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Recognition and Self-Esteem

It’s no secret that millennials are constantly seeking validation. Oh wait, I phrased that incorrectly. That actually is a secret. 

Let’s try again. Most people have an understanding that millennials are bright, bouncy, and full of unearned confidence.

I tried, no one should criticize me

We are brash, deluded, and have the self awareness of a toothbrush. Maybe less self awareness than a toothbrush. Probably as much as a tube of toothpaste, though.

I digress. Our flagrant demands for respect in the workplace for even the slightest of tasks have many corporations struggling with how to employ us. Several popular articles have cropped up seeking to explain how to meet millennials where they are at so as to avoid the problem incurred when hiring one.

Try Lydia Abbot’s work, a piece by a millennial for employers, that calmly explains how to not freak out when you have the equivalent of a sniveling toddler come into your office after two months of work and ask for a raise. The Office’s baby-face Clark Green says it best when Dwight tries to stiff him for a promotion.

Clark Green

Abbot’s work makes several assumptions about millennials that I believe are really just traits all humans share, like wanting good coworker relationships and having opportunities for career advancement. But the most harrowing advice she gives has to do with our need for instant gratification and recognition.

Millennials need to feel like what they are doing is important and that they are on the right track.  Yes, it sounds a little needy…and it is. But, many Millennials grew up with constant praise from their Baby Boomer parents. It’s what they know.

Let’s ignore the fact that most people working shitty office jobs would appreciate a little recognition for their efforts and really hone in on what is being said here.

We are needy for praise because we are used to it, not because we’ve earned it or deserve it. In essence, this is just falling back into the old “millennials are entitled” adage.

Is this really the motivation of our deep, somewhat buried, need for external validation? Sure, we grew up in a world where self-esteem was largely implemented in our schools around the time we were starting pre-school. Despite being completely debunked around our entrance to middle school, self-esteem remains a big part of our cultural identity, and we are loathe to question its presence.

Lauren Slater encapsulates this in her postulation on why we cannot assimilate the research that shows self-esteem has weak or no correlation with academic success.

Self-esteem, as a construct, as a quasi religion, is woven into a tradition that both defines and confines us as Americans. If we were to deconstruct self-esteem, to question its value, we would be, in a sense, questioning who we are, nationally and individually. We would be threatening our self-esteem.

This indoctrinated self importance must be the cause of our dire need for praise and recognition, regardless of deservedness, right?

I want to dig deeper here, and I want to assert that calling attention to one’s successes is a critical and necessary part of upward mobility within a company.

Millennials live in a world where there are more people than ever before. This is common knowledge.

Population Curve
2000 – Also the year we entered middle school. Coincidence?

The psychological ramifications of living in such a populace world underscore our “self-esteem” in much more realistic ways. I may have been told that I am unique and special, and part of me may have believed it, but I cannot deny that any original thought I have has no doubt already been thought but thousands if not millions of people. Any idea that I have is quickly shot down by the vast droves of those already attempting or succeeding at that same idea.

With such negative (and completely true) enforcement about my accomplishments, why would I ever draw attention to my positive attributes? Why would any millennial for that matter, speak out about how well they’ve done in a company when they feel on a very basic and visceral level the pure uselessness of each and every one of their efforts?

Is it an accomplishment to handle 800 support tickets in a day or sell a thousand iPads in a quarter or continuously give great customer support, despite the crushing ennui that comes from working a service job after achieving a 4.0 at a good college? No! This is expected. It is commonplace. We cannot remove ourselves from the reality that every single task we perform is mediocre at best, and affects absolutely no one outside of that immediate interaction, if that.

Our self-esteem is not what makes us passively demand recognition. It is a two fold issue.

  1. We are living in constant defeