to develop. Instead, I created meaningless relationships where I acted quite narcissistically had an unhealthy addiction to facebook. On top of that, I was constantly partying, smoking, blaming and judging others when I felt negative emotions.
I judged, blamed and shamed
Any time I got close to widening my awareness, like with meditation or personal development opportunities, I would judge out and talk down those awareness tools.
“I don’t need to do any personal development stuff” I’d say, and “Meditation isn’t for me, or any other weird religious/spiritual rubbish for that matter.”
The thing is that this greater awareness would have caused me to acknowledge that my emotions exist. If I did that then I would be forced to feel them and subconsciously I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t have the tools to deal with them. No one taught me how to deal with my emotions and we live in a place where we all pretend they don’t exist, especially in the corporate world, so subconsciously I kicked back at all awareness tools. And it was easy because, as Simon points out, we Millennials have grown up with technology tools that allow us to escape this sometimes uncomfortable reality and live in an illusion that everything is ‘fine’. So over time we stop expressing our emotions and stop validating them because that’s what everyone else appears to do too. Ignorance is bliss, right? No, ignorance is apathy. So eventually we become quite detached from our feelings and spend most of our time locking them away in a World that seems to not accept them.
They judged, blamed and shamed
Worst yet, our society nurtures this lack of awareness and the shame around talking about and expressing our emotions so we never feel safe to show much emotion at all. In the days after my Dad died, I became acutely aware how much of a taboo it was to talk about how I felt or express how I felt, whether it was with close friends or in a work environment. This is especially prolific in the corporate environment – have you ever got emotional in an office environment? God forbid you’d do that in front of your boss because the message that we continuously receive in this environment if you dare show more than a conservative amount of emotion is that you are weak. If you’re a man then you are castrated even more for such ‘pathetic’ expressions.
On top of this, our society also shames the very tools that can help us process our emotions such as seeing a therapist, personal development, and mindful meditation. So that even if we do become aware of our uncomfortable emotions many of us don’t seek the tools to help us deal with them because we have already adopted the subconscious judgment that to seek help is again admitting weakness. This usually manifests as “I don’t need to read that book/meditate/see a therapist because I’m fine”. Yet the fact is, if you judge, blame, shame, avoid, get angry, anxious, stressed, upset or depressed regularly then you’re probably not fully processing your emotions, so you’re not fine. This doesn’t mean you’re weak, it means that you’re human. You may just need to add a few more tools to your toolbox. Tools that we haven’t been equipped with because we’re in a society that doesn’t acknowledge, validate or process emotions in a healthy manner. With previous generations this wasn’t such a problem because they weren’t constantly plummeted with the influx of messages that we are, so they managed to suppress their emotions and hold the ‘stiff upper lip’ culture, but us Millennials? We find this difficult because of the amount of messages we’re receiving on a daily basis through our smart phones and our social media- the very tools that we also use to escape with, because we don’t know what else to do and the outside World doesn’t acknowledge that this is an issue.
It’s a self-perpetuating cycle and it’s now having a pressure cooker effect.
I remained unfulfilled
So like many of us Millennials, I remained in a self-perpetuating spiral of unfulfilment. Unaware that this was because of the lack of deep and meaningful relationships in my life because subconsciously I was avoiding my emotions and thus the social skills that would bring me the meaningful life that I craved. I was an apathetic, avoiding, “I’m fine” mantra-ing Millennial.
Until I couldn’t avoid any longer
When my father died and I was in a heartbroken, grief-stricken, PTSD mess I couldn’t avoid my emotions any longer and I was forced to feel such an intense surge of pain that the only way I could get over it, was to go through it.
Lean into the discomfort? It was more like basking in the anguish, and there were good reasons I’d spent so long disengaging with my emotions. I mean, I thought it was normal to feel like I wasn’t clever enough, good enough or that I was too emotional. I thought that destructive voice in my head was normal. All those negative marketing messages finally simmering down into the self-limiting belief that I am the problem. I let those crazy thoughts race in my head and taunt me like they had always done but this time it was different. This time I could feel that shame, the fear, and the excruciating pain. Those three painfully emotional events (heartbreak, attempted rape and loss of a parent) that happened in the space of 8 months broke through the apathetic armor I’d been building for a long time and behind in was left with a shameful swamp pit of fear and pain that was like swimming through glass stricken tar.
I had to learn to feel and accept what I felt
I had to start from scratch and learn how to talk about my emotions, how to express my emotions, how to fully feel my emotions and most importantly how to accept my emotions. I went to a therapist, I read a ton of self- help, personal discovery and psychology books and I started writing publically about it to try and lift the ridiculous shame about talking about something which is inherently part of us- our emotions.
Since then I’ve realized the epidemic we’re in, here in West. The one where we don’t talk authentically about what is going on. The one where we don’t validate our own emotions or those of others because we don’t have the tools to deal with them. So instead we trap them, tell ourselves we’re not good enough and hope to high hell that we can somehow make it through another day in the apathetic world talking about surface level topics because we’re so scared to admit what’s inside. We sit between the unconscious negativity and the superficial happiness, and the void in between is empty.
So, Simon, the reason why Millennials are unfulfilled is because many of us don’t have the tools to deal with the emotions needed to develop the deep and meaningful relationships that we crave. And we live in a society that shames us if we dare to validate these emotions or try to get the tools to process them in a healthy manner. So we go along with the secret, and we keep our mouths shut and we avoid, we numb out, we disengage.
This is the reason why this interview has rattled through social media with the speed and intensity it has – as every unheard Millennial re-posts it in an effort to validate how they feel, in the absence of knowing how else to. What it doesn’t do, though, is address why they are doing this.
If corporations want to help with this issue then it’s not great leaders they need, it’s emotionally expressive leaders who talk openly and vulnerably. Leader’s who demonstrate that emotions are a normal part of the human experience. Leaders who cut the stiff upper lip bullshit and admit they’re human so we can feel safe to be human too.