Competition Kills Inspiration

Competition motivates some people, maybe a lot of people, but it has never really motivated me. I don’t remember ever really thriving on competition when I was a kid, and I certainly don’t thrive on it now. I was taught to not care what someone else was doing, to concentrate on my own work – so very millennial of me. Nowadays the only person I’m interested in beating is the past version of myself. The only person I want to be is the best version of me. Competition, beyond the friendliest, most innocuous sorts, kills inspiration.

The interesting thing about Usain Bolt isn’t that he beats other runners, it’s that he pushes the boundaries of what we thought the human body was capable of.

I wanted to discuss this topic because we often hear some variation of the same thing – there’s someone out there working twice as hard as you, doing X more, doing Y better. Usually you hear this from some guy in sales, or with that same type of temperament. My response: Yes, that may be entirely true, and what’s your point? Do you think by comparing myself to others I’m suddenly going to be motivated to do better? That’s not how it works. And it’s also quite a silly statement on its’ face because there is always going to be someone working harder than you, doing more than you.

  • You have 2 jobs and wake up at 5am everyday? Pssh, that guy down the road is working 3 jobs and wakes up at 4.
  • You worked a 60 hour week? Ha! The woman across the way worked 80 hours and still had time to volunteer.
  • You traveled 3000 total miles to meet with 20 different clients this week? Smells like laziness because the guy two floors above you traveled 6000 miles and met with 40 clients.
  • Haven’t taken a vacation in five years? That’s nice, but Sally over there hasn’t taken a vacation in 20, or ever called in sick. High-five Sally.

See how utterly inane this game is? This is just a workaholics version of keeping up with the Joneses. I buy an SUV, you buy a bigger SUV. I buy big house, you build a bigger house. It’s comical, and probably why I’ve avoided sales my whole life.

Inspiration from Vision

What inspires me is possibility and forward thinking, not sideways thinking about what the person next to me is doing. It’s this natural inclination I have that makes me want to work for companies that emphasize innovation and experimentation – looking forward. I tend to not be interested in businesses that always have me looking sideways at the next guy over. Actually that’s a large part of the reason I became more interested in policy rather than politics. Politics is about gamesmanship and competition, policy is about results and problem solving. Give me the problem solving all day.

Of course capitalistic systems are based on competition and there isn’t really anyway around that fact. But I’m not a capitalistic system, I’m just one person that knows what makes me tick and what doesn’t. There is no way for someone to turn on that “capitalistic-gene” within them if they don’t have it. Coming in second never scared me, what scares me is lack of vision and progress. This is partly the reason why I’ve been chasing startup culture instead of corporate culture. But even giant corporations can still maintain the vision a startup has, just look at Silicon Valley which thrives on that culture.

Sure, there are Google engineers trying to beat out the competition, same with Facebook and the others. The sales team probably has weekly meetings on how the company is doing compared to their competitors. I know, I get it, no industry is immune. But Google has succeeded because it was always looking ahead, anticipating what was around the bend – hell, creating the bend itself. That is appealing to me, and I think is a common sentiment among people my age.

In a Salon piece published this weekend, the writer details his personal struggle with comparing himself to his peers. That idea of looking sideways at other people and trying to measure up was poisonous to his well being. I found myself nodding my head knowingly throughout. I’ll leave you with the last few paragraphs from that piece, because if you’re one of those who finds themselves constantly competing, make sure the competition is yourself.

There’s plenty in life I desire and still don’t have. I want to be more accomplished in my career, and have a family, and own property, and win trophies—but I haven’t yet. I could look at people who have these things and compare myself but I try not to do this anymore. It just doesn’t make me feel good.

Instead, I look at myself. When I was 25, I was unemployed, poisoning my body and had no real connection to any other living thing. The 30 year-old version of me has found work and academic successes, relationships with other people who trust me and even kept a German Shepherd alive for two years. When I compare me to me, there’s a lot to be proud of and a lot that makes me hopeful for how much better things can get. Nowadays, the competition is firm but very narrow. In every conceivable way, the only person I’m racing is myself.

And the possibilities are limitless.

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Why The Roots are the Most Important Figures in Hip-Hop

For people who normally read my blog I’m going to go a bit off-script today with a post about hip-hop. Don’t worry I relate it to millennials too, but I’ve been getting an itch to branch out to a more diverse mix of topics recently, while also trying to maintain the specific niche I’m in (millennial angst). So bear with me, comment, agree, disagree, but most of all enjoy!

Two days ago Miley Cyrus (yes I am bringing her up, sorry) appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy has made a name for himself in late night by using imaginative sketches and music instead of simply relying on monologues. He’s also the only late night host that shares a platform with one of the greatest bands in contemporary music, The Roots. Jimmy has never taken the good fortune of working with The Roots for granted as he has frequently featured them in sketches and videos since the beginning of the show.

Recently The Roots and Jimmy sang a wonderfully altered version of the famous Sesame Street theme song with Black Thought doing his thing near the end of the song. Of course it went viral, because it was awesome and impossible not to love.

And now, about two weeks after that they’ve done it again with an a capella version of Miley Cyrus’s summer hit We Can’t Stop. After hearing this version I actually now like the song; and after so many years it shouldn’t surprise me that The Roots seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to music. The Roots have never made a bad album, ever. Their collaborations always work to bring out the best in every artist involved, they work with all types of artists, and they helped make Jimmy Fallon a success in late night.

