We love to poke fun at millennials. It’s like the holy grail of tradition.
“Kids coming out of school these days – you know? It’s ridiculous. They want twice the pay and half the work of when I came out of school. They don’t want to learn. They’re lazy. There’s not enough talent. There’s not enough interest. They don’t work hard.”
Ever heard that before? How about this one -
“Young people think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.”
Yeah – that last quote wasn’t exactly about millennials – Aristotle wrote it in the 4th Century BC. Every young generation is clearly, obviously, unexplainably worse than the one before it. Right? I mean criticizing the next generation has been going on for all human existence. I’m sure cavemen used to scorn at how the young have no eagerness to strike rocks anymore…
Millennials are so… entitled.
Yeah – I wrote it. Entitled. The worst label of all. That E word.
Millennials are so entitled that they don’t even own their own issues; those are of course caused by Boomer parenting. [see the half a million search results for “millennial poor parenting” on Google].
I mean clearly millennials are like the worst young generation we’ve ever seen? Right?
Back Off Another Joe/Millennial Soapbox
OK. So maybe the problem isn’t that bad. Maybe I exaggerate a little. Maybe I write too much in the third person considering my age technically qualifies me as a millennial. And yes, maybe I do also blame my parents for all my nonsensical fears (thunderstorms and sinkholes, come on Mom!).
I was probably accused of being entitled a couple years into my post-college career. I felt good about the work I was doing, felt like I was understanding the curve, and I am sure it was showing in my attitude. A couple big project issues plus a bad annual review and I was quickly sized back to reality.
But entitlement doesn’t go away easily.
It was around that time that some coworkers went to a career fair at an area state college. One of the college students (a junior) inquired about the company. He got the normal pitch on working culture, opportunity, training and the whole bit. He then asked about management positions. After laughing it off my coworker realized the student was serious. He was looking for a management position as a quasi-21-year-old with zero real world experience!
After returning to work and sharing the disbelief, it’s easy to see entitlement in others when at that same time I probably couldn’t see it in myself.
I did get over it though. It wasn’t through shame or being a “company guy” or bad annual reviews. It was by starting my own side-hustle.
Takeaways from the Art Shop
I had always enjoyed creating sketches. During college I had a few architectural studio courses where we learned architectural sketching traditions. I enjoyed drawing and took some of those lessons to open a small art shop online.
That experience brought so many positive perspectives into my life.
It started with only one sale in the first two months of opening. It was a wonderful feeling. Then one good review led to another sale in month three. In month four I had two sales. Month five I doubled again.
With each touchpoint I worked on improving the customer experience. I learned quickly to be responsive to customers. I learned how to deal with unsatisfied customers – which meant putting frustrations aside and owning-up to every misstep. I learned how taxation is theft (ok not really – but it is a major downer).
Probably one of the most important things I learned from the basic art shop is that I had to take ownership of the work result. It never mattered how hard I tried to draw. If I created something that offered no value to others, it wouldn’t sell and had no value. That’s the real-world economy.
People pay for value. How was I to bring value to a customer? How could I improve the value I offered? How could my presentation and correspondence be improved to help convey value? I thought about all of those things, constantly.
That also began slowly translating to the workplace. Just because I put in effort – if the end result was incomplete, sloppy or just wrong – then I was not producing value.
The essence of entitlement is believing that showing up is enough. It’s not. The value we provide for the world is our all-in engagement with doing great work.
Employee vs. Ownership Perspective
Starting that art side-hustle slowly and fundamentally changed my perspective about business and serving people.
As I see it – there exists an Employee and an Ownership mentality. An Employee mentality asks – “why doesn’t our company pay for X?”, “they underpay everyone here”, “they never pay for good software”, and on and on.
The Ownership perspective is looking holistically at the business. “How can we better serve our clients?” “How can we improve work culture?” “How can we improve productivity?” An Ownership mentality links personal responsibility to their work and representing a brand.
I didn’t have to have a stake in a company to begin to develop that perspective. Businesses exist to make money. If businesses didn’t make money for a long period of time, then they fold and cease to exist. That’s reality, and that’s not a bad thing either.
But just adopting an Ownership perspective brings about a world of possibilities. Company limitations don't become obstructions - they just become a problem that needs a creative solution.
That art business grew, and grew and grew. Just three years in I sold over 600 pieces in a year. Wild. Especially for an ameateur artist who's dayjob is being and engineer. That shop still exists at www.etsy.com/shop/artbyjosephdalton. There’s not much time into it anymore now that the fire protection content is top priority – but I’m so thankful I started that shop because the lessons it taught has been invaluable.
Want to change your perspective? Start that side hustle you’ve always wanted. It just might unlock a fresh way of looking at the world.
Enjoy this article? Here are other career-related articles:
Being Deliberate About Your Future
Does Your Job Title Matter?
Knowledge is Not Just in Education
Fahrenheit 451 & The Thirst for Knowledge
Heartache of Failure in Life Safety Design
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Joseph Meyer, PE, is a Fire Protection Engineer in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.