Author: Katie Appleyard

Yesterday, I came across a video by Simon Sinek, a leadership expert and motivational speaker who I follow on YouTube. It was a follow-on video from an interview with him that broke the internet for a day.

In the interview, Simon mentions that he gets asked the Millennial question all the time. When asked to elaborate, he explains that companies are always asking him how they can possibly manage Millennials – a generation of people born approximately 1984 or later. I have read a lot of different opinions about the Millennial question. Some singing the praises of this generation and some calling them out as a group of entitled, lazy idealists. 

Simon explains that every generation has their issues, based upon the environment they were brought up in. One of the main issues for Millennials is that they were brought up in the age of the internet and social media.

During the often difficult developmental stage gate that is adolescence, an individual becomes aware of their place in society and often struggles with where they fit and their new awareness of how society views them. It is a notoriously challenging time that resembles a John Hughes film and the Brat Pack.

Before the internet, teenagers had to navigate their angst, feel their feelings, and learn to manage them – all done with the help of the strong bonds they formed with friends. They learned that life was not always easy, but found faith that they would make it through the tough parts of adulthood with the help of their clan.

Social media provides a hit of dopamine in the brain – a neurotransmitter which offers the feeling of reward. So imagine having a device beside you, which every time you feel anxious, can provide you with a hit of relief when needed. It’s the equivalent of a morphine drip to a terminally ill patient. Simon theorises that teenagers have been able, in a way, to medicate themselves with their phones.

Getting a reward in this way prevents them from having to go out and form strong and real bonds with others. We appear to be more social, but in fact, the relationships are more surface, rather than deep and lasting. We are more electronically connected than ever, however, this could be the reason we feel lonelier.

If I see a smiling shot of my friend on Facebook, enjoying her holiday, I am less likely to give her a call and ask her how she is doing. Everything looks fine on The Book! But in reality, my friend may be having a tough time at work or marriage problems, but I will never know, because I haven’t asked.

Long story short, Simon believes that the social media age, plus a few other factors discussed in the video have led many Millennials to have low self-esteem and also to be very impatient. They live in a time when the internet can give them what they need in an instant, however, our path to a fulfilling career cannot be rushed or handed to us by another. The path to figuring out what we truly want to do with our precious time is often littered with the debris of what we didn’t want. We can hasten this journey using the knowledge of previous generations, but we can’t avoid it entirely.

Along with the praise, there has been criticism of Simon’s ideas. Some believe he is letting Millennials off the hook. But he explains in his follow-up video that he is just offering empathy to this generation – for company leaders to learn to manage this group, they will first need to understand them.

Classified as a Millennial myself, my first instinct was to defend social media – because I love it. I am slowly building my future business with its help. But there is a small part of me who will admit that the first thing I do in a moment of unease is pick up my phone and distract myself.

With these ideas in mind, I walked through the University campus today and passed a group of summer students waiting for a class. Every single one of them was on their phone as they waited. This made me think of my very first day at University. Sitting nervously outside my first ever lecture, I had left my phone in the car, too paranoid that it would ring in class and I would be singled out. I didn’t know anyone and I was nervous about this new and exciting chapter of my life. A girl walked up to me and said “Is this CHEM 111?”

I told her I thought it was and we decided that surely both of us could not be wrong. We sat together in that lecture and realised that we actually had identical lecture schedules, so decided to stick together for the rest of the day.

Ten or so years later, I would be a bridesmaid at her wedding. And through her, I met a whole group of other amazing people that I went through Uni with. These people were a large part of the enjoyable experience I had studying. I always look back on my undergrad degree wistfully. Had I been on my phone that day, my friend may have approached someone else. And my University experience could have taken a different trajectory altogether.

Watch Simon Sinek’s videos below and see how you feel about his ideas.

Much love XX

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Hi, I’m Katie. I am a kiwi neuroscientist with a love for consuming and creating content. This site is where I share my personal thoughts and the thoughts of incredible minds from around the world. PhD in Neuroscience, University of Otago.

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