What’s also true is that while The Roots have evolved, as every great artist/band naturally evolves, they have remained remarkably consistent through the years. There was never any threat of “selling out” yet they were able to achieve crossover success into the hearts and minds of people who never gave hip-hop a chance to begin with. If anything, their incredible ascent the past decade has made them even better artists.

Now most hardcore Roots fans will point to one of the groups’ 90s efforts as their single best album. Either their sophomore release Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995), Illadelph Halflife (1996), or Things Fall Apart (1999) – while Organix (1993) was their major label debut most don’t consider that their strongest work. To this day, in discussions about the best Roots album one of those three will be the most popular pick. Ask three knowledgeable Roots fans and you’ll get three separate answers for the top album of that list.

And while The Roots have never released a bad album you could say they found themselves in a bit of a lull (by their standards) in the mid 2000s with the release of The Tipping Point (2004), followed by Game Theory (2006), and Rising Down (2008). These were all great albums in their own right, but those albums didn’t feel quite as adventurous, exciting, or all that unique.

And then came How I Got Over (2010) and the excitement returned, the energy was back, and the Roots went next level. That excellent release, one of the strongest in their entire catalog was followed up by an even better album in Undun (2011) which was their first concept album. Those types of albums can be hit or miss, but they delivered one of the most memorable concept albums in recent memory.

So Why The Renaissance and Why Should You Care?

I remember when The Roots first signed on to be Fallon’s house band in 2008; while a good reason to tune into the show, it was sort of a headscratcher at the time. I also remember Black Thought and Questlove explaining why they took the gig. They were tired of the constant travel and touring, and wanted time to settle down and get back to their craft by not having such a hectic, unpredictable, schedule.

That decision may prove to be one of the most important developments in the bands history, and one of the most important developments in hip-hop history. Not only did The Roots rekindle their artistic spirit and desire to take risks, the move also quietly represented the establishment of hip-hop into a mainstream culture – not as novelty, but as intrinsic to Americana as late night talk shows. Let me phrase it another way, hip-hop had been in the mainstream consciousness for 20 years before The Roots move, but it existed as an “exotic other” that was prideful in being counter-culture. The essence of hip-hop had always been counter-culture in its’ own way; but with the move to late night, it’s now become a true cultural norm, not a novelty. And lest we forget, hip-hop was fighting the good fight well into 2008 – who remembers the mass controversy surrounding Nas’s untitled album because it was originally supposed to be called ‘Nigger’? A title I think should have stuck because what Nas was trying to do on the album was truly brilliant.

2008 doesn’t feel that long ago but in terms of our society’s relationship to hip-hop there has been a massive shift right underneath our feet and no one has really stopped to notice it.

Hip-Hop Roots and Millennial Tastes

So what other factors, other than The Roots doing late night have helped drive hip-hop into an integral part of mainstream culture? I think it has to do with millennial insistence on authenticity in their own lives, and in the products they consume.

Hip-hop went through a dark period in the aughts. Culturally and artistically it was dying – Nas was right to say Hip Hop is Dead in 2006. The culture was dying despite the huge commercial success because authenticity was being lost in favor of image alone. Hip-hop is many things; but at its’ core, it’s about authenticity – being yourself regardless of what others think. That was radical, and counter-culture, for many decades; but it is now something that is truly valued. And millennials are savvy enough to tell when someone isn’t being honest with themselves (or others), and shy away from those that aren’t.

I do believe that that controversial Nas album jolted people awake, and got some artists to reexamine their craft. And it certainly opened up space for new artists that rejected formula to emerge. Since 2008 we’ve seen the reemergence of The Roots, Nas, Raekwon, Eminem, and other legends as artistic forces. We’ve seen the emergence of new artists like Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi, J.Cole, Big Krit, Ab-Soul, ASAP Rocky, Joey Badass (which stands for B4da$$ for the uninitiated) and many more.

All of these artists are unique, have wildly different styles, and very different personalities that show up in their music. There is no traceable formula between all of these artists; they each do their own thing. And ultimately these new artists success is being driven by millennials.

What The Roots have proven is that hip-hop artists can be mainstream in their appeal without being mainstream in their music. Their most recent albums are anything but mainstream, but their appeal is anything but niche. They are the most important figures in hip-hop because they are making the artistic choices they want to make and have found popularity because of it, not in spite of it. So enjoy the short, but sweet, collaboration with Miley Cyrus. And then go and listen to their top albums to see all sides of the band – you won’t be disappointed.

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There is No Excuse for this Common Practice

No one likes excuses right? That’s what we always hear – no excuse is legitimate, just take responsibility for doing/not-doing something. If that’s the case why won’t for-profit organizations take responsibility for not paying their interns? Non-profit entities and charities DO have a legitimate excuse (see, excuses do exist) in that all revenue goes toward the central mission and operations. And the services non-profits provide can mean life or death for those they serve.

But private businesses have no such legitimate excuse; so again, I’ll ask – why are they not paying their interns? This issue is gaining steam as the unpaid internship has grown in popularity and necessity over the last 20 years. But since the Great Recession began young people have pushed this issue onto the public agenda. Unpaid internships are a luxury that more and more millennials can’t afford – and that’s what they are, a luxury.

Only those privileged enough with resources can afford to take on these unpaid internships. Many young people are going to school while working full-time, or part-time, and adding an unpaid internship is just not feasible for them.

The Department of Labor has a six-point checklist that employers (and interns alike) can use to  determine whether an unpaid internship is legal.

• The internship is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment (and not merely on-the-job training that employees receive).

