I never thought I would fit the mold of the "typical" Millennial: the constant career changers, the unfocused, indecisive individuals, the entrepreneurs at heart and definitely not the company jumper/quitters. I grew up with the firm idea in my mind that I would work 9-5, for 25+ years at a company with a great culture. I always felt like I was an old soul.
Now, I run across many Millennials who also describe themselves that way just because they don't fit the common quit-every-6-months profile. Now, I work on helping companies adapt to the new possibilities in the workplace and especially, embracing all generational characteristics, without putting anyone in a box. Now, in retrospect, it turns out my path did follow a bit of the typical Millennial.
I am proud to be a Millennial. I am proud to be a part of the most diverse cohort in history, as I keep learning in my daily relationships, new and old.
I started out in Chemical Engineering and now have my own company in speaking, training and consulting in an People and Org Development category: Generation Collaboration and Workplace Design. For the immediate critics out there, I didn't just come up with this idea in my parent's basement.
I worked for a great Fortune 100 company for 6 years. First, as a project engineer where I learned key project management and people management skills. Then, as a training manager for the engineering function, where my passion for solving people problems flourished. Throughout these 6 years, I led new hire networks, development of our global on-boarding program and the redesign of our new hire training program. I had direct reports younger than me and also 25 years older than me. I could have stayed there for 40 years.
But, I kept seeing a recurring issue with the new generation: organizations lacking the design and collaboration principles needed for a successful future. And frankly, in my great Fortune 100 company, the opportunity for me to make this kind of impact wasn't there. I couldn't focus on people development, because ultimately, the company existed to make profit through selling products. I couldn't wear multiple hats and be the visionary I already felt I was because there were 120,000 people each doing their own compartmentalized job.
So I started testing concepts for my company and eventually, like all (some?) entrepreneurs, stumbled across something that caught people's attention, that was at the right time. Instead of focusing on generational differences and relatively meaningless comparison charts, I would focus on competencies we need in those moments of generation collaboration. I would focus on how to design a workplace that meets the needs of the future: both the world as a whole and for the Millennials and Gen Z that will be working in it. A practical approach that people can actually use on the job, that leaders can follow when setting strategy.
I did some great talks, TEDx being the most rewarding and challenging one, that required all my courage as an engineer turning into a public speaker might. The Association for Talent Development (formerly American Society of Training and Development) has been one of my strongest supporters and avenues for learning.
I developed great online-accessible and onsite training programs for collaborating across generations that has received great endorsements from learning and development leaders. I consult on generation related and Millennial specific issues, such as high impact on-boarding programs, developing Managers of Millennials skills and the reverse, Millennials as Managers. All with the intent to bring the best of all generations to the table as we design the future of the workplace.
Things I learned on this journey:
Title Doesn't Matter: It doesn't matter whether my title was Engineer or Training Manager or Entrepreneur. At the core, I always work on problem solving tough people development issues.
Get Involved with Professional Associations: When college is over, organization involvement still matters. Professional associations offer you opportunities to network and grow that you can't find easily otherwise.
Figure Out How to View All Your Skills as Transferable: Skills are truly transferable. Nothing has been a waste in my relatively short career. Problem solving machines has turned into problem solving people. Engineering logic and organization skills have been applied to a relatively social and creative field.
The Future is Cross-Disciplinary: I am proud of the courage Millennials show in continuously learning when switching from one area to another. I am proud for our desire to make an impact, wear multiple hats and move fast. We are like that because our future demands it.
Learn What You Can From Those Who Have Gone Before You: Having said that, I respect the rather few Millennials who truly respect and learn from the experiences of those who have gone before them. I see Millennials who have so many setbacks that waste so much time when honestly, they could have just listened to their parents or other mentors in the first place. The desire to 'make your own mistakes' can definitely be taken too far. Like with everything in life, you should pick your battles. If someone tells you who has done this a million times before that starting a business will take 2 years to be successful, they are probably right. Don't expect immediate success and plan for the time needed.
We're not all losers. Not by half. Don't underestimate what we can do and don't assume why we have chosen a certain path. You might not agree with it, might not have done it yourself, but it's the path of the future.