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Millennials Need to Assess Their Future

Dear Millennials:

Never before has so much power rested in so young a generation as yours. The economic, workplace, and technological power within your scope is staggering in comparison to prior generations. Barely a century ago, a typical American in his or her midtwenties was at the bottom of the career ladder, with little or no access to credit and with no means to afford many conveniences. While cell phones and iPhones didn’t exist then, the party line did but it was a communal phone. Imagine sharing your cell phone or blackberry with colleagues throughout the day.

Those are obvious distinctions from prior generations. The more subtle ones are relational in nature. Never before has a generation been the mentor to elder generations. While I haven’t inquired with Apple about the medium age of the staff in its stores, I don’t recognize anyone in my 45+ demographic sporting the uniform red t-shirts when I’m there. The ubiquitous presence of technology in our society means that you are more often than not on the giving rather than the receiving end of advice—at least when it comes to tech innovations. Since it’s difficult to accomplish even the slightest transaction without technology in our country and many other developed nations, your technology quotient (TQ) has even more currency.

Each generation is confronted with risks and yours is no different. Your contribution will depend on how you recognize and respond to the risks and on the sincerity of your humility in the face of apparent opportunity. Let’s focus first on the risks:

Risk #1: A loss of curiosity for what older people have to teach you.
I will never forget watching the news coverage following the crash landing of USAir flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River just two years ago. As several colleagues and I stood gripped to an office television, expert after expert explained that what pilot Chesley B. Sullenberger III achieved in safely landing his plane in the river was not something you could learn reading the manual (online or otherwise) but the hard earned skills of years of experience.

Take a minute when you’re at work tomorrow… or at the health club… church… wherever… and look around for the gray-heads in the room. Get to know them… get to know what they have to teach you. Because they’ve walked more miles of life, many have worthy emotional quotient (EQ) to share and this is just as necessary for your life and vocation journey as TQ and IQ.

Risk #2: Being satisfied with Facebook or any other technology as your generation’s legacy.
The message here is not condemnation of Facebook or any other social network. They create connections that otherwise would not happen or would happen far less frequently, but are they the stuff of enduring greatness, particularly in a world with so many heart-wrenching challenges to overcome?

Your great-grandparents have been called the Greatest Generation and quite deservedly. They sacrificed their lives to stop a brutally destructive enemy and to save hundreds of thousands of lives. What will your generation be known for? Something to consider asking the next time you’re posting on the walls of fellow millenials. There are many struggles to be overcome and I have no doubt that you can be a greatest generation if you realize that Facebook and technology are means and not ends.

Your opportunities actually pivot on these risks:

Opportunity #1: Using social media and technology to multiple the power of and for good.
Whether it’s for causes in your community or major initiatives where you work, social media and technology can be put to GREAT use. This is where your heart and mind can shine and advance good ideas. The power of texting as a donation channel for the victims of Haiti’s tragic earthquake is an example of using technology as the mean to a greater end—to lives saved and hope renewed. Likewise, a more holistic spirit and practice of collaboration in your workplace can accelerate your organization’s ability to achieve its mission and usher in new avenues for career development and satisfaction for you and many others.

Opportunity #2: Trading up your online connections to in-person connections.
People communicate with their whole body. Our facial expressions, our glances, our body language, and the list goes on. All are missing when we communicate behind the curtain of emails or texts. The opportunity is not simply to be able to observe more, it’s also to have a deeper relationship—a fuller relationship.

Think of it this way. You can communicate partially online. However, it will never be a full and complete communication or relationship online. Too many data points are missing. In business, this means that you will function with partial information. So instead of sending that e-mail update, get up from your desk and go talk to the person.

Your opportunity is to marry your generation’s online knowledge with the kind you can only gain in-person. Then, you will be more 360 in your relational capacity than any generation before yours.

My hopes are high for your generation, not simply because of your abilities but perhaps more so because of the inheritance of societal needs that we are passing on to you. We, your predecessors, have not done as well as we might in practicing common grace for the common good.

Someone on the firing line of life in World War II, a young minister who was executed by the Nazi’s, Diettrich Bonhoeffer, left us with a convicting thought about the continuum of life and our role in it. He said “the most important question a generation should ask itself is how the next generation will live.”

Learn on the backs of our rights and our wrongs and consider your role in how the next generational will live. We will be forever thankful to you.

About the Author(s)

Lindsay Hutter is a senior vice president and U.S. Practice Leader, Change and Internal Communications, Hill & Knowlton.