The internship experience is for the intern’s benefit.

• The intern does not displace regular employees but is closely supervised by staff.

• The employer derives no immediate advantage from the intern (and on occasion the intern may actually impede operations).

• The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job following the internship.

• The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages during the internship.

The second point is critical. Internships are supposed to be learning experiences for the intern, where they can learn skills similar to what they would receive in a classroom setting. The question businesses need to ask themselves is how do they design an internship program where interns will gain knowledge, skills, and abilities relevant to the industry, not how interns can benefit the bottom-line of their business.

If an intern is doing work you’d typically need to hire someone to do, then you’re doing it wrong. Now that you know, quit the excuses and fulfill your responsibilities.

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The One Mistake That Can Cost Millennials

I’m not a teenager, but I’m only six years removed from being one. I can remember that era of my life quite vividly, and I can remember my many mistakes. I also remember that social media was in its’ infancy when I was a teen, so the worries about my mistakes haunting me were minimal compared to what is possible nowadays – not eliminated, but minimal.

But I’m not going to use this piece to discuss the “typical” mistakes we make when we’re young (underage drinking, partying) but rather much more subtle decisions that can have just as much, if not more, of a long term impact.

When I was a freshman in college I knew what career I wanted to pursue and was excited about it – but teens often think they understand everything when they don’t. It turned out that particular career path wasn’t right for me and I was pretty miserable pursuing it. By sophomore year I decided to switch gears and go back to the drawing board to find something I could commit to.

CodeAcademy offers free online courses for those that wish to learn coding languages like HTML, CSS, Ruby, Python, and Javascript.

CodeAcademy offers free online courses for those that wish to learn coding languages like HTML, CSS, Ruby, Python, and Javascript.

I had options, hundreds of options; and looked at all of them. Technical fields like computer science, engineering, and programming were all possibilities but I didn’t seriously consider these. I had had very limited experience writing HTML code in grade school; and of the many skills, and subjects, to concentrate on coding didn’t hold my interest in the slightest. With my very rudimentary HTML experience in mind I didn’t think I would stand a chance in a major that revolved around a skill-set like that. The vision of potential Cs and Ds in computer science danced in my mind, taunting me.

Not to mention I actually had an interest, and some skill, in a bunch of other subjects that kept me engaged: sociology, sustainability, philosophy, political science, history, psychology, urban planning, public policy – all of these, and others, held my attention more than coding.

Well, THAT was a huge mistake, being interested in subjects that aren’t code. Because it’s now years later and programming is the skill-set that employers are demanding. Whoops.

So after six years of full-time studies, and a lot of student debt, I started to look into learning to code while I was winding down my master’s courses. Problem is, it was still not something that interested me all that much. Sure I’d like to build an app, but to get to that stage you need to know Ruby, or Python, or any one of the various coding languages out there (or many of them). HTML and CSS are now considered basic stuff, even in some non-technical fields. And while creating apps would be neat, my interest doesn’t go much beyond cursory glances.

I know I’m not the only one in this position. There have been scattered reports over the past few years of tech companies being unable to fill positions because, supposedly, the applicant pool lacks the necessary skills for the jobs. And there are literally millions of unemployed and underemployed young people looking for rewarding careers. There’s a disconnect.

There are indeed some startups that actually try to teach coding to people without that particular skill-set – I’ve even tried some of the courses out there, but nothing has stuck. I’ve also heard that it can take roughly a year for someone to learn to code up to the level of being employable for that skill. I suppose once again trying these resources is worth pursuing because forget about paid-training, or an in-house development program for people to learn these skills on the job. I haven’t come across many tech companies willing to do that.

So here I am, typing this piece with Code Academy’s introductory Ruby course in the next tab over. This will be yet another attempt to force myself to love coding, but I’m not optimistic things will be much different this time either. But hey, you never know right? We try, we fail, we make mistakes. Here’s to hoping mistakes can be overcome.

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Be Confident in Your Abilities, Even if They Call You Entitled

You’ve probably heard this one before, “millennials think they’re special, but they’re not.” Usually this is followed by “you’re not owed anything.” The veracity of these words could be questioned but why bother. What’s important is that you have to believe you are special in some capacity.

Are you the smartest person in the room? Of course not. Are you a better leader than older and more seasoned professionals? Probably not. Are you more knowledgeable than others at the company you hope to work for? Nope. Are you immediately bringing something new to the table that others at the company haven’t already thought of? Most likely you are not.

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All of these things are true for the most part; but you still do bring something special to the table. Now of course, technically if everyone is special then no one is – kind of defeats the purpose of the word doesn’t it? And any smartass (of any age) will tell you that – believe me it’s all over the internet. But believing you bring something special to the table is what will get you hired. It’s an old cliche but true, you need to be confident. And believing in your abilities comes from believing you’re special in some way.

Here’s why…

Confidence is just a word unless it’s explained. And us millennials require explanations for things, as this post so eloquently points out. So let me briefly explain my conception of confidence. I view confidence as recognizing your own weaknesses, understanding them, coming to terms with them, and even being able to express them. Being vulnerable is being confident – maybe that’s the millennial in me but that’s what we’ve been raised to believe in our culture. But the cruel joke of the professional world it seems is that vulnerability is just plain ole vulnerability. Professionals don’t see that at confident.

