in Digital Web

How to ruin millennials

I read Brazen Careerist because if nothing else, Penelope Trunk makes startup failure sound like good. Her witty brand of sex, career advice and life experience makes it an interesting read, even if you find yourself confused half the time about what her point is.

For months, I’ve noticed a trend that started to make me really uncomfortable. More and more young women who post on that site, seem to model themselves after her. They’re early-to-mid twenty-somethings who seem to think blogging about their sex lives, job horrors and general apathy is going to get them “noticed” and somehow, they’ll become more marketable as a result.

What she’s encouraging them to do is career suicide.

Now, let’s be clear. The folks blogging this stuff and putting themselves out there are grown adults and can do whatever they want. It’s their lives and no one puts a gun to their head and encourages them to blog on Brazen Careerist. At best, the site has been a great repository for Generation Y’s motivated denizens to congregate and talk about how they’re going to fix the world the boomers have screwed up. (sorry, I had to.)

But when you start to think about it, you realize that Brazen Careerist isn’t just a place to get somewhat strange career advice from someone who has virtually nothing in common with the people on her site, it’s a “startup.” And said startup is aggregating the content of young souls, the majority of whom haven’t found themselves yet and asking them to talk with authority.

It’s a recipe for disaster.

I relate well to being empowered to write with authority at a young age, because I did it in my late teens and early 20s. Pre-social networks and everything. The validation is intoxicating and you feel like “finally, someone gets me!” Only to step away from it after a few years and figure out that what you were writing might not actually be what you think. Or you live some, experience a few things and start to shift your beliefs.

If you’ve already created this persona for yourself, all sorts of unauthorized people will have unfettered access into this world you’ve created for them. There is no “off” button and unlike Penelope Trunk, these millennials aren’t getting paid 10k a speech to give a glimpse into their own generation.

The criticism of millennials is that they have no work ethic, that they don’t understand the value of hard work and want to rush to the front of the line without paying their dues.

A lot of that is true, but it’s borne out of watching parents laid off of jobs after pouring decades of work into a firm, only to be told that they are no longer needed. It’s because they’ve been allowed to borrow tens of thousands of dollars for an education that everyone told them they needed, only to discover that either 1) they need more or 2) it wasn’t nearly as useful as the pricetag said it would be.

The bottom line of today’s work world, is the rules haven’t really changed that much. Yet.

Despite all of the hoopla to the contrary, boomers aren’t going anywhere in the workplace. They’re staying longer and later, blocking entry to the jobs that those underneath them are pining for. The work environment is still based on a lot of the same rules that were applied decades ago.

So I don’t care how many social networks get created, it’s not going to be okay anytime soon to bash your employer publicly.

Nor will it ever be in vogue to tout your experience and energy on one hand, only to reverse all of the goodwill and positive vibes you get by writing something in the voice of someone else, because you admire them.

Penelope is just relaying stories that work for her. Sure, she gives advice. But with any advice, your mileage will vary. Taking anything anyone says and using it the holy grail foundation for what you’re going to do is just bad news.

I’m not just picking on Penelope Trunk, because I’ve been sending her articles to friends for months now. But I just see too many young people following what seems to be a trend that so many millennials think they need to follow someone else’s blueprint to success. It goes for ‘stars’ out there that I admire whether it’s Chris Brogan, Gary Vaynerchuk, Paul Graham and Seth Godin, too.

Sure, they’re all smart people who have a lot of eyeballs focused on them. They say stuff that other people listen to and implement. So while we can learn from them (Lord knows I have) we should all — especially millennials — take a step back and try to forge our own path based on our experiences.

Leading social media folks are just bodhisattvas (or televangelists?), trying to help you reach some sort of Web 2.0 enlightenment. They’re not telling you to do it their way because you’d fail if you did.

Somewhere along the way, thought leadership turned into cult followings. Trying to be someone else just isn’t going to get you far, so do the best can you with what you’ve got. There is no fast way to success, no magical potion or secret formula.

  1. I’ve never read Brazen Careerist, but I agree that people shouldn’t be posting negative content with unabandon. I did a vlog a few weeks ago giving my opinion that social media is OUR space and it should be based around respect. It’s unfortunate that people are looking up to somebody who doesn’t encourage a space of respect.

    I will have to disagree with your thoughts on the marketplace. The marketplace has changed heavily. Look at the jobs that are opening up, they’re not physical positions, but positions based on knowledge work. In the past one might’ve been able to get a job based on how many pounds of coal they could haul in a work day, but the climate has shifted. I recognize your argument that success isn’t built overnight, but I think you’re generalizing an entire demographic. The fact is that the barrier of entry is lower due to social media. Through social media I have friends beating out people with more experience for jobs simply because their quality shines. I wouldn’t say it’s about demographics at all, but a shift towards quality. There are great marketers who are 50+ with better ideas due to their experience and at the same time there are 25 year old marketers who have great insight and aptitude than someone who’s been marketing for 15 years longer. As for authority and beliefs, I don’t claim to know everything and it’s the choice of others to read or reject my content. I think that’s what is so cool about social media, there’s no “right” way. I fully expect my beliefs to change as I gain more experience, but it’s my desire to grow. Nobody can really control or completely “know” social media because it’s user-content based. Social media is evolving at such a fast rate it’s a struggle to even keep up with all the new mediums popping up!

    I agree with you it’s important to stay true to your personal DNA, remain respectful, and be transparent. Gary Vaynerchuk gives a formula to success that hasn’t changed. Keep pumping out quality sh*t and hustle.

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