WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM MILLENNIALS Farrah Storr says it’s a lot!
If you’re inclined to shake your head at the twenty-somethings in your life, it’s time to have a rethink. According to magazine editor Farrah Storr, they are a savvy, resilient bunch who can teach us a thing or two about multitasking
When was the last time you rolled your eyes at a millennial? When did you last dismiss them as selfish, entitled and having the narcissistic tendencies of a Greek god? Have you ever, whisper it, thought twice about hiring one because you feared their reputation as hustling employees who’d jettison colleagues off the professional cliff edge at the hint of a promotion? If you’re nodding along, then I hear you – I used to feel the same.
Having spent the last three years studying and serving this generation as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, I have begun to see another, far-more-intriguing side to them. They are not, in fact, the fragile ‘Generation Snowflake’ that’s often depicted – with their
branded social platforms (though they do have those, but we’ll come to that) and soaring self-esteem – but a hard-served group of young men, women and everything in between (because they are very clear on the fact that gender and sexuality are not as binary as we all thought) who have blossomed into one of the toughest and most wily generations ever. Generally born between 1981 and 1996 (although it’s difficult to pin down precisely), life has thrown them an enormous amount of discomfort: a gigantic financial crisis, the erosion of the education system, and little hope of a mortgage, pension and pretty much every other asset we take for granted. But, as I discovered when writing my book, The Discomfort Zone, the discomfort they have been left to face is the very thing that brings innovation, strength and, ultimately, success.
That means there’s a lot you can learn from millennials – and not just how to take a better-quality selfie.
They ask for what they want
Asking for (and getting) what you want is built into the DNA of Western civilisation. Back when we were Greeks working the scrubby land of the Aegean, we traded olive oil, fish and whatever else we could find to get along and get ahead. And yet you, me and almost everyone I know born before 1981 are terrible at asking for what we want. We prefer to wait and be asked. I have forgotten the number of times I’ve spied a promotion on the horizon but waited for the acquiescent nod before popping my hat in the ring. Millennials don’t wait to be asked. They haven’t got time. They understand it’s a competitive market out there and if you ask, in the right way, you get. The right way is by ‘hustling’. Hustling is not shorthand for being borderline criminal. The 2018 definition of ‘hustling’ (millennials love that word, by the way) is far smarter. It’s about asking for what you want while offering something of equal or better value. I see this all the time. It’s not unusual for me to find job applications that come with handwritten notes, boxes of cakes, painstakingly drawn portraits of me (hands down, the honest truth) as well as more magazine ideas than I could come up with in an entire month. They don’t simply send a CV and wait for a call. They follow up in creative ways, popping up on your Instagram feed with smart observations about the blurry picture of a sunflower you just posted. They will pursue you – on Linkedin, Twitter – appearing like charming wildflowers in your path so you can never not take notice. It is very clever and it is worth taking note.
They call out injustice
It’s easy to sit back and let bad things happen, far harder to stand in the pit of discomfort and speak out, even if that means potential alienation from your peers. Millennials fight against biology in this way – after all, back when we were cave people huddled round the campfire, survival was about staying with the group at all costs. Which means we’re naturally very bad at speaking up if it means going against popular opinion. Millennials do it regardless. Social media makes it easier, of course. Certainly enough for them to test the waters to see if there are other consenting voices out there willing to make a stand. That is why we have had such movements as The Women’s March and #Metoo. They know how to motivate a political movement with stealth, effectiveness and a smart hashtag.
They can multitask
Multitasking is a millennial art. They are, after all, the ones that came up with the portfolio career – juggling several different jobs at once and yet not being defined by one. That’s not born out of greed, by the way, but necessity. In a deeply uncertain economic climate, everyone needs back up. We wait to be brilliant at something before we affix the word ‘professional’ to it. They just go with it, realising the sad truth that everyone at the top is winging it, so they might as well, too. So, that art course you did back in 2001? That means you can start calling yourself a painter and selling stuff on Etsy. After all, that’s what a millennial would do.
They are health obsessed
Even millennials would prefer a milkshake to a protein shake. So why, then, do they milk nuts, eat vegan and know 115 different ways to eat an avocado? Because health represents status. They don’t have money but they can have a six-pack if they put in enough hours at the gym. They’ve also devised new and inventive ways to make health an aspiration rather than a chore. Look! Add cacao powder to mashed avocado and you have chocolate mousse! Call a juice that looks like the inside of a septic tank Green Goddess and it’s palatable. Call health ‘wellness’ and it looks more enticing. My advice to you? Do yoga by candlelight, serve your antacids in a pink glass and call it The Digestion Doyenne. Buy the nicest gym gear imaginable, so that ‘when you’re sweating like a pig, at least you look like a fox’. (And that, by the way, is a mantra millennials like to use. A lot).
They don’t drink
Okay, this isn’t technically true, but they drink a lot less than we do. There are lots of reasons for this: their obsession with health, their obsession with professionalism (they saw their boss overdo it at work drinks – they never want to be that person), they all have about seven jobs, which means hangovers have no place in their schedule. Besides, they have found inventive ways to replicate the taste of booze without the brain-dimming effects. They love nonalcoholic spirit drink Seedlip (add a couple of freshly popped peas as a garnish and finish with an Instagram post), drinking vinegars (which are fermented so double as a health elixir!) and Gordon’s Ultra-low Alcohol gin and tonic drink.
They date ‘openly’
Thanks to Tinder and other dating apps, millennials will probably meet their significant other online. Before then, though, they keep their options open. Sex before commitment is the norm. As is dating widely and simultaneously. Several partners on the go at once? Absolutely fine. Whereas we would plough several weeks into one person before calling it quits, millennials know time is precious. Better to road test all the goods at once, then confirm full commitment with one chosen partner after a couple of weeks. ◆ The Discomfort Zone: How To Get What You Want By Living Fearlessly by Farrah Storr (Piatkus, out now)