There is one way to be confident in the professional world and that is to believe you bring something unique to the table. Whether you’re a businessperson, or a human resource professional, or a writer, or a programmer you must genuinely believe the product, or service, you’re selling is the best out there – otherwise you’re just a fraud. There’s a reason the term fake it to you make it exists. If you do in fact believe your product, or service, is the best out there then you believe it to be special.

Well, in finding work the product you’re selling is yourself – see my pieces about personal branding to get a more detailed picture of my thoughts on that. So you MUST genuinely believe that you are the best candidate out there, which means you must think you’re special, otherwise you’re a fraud.

I’ve literally written over a hundred cover letters in the last ten months. I always grapple with two things: how to stand out, and whether or not I should show confidence through vulnerability.

I know my weaknesses and can express them. I am inexperienced, I’m an introvert so lots of social stimuli and communication overwhelms me, I’m not as strong with data as I probably should be. Despite this I know I can help an organization. I’m knowledgeable, an eager learner, a good writer and trying to get better, loyal to people and things I believe in, and honest when I don’t believe. I’m not afraid to ask for help when I need it, yet I can figure things out on my own.

If I’m honest about my weaknesses my application goes in the trash – who admits to their weaknesses anyway? Well to me, confident people do, but to professionals that’s not the case.

We’re not deluded, entitled, millennials (despite the title of the blog) because we believe we’re special. We must believe we’re special in order for a company to believe we are too.

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A Boomer Loves Us!

So this is highly unusual, but I am publishing my second article in as many days for the first time in the short history of this blog. Yes, give me a trophy, I’m a millennial after-all. Why am I posting a new piece so quickly you ask? Because I’ve just had one of those moments that every person, every writer, loves – a moment of immense inspiration and hope.

I don’t get this feeling often, it’s a rare thing. And I’m running with this feeling now because writing can sometimes be a slog. It can be tough to remain motivated in this millennial blogging space because so much of what is thrown at us is very negative. It’s my job to remain up-to-date on the latest writing by, for, and about millennials. I wouldn’t be a proper millennial blogger if I didn’t. That includes the pieces published at media outlets that are usually unflattering, and exist just to tell me how lazy and deluded I am, and how no one will ever hire me – you hear that? EVER!

You know how a common unwritten rule in columnist-circles is don’t read the comments. Well reading all of these negative millennial pieces that are published every few months, or weeks, online is basically the same as reading the comments. You try to not let it get to you but overtime it does, because there is so much of it. It’s like a wall of propaganda trying to convince us how worthless we really are. Easy to brush off once, twice, ten times – but eventually it eats at you a bit.

That’s on top of the daily mental grind of trying to find work. Sometimes after writing the 6th or 7th personalized cover letter of the day, in which every detail is self-scrutinized over and over, writing a new piece for the ole blog is the last thing I want to do. But blogging is part of the process of finding work, so reading the negativity comes with the territory. 

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Millennials want to work with boomers that are interested in problem solving. We’re not interested in lectures about how lazy you think we are.

This brings me to the reason I’m so ecstatic at this very moment. Out there, in the ether, there is a baby boomer that loves us. Out there, somewhere, there is a boomer that gets it. And today I found him, his name is Cary Tennis. For those unfamiliar with his work, Cary is the advice columnist for Salon. I’m not the type to read advice columns but I often find myself on Cary’s because his answers always seem to connect to larger issues at play.

And today he did not disappoint with his answer to a distraught reader. As an aside, Millennials, Unite! – the headline of today’s column reminds me of the Bob Marley classic Africa Unite, also inspirational and arguing the same point, albeit for a completely different issue – organize organize organize.

The question Cary responds to, in part, reads:

Lately I have spent more and more time asleep, and I know this isn’t normal. I do it because it is far better to be asleep and unaware of my failures and fears, than to be reading how I am not good enough for people to pay me even poverty wages.
I have a wonderful family and they are supportive. But I am also 30, and feel I was lied to my whole life when I was told from childhood, “Go to school, work hard, get the best grades — and a great job will be waiting for you.”

Cary’s response to this millennial – who I empathize with to a great degree – is very empathetic itself. It’s practical, really cuts through all the crap, and gets to the bottom line. It’s brilliant. I obviously won’t post the entire response (go read it for yourself. No really, do it. I’ll wait. I’ll even include another link.)

Back? These are the highlights of Cary’s response:

It begins with the statement of a mass grievance: You were sold a bill of goods. You were lied to. You were swindled. There are millions like you. Why are they not in the streets? If they were, things would be different. There is a political and historical context for this.
Your condition is not unique; it is general. You are part of a class of people to whom this has happened. As such, you have political power.

And a few paragraphs later…

It’s as simple as that. So if you do not demonstrate by the hundreds of thousands, if you do not disrupt markets and streets, if you do not unite with other millennials and refine your message so that it reaches the people who need to be reached, then you will have been robbed and you will have done nothing about it.

When I read this I was sort of shocked. A boomer that’s actually not calling us lazy, entitled, spoiled, idiotic, high-expectation having, deluded, fools? This can’t be real, I must have fallen through some trans-dimensional portal to a world where people actually empathize with other people, and generally try not to be jerks.

Further, here’s a boomer that’s actually trying to help us solve a real problem instead of jumping on a high horse and castigating us for “not taking personal responsibility.” The questioner openly admits to sleeping more and more, most likely a sign of depression – full disclosure I’m not a doctor. Instead of shouting down at the person for being “lazy,” Cary genuinely wants them to get help for their issue. And he implores them to find free resources for that help – no snark, no judgement needed.

Want to know the quickest way to have someone shrink from the world and never find a solution to their problem? Tell them they’re worthless by listing all they do wrong. Cary never does that. Yet he still challenges the reader, and challenges every millennial in the same boat as that reader, to do the only thing that’s really left to do – form a coalition and demand changes.

In a larger sense this does two things, it changes the status quo through politics and policy, and it always ends up employing a large amount of people for the movement. If you have nothing else to do because you can’t find a full-time job, organizing is a full-time opportunity that provides many of the same benefits – networking, organizational skills, logistical skills, discipline, people skills, and more. If you are indeed lucky enough to get paid for organizing the pay probably won’t be good, rarely is it good. But you may end up making the same amount of money as you would working part-time as a barista. And you’ll gain work and life experience that would presumably payoff down the road.

Networking is probably the greatest benefit because individuals within a movement will start their own businesses, employ others in the movement, partner with others, connect their peers to other resources and opportunities. Organizing is both a means to an end (how we typically think about it), but also an end in itself. There are probably dozens of start-ups that were founded from the dust of the Occupy Movement, probably thousands of friendships and partnerships forged in the heat of that nonviolent battle.

Creating a sustainable millennial movement together is a solution to many of the personal problems millions of young people face. There are too many people like that reader, too many people like myself, too many unemployed, too many underemployed, too many stuck living with their parents, too many grinding, too many without opportunity, too many suffocating under the weight of student loans. There are too many of us out there, but just enough for a movement.

So we need more writers like Cary that support us. We need more boomers that love us.

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The AOL Chatroom Changed Me, and Probably Changed You

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I have not seen many people ask why the methods of communication have shifted so dramatically over the past two decades beyond the obvious technological leaps. Then again, I’m not a sociologist and I’m not familiar with the latest literature in this area.

What I am familiar with is my own personal preferences, and the reasoning behind those preferences. My personal preferences also appear to match up with the general preferences of a lot of millennials – especially when it comes to communication. A recent viral video called The Innovation of Lonelinessthe basis for this post – discusses the problem with modern communication preferences. I want to delve into some of the issues discussed in this great video via my personal journey.

Conversation vs. Connection

It was approximately 1998 when I first went online, I was 10. To rewind the clock for you, this was the era of AOL, when it also went by America Online. This was the era of the AIM client – AOL Instant Messenger – for those without AOL; and its’ ubiquity was a precursor to the social network as it provided a way to chat with friends without calling them. For me this tool was a revelation; it changed my whole perception of the world. Not only was I able to chat with all my friends at one time, I was able to join chatrooms and talk about any topic under the sun. This was before the mass adoption of cellphones too, so this was pre-texting.

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Back then chatrooms were all the rage. Never before could people from all over the world come together in a single [virtual] place and discuss anything. If I wanted to discuss the terrible emo bands I listened to at the time I could. And I could add like minded people to my AIM friendslist to continue the conversation later. They could become virtual friends. Again, this was the precursor to social networks, and back then being able to do all of that was revolutionary.

The chatroom became a cultural phenomenon so popular among tweens, and teens, that the potential dangers of the platform were heavily discussed in media outlets. The problem was, as usual, the media was late to the party on this and it took a few years for the idea of parental monitoring of these chatrooms to get on most parents’ radar. My parents warned me of the dangers, but I was savvy enough already to remain completely anonymous in those spaces and never give out personal information. But while I was physically safe, the potential long-term ramifications of spending so much time online never really occurred to me – I was 10.

Fastforward four years and I got my first laptop at 14 years old. My school was on the cutting edge of introducing a program to have every student use a laptop for their studies – I’m also very aware, and I was at the time, of how privileged I was to go to such a school. Suddenly I no longer had to borrow my sister’s computer to use AIM and go on chat rooms, I now had my own personal computer that I could take anywhere and always be connected – even better right? Or so I thought.

The problem, which wasn’t really understood at the time – especially by young people, is that virtually connecting (even with real life friends) can be detrimental to genuinely connecting. The language has never really existed as to why this is the case, but a decade later we’re starting to see more research and quality insight into this subject.

It wasn’t until I watched the video mentioned above a few weeks ago that I ever heard a clear explanation as to why connecting online (even with real life friends) is not genuinely connecting. After-all, I’ve had some pretty personal, and intense, online conversations with close friends in the past. And since my chatroom days in 1998 I’ve always preferred online communication over real-life conversations, and especially phone conversations. This is not a preference that is unique to me, as this seems to be a clear millennial preference.

I always knew why I personally preferred online communication over any other medium, at least for substantive conversations. But I never considered my preference a real detriment until now.

So, what exactly is the reason for my online communication preference you ask? Editing.

Self-Editing

I’ve said, and done, a lot of stupid thing in my life. Some have been just jokes that fall flat, some have been incredibly juvenile, some have been offensive, some have been crude, some have been idiotic. I also suspect I’m not the only one. But I was well aware of my verbal shortcomings before I ever got online, which is probably precisely why being online felt so freeing. To my young mind, being able to actually type what I mean, and mean what I type gave me a voice I couldn’t necessarily muster through my vocal cords.

Jokes could be funnier, observations could be more insightful, chatting to girls could be smoother, I could be wittier. All of this was made possible online because I could edit what I said to get it just right. Being online gave me the critical time to think before speaking, which is something introverts like myself prefer to do.

Those are the benefits of self-editing. People are able to be who they know themselves to be – or who they think themselves to be. Instead of others judging the cover, they are judging the content of the book – or at least being online gives oneself that illusion. The thing with self-editing, which I embarrassingly didn’t realize until recently is that this self-editing is just a self-projection.

Personal Branding

The words I write are part of a brand of me, not the actual me. There are reasons for personal branding online, the most important being that everything you submit is preserved forever. Precisely for this reason very few people are as, non-anonymously, candid online as they are in real life. My personal brand needs to be curated like a business brand, and what ends up being lost is openness. Communicating online means entering a marketplace of ideas, and the commodity we’re trading is our personal brand.

This isn’t just about blogging, this also applies to our “private” social media use. For instance, very few people post photos, video, or status updates showing how they really feel. Everything on our profiles is usually upbeat, happy, exciting, funny, interesting. That’s not because we’re always these things but because those are the things that are more share-able, clickable.

  • So you just graduated? That’s an awesome accomplishment that you’ll post on your Facebook (as I did), but you’re not going to post the crushing amount of student debt you owe and the anxiety you feel about it because that’s a bummer.
  • So you just got a promotion? That’s a great life-event that you’ll post on LinkedIn, but you’re not going to post the anxiety you feel about the extra workload because employers will interpret that as laziness.
  • So you just went to a friends wedding? Those are cool pictures that you’ll post on Instagram, but you’re not going to post about hating being single because that would be taking away from your friends day.

I talk about those hypothetical examples not because I think people should start sharing negative aspects of their lives; but to point out the compelling power of a desire for a personal brand, even in social networks where we’re only connecting with friends.

Empowerment

With the ability to control what we put out in the world comes a degree of empowerment we don’t necessarily have in the real world. I can’t stress this enough, writing is a tool of empowerment. Typically we think of this as an educational tool of empowerment, which is true, but it’s also a tool of personal empowerment. The video I mentioned says our modern ailment is the idea that “I share, therefore I am.” But that’s not the entirety of it. I’d argue our generation just believes “I write, therefore I am” or “I create, therefore I am.”

The status updates, the tweeting, the Pinterest boards, the Instagram shots, the blogging, the Youtube videos – these are all things we’re creating and contributing to the ether. The artistic merit of these profiles is irrelevant; all of these posts are our own content creations.

Writing and creating are positive things. But what I’d argue is that constantly creating is hampering our ability to just be. In fact, we are in a culture where we are either constantly consuming or constantly creating. Critical analyses of consumer culture is nothing new, that has gone on for decades. But in this day and age we’re all empowered to be creators so we are always creating. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a critical analysis of creator culture. And the reason we haven’t is because we do indeed look at content creation as a good thing. Overall, lost is the ability to exist in a state where we are not consuming and not creating.

Comfort

So why do we seemingly have an entire generation that prefers a self-editing communication style? Well, I know that for me personally, written communication was always lower risk in terms of risks to my ego. As I said before, written communication offers the ability to think before communicating with others.

In the real world we send out non-verbal signals to others about who we are, how we’re feeling, what type of person we are, etc…We’re constantly giving off, and responding to, social cues. There’s discomfort and vulnerability in that state, this is not something you experience with written communication. Again, you’re always in control and thus comfortable when you communicate through a means that allows for self-editing.

The reason why young people don’t actually call anyone on their smartphones is because phone-calls are the least comfortable means of communication. It offers the worst of all worlds. For one, much of the social cues we rely on in normal human interactions are lost because we have no visual connection to the person we’re talking to. We have no ability to share an immediate experience because we’re not sharing the same space with the person on the other end. We also lose the ability to edit ourselves because the conversation is in real time. So the loss of the best aspects of in-person communication and written communication makes for an uncomfortable middle ground.

Candidness

I argued before that candidness can get lost in our quest to improve our personal brands. That is true; but what about purely private communication chats between friends? In those instances we’re not trying to impress anyone right? More or less I think this is true.

I’ve found that written communication actually allows for me to be more candid than in-personal conversations when concerns about personal branding are not in the equation. This is probably true for most people actually, evidenced by the fact that we unfortunately see so much cyber-bullying and trolling online, most of which is done anonymously. Anger, hate, jealousy, and all our negative emotions can become especially potent in the written form.

But I do believe there is something to be said for that self-editing process allowing for people to open up about how they truly feel. It’s why people throughout history have been compelled to write love letters, or poetry, or anything else that conveys an emotional state. Emotions can sometimes be expressed best in writing because you have the time to really make sense of your feelings. I’ve had some of the most candid conversations in personal chats, texts, and emails with friends.

There is actually research to support this idea. A study from the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research found that people tend to be more candid when texting compared to in-person communication.They also found that study participants were more likely to be precise in what they meant to say when texting. In other words people mean what they say, and say what they mean when they write. This makes sense as people can be tempted to embellish, or distort something when they talk for a host of reasons. These can range from time constraints, to nervousness, to a simple misunderstanding of a question. The imprecise nature of in-person communication is part of what make it a more vulnerable means of expression.

Personal Journey

So to round this post out I thought I’d go back to some personal reflections on my own communications preferences through the years. Eleven years after receiving that first laptop and feeling that sense of freedom and empowerment that came along with growing up as the internet did, I now get the opposite feelings from the internet in some sense. My communication preference has become more entrenched over the years because I’ve become so used to communicating online. This has been partially debilitating to my social growth because in eras past there was no outlet to feed a desire for written communication (letters were too slow) so everyone had to learn and accept the vulnerability that comes with personal interaction. I grew up in an era that essentially ended that need, but not entirely. As I try to transition from the life of a full-time student to a career my reliance on feeding my preference for written communication is hampering my ability to compete in the world.

Instead of my writing just offering empowerment, it’s serving as a bit of a trap as well. Instead of the internet feeling freeing, it’s feeling like a chore to curate my personal brand to make sure it’s palatable to employers, as well as offering content worthy of consumption by others.

I was just 10 when I started using the internet. The long-term ramifications of spending so much time online never occurred to me. I’m living with those ramifications now, as so many of us are. The AOL chatroom changed me, and it probably changed you too.

What is your take on our changing communication preferences? Do you rely on being able to self-edit yourself, or do you embrace the vulnerability of in-person conversation? Let me know in the comments.

Stay tuned for a follow-up post by fellow blogger Rachel Gall over at So-Called Millennial.

 

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March on Washington – 50 Years Later

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the legendary 250,000+ strong March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The reason the march is remembered, and so revered, is of course because of Martin Luther King Jr’s speech. This speech, one of, if not the greatest, speech of the 20th century is part of the American lexicon – at least parts of it are. But in the fifty years since that speech we have done a poor job internalizing the major messages of, not only King’s speech, but the march as a whole.

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I’ve heard estimates of 200,000 to as high as 300,000 people

We primarily focus on the rhetorical message of freedom, but rhetoric without action means nothing. And while the civil rights generation accomplished things that were once thought impossible, the work they dedicated their lives to remains incomplete. While that generation secured our civil liberties (despite some recent attempts to roll them back), the goal of economic justice has remained frustratingly out of reach. How are we to view the progress of advancing freedom when economic justice is anything but?

The reason the march was for jobs and freedom is because the two were linked by the civil rights movement leaders. These leaders understood that good jobs, with decent wages, in a capitalist society like ours, is inextricably linked to freedom. After-all, what’s freedom without autonomy? What’s freedom without opportunity? What’s freedom without the ability to earn a living? What’s freedom without equal treatment?

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The 10 demands made by participants of the March on Washington

Fifty years later though, how can a new generation take the mantle of the civil rights generation and fulfill the mission to advance jobs and freedom? Given our current economic condition we need to re-link the need for jobs with freedom. Black unemployment/underemployment is not just an African-American problem, youth unemployment/underemployment is not just a young-person problem. These are national problems that inhibit all our ability to be free.

Charles Blow wrote in his New York Times Op-Ed piece today that:

“There is a vacuum in the American body politic waiting to be filled by a young person of vision and courage, one not suckled to sleep by reality television and social media monotony.”

While that could be taken as an insult to my generation, something we’re used to in mainstream culture at this point, I view it as a challenge. A challenge to young people to not only “be our own heroes,” as is so often said nowadays; but also to recognize, and accept, leadership when we see it.

There is something very – millennial – about our generation not having a singular leader that we all look up to. We have dozens, hundreds, of different thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and artists but there is no central figure in the activist space that has galvanized all of us as Martin Luther King Jr. did fifty years ago.

Granted, MLK’s importance in American history wasn’t understood (and accepted) by all until the 1990s. In his time he was clearly an important leader, but he was one of many black leaders. It’s in the decades since his death that he has become a symbol for the entire movement. Who, of my generation, is emerging as a leader that can push the political system into action from outside the system?

Common, modern, wisdom holds that we don’t need central figures. Look at how the Occupy Movement organized themselves, no leader, just people. Dissertations could be written, and probably have, about the structure and leadership (or lacktherof) of Occupy. Going without central figures is fine, for awhile, but I’m not sure how long movements can maintain their momentum without singular figures to unify around at some point.

Those times when movements are threatened with petering out, splintering, imploding under the weight of their own expectations, and internal strife. Those times when competing egos bicker, when outside forces attempt to sow discontent, when despair and apathy start to take root. In those times, when it’s so easy for those in a movement to give up, say it’s too hard (and who could blame them), often a central figure is just what the movement needs to keep on pushing. This is, perhaps, what lead to Occupy largely dissipating. And it’s perhaps why we don’t have a mass, activist-lead, movement to reduce income inequality and stamp out unemployment among all communities.

I have heard many say that protesting is dead – The days of marching are over – Civil disobedience is no longer effective. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. What I think our generation lacks is leadership that can dramatize the problems of unemployment, and underemployment, as the great civil rights leaders did so many years ago. What I think our generation lacks is the understanding that economic opportunity and freedom go hand in hand in our country. One does not exist without the other. Perhaps, it will be my generation that solves the growing problem of income inequality among classes, and the persistently stubborn inequality among races.

The seeds are there for a mass movement. I just don’t think the leader yet exists that can sow those seeds of mass, non-violent, sustained, activism in our time – for our generation. I hope she, or he, emerges soon.

We too often look at major historical events with the distant lens a textbook forces us to view them through. We too often view ourselves as the end of history instead of as a part of it. As the culmination of all that has come before us, instead of as a growing foundation for all that has yet to come. Are we going to be a generation that continues to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice? Or do we really think Liking the Moral Arc of the Universe on Facebook will do?

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The Process of Letting Go of Entitlement

Hi loyal readers and new readers. I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus for the past four months as I finished up my final semester of graduate school. Lots of sleepless nights slung over a keyboard, sipping coffee, while crying. The pain paid off and I finished my Action Report, graduating with my master’s in public administration two weeks ago. So for the last two weeks I’ve been recharging and trying to shift modes from academia to beginning my career journey in earnest.

Before I continue I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge fellow millennial blogger Erin for providing inspiration for this post with her article today over at Broke Millennial.

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My amazingly supportive family. No, that’s not Al Roker.

In truth, I really began my career journey nine months ago in December, 2012 when I made a few critical decisions.

  • Start creating content

  • Start applying heavily for jobs to get in the habit of career searching

  • Try to network as best I can, especially with people in New York

These were my preliminary goals, as I knew my journey as a student would be winding down. The way I created content was by starting this blog. It was a rough first few weeks (as you can tell with my first few posts), but over the next few months I think I grew into my voice as a blogger, something I had never even attempted before. As my writing grew stronger my desire to keep writing grew. I was writing roughly one to two 800+ word posts per week and loving it. But eventually that started to take a toll in terms of interfering with my academic work, which is why I basically took a leave of absence knowing that the small following this blog has garnered may be lost in the process. But creating something that I could call my own, and executing on a plan, was extremely satisfying. It also opened up access to a world of mini-bloggers that I didn’t even know existed previously. In fact, it was fellow blogger Rachel Gall that opened up her built-up network of young bloggers. When this happened I think I finally began to “get it.”

Granted, I started to understand this at a much much later date than most of my peers, but better late than never, as they say. This thing that I was beginning to understand is that consistently creating stuff, anything, is how to gain access to networks. Now, as I’ll discuss in an upcoming post, this is clearly not the only factor in networking, not at all, but it is important. Content grants access to networks and networks provide collaboration, and career, opportunities.

Seems pretty simple but this is not something that was ever described to me. Standard advice is just “to network;” well that doesn’t mean anything if it’s not placed in context. My conception of networking was as an event that took place in a tacky hotel conference room with thousands of complete strangers exchanging business cards. These formal networking events do take place, and I don’t want to knock people that attend these as I’m sure they work for them. But what I never understood was the informal networking process that goes on in everyday life, and this informal process is what mainly drives networking:

A co-worker introduces you to a family member in a specific industry. A college buddy’s girlfriend works for a company looking for someone with the skill-set you have, someone at your gym is the founder of a start-up, and the scenarios can continue. This is how most networking occurs and is probably the most successful type of networking. And this is something I’ve largely ignored up until now, but realize I need to change if I’m to begin my career.

Part of the problem is that I’ve always treated my personal life as personal, and academia and professional lives as something entirely different. So when I met someone new I instantly put them in a box of either potential friend, or potential colleague – I guess I never heeded the advice to not put people in boxes either. Well naturally doing this people-in-boxes thing hampered my ability to network because my colleagues were placed at arms lengths, while I never viewed my personal contacts as potential resources. There has always been something icky to me about thinking of personal friends as potential resources. What I realize now is that people in the white-collar world almost entirely network via personal connections and these “personal resources.” Again, I’ll get into the problematic nature of this in an upcoming post; but what makes this relevant in this post is that I’m learning how to approach the world as it is, not how it ought to be. And this gets into the issue of entitlement…

Those that are entitled don’t approach the world as it is, but how they think it ought to be, for them. Example of my own entitlement – and why I named this blog Entitled Millennial – is that I worked hard and completed graduate school, so I approached the world thinking that’s all I should have to do to land a decent job. Academically, I accomplished even more than what was expected of me so I internalized the idea that because of this I was entitled to a job in my profession. Check out my early posts and this is precisely what I discussed – feel free to cringe if you want.

Maybe, in an ideal world, that’s all it would take. But that’s not the world we live in, and coming to terms with that reality has been the hardest thing to figure out. I’m still in the process of coming to terms with this. That shiny new master’s degree I’m so proud of is really not all that valuable. And no one beyond me, and my immediate family, really cares about my academic achievements, employers certainly don’t. If I’m going to get to where I want to go I’m going to have to learn/utilize skills I’m not great at, networking being one of them.

Fortunately for me, by deciding to branch out and create content, as cliche as blogging has become, it’s given me a mini-portfolio. And more importantly, creating content has granted me access to a network of like-minded, twenty-something bloggers just trying to figure out how to get by. This mini-network may, or may not, lead to great opportunities, but the enjoyment I get from interacting with this group makes creating content worthwhile. And beyond that, I think interacting with this group is providing an effective antidote for my entitlement.

By the way, even if I do get over my entitlement issues, the name of this blog will never change. It’s too catchy, and click-bait worthy. And with that, I’d like to announce that Entitled Millennial is back in business, hiatus officially over. I’ve got some really interesting content lined up for all of you, and I hope you’ll stayed tuned and engage in the comment section.

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Hipsters are people too. I think.

Great piece by my fellow millennial blogger Rachel Gall.

So-Called Millennial

I don’t think I’m the only one who cringes a bit when they hear the word “hipster.” No one quite wants to define it, mostly because they fear they will be categorized as one. No doubt though it is a cultural phenomenon that has evolved throughout the coming-of-age of millennials.

I love The Evolution of Hipster chart above because in the years 2000-2009 I was ages 16-25 so I totally remember all of this, including the “emo” stage in high school. In college I remember everyone buying up trucker hats from thrift stores. I even remember people on mopeds & scooters, guys with beards, everyone on bikes, lots of plaid, and that one guy who smoked a pipe. I also remember in about 2009 when everyone swapped their Chucks for TOMS.

Misunderstanding “hipster”

Another reason we cringe at the term hipster is that it’s sometimes applied to things that are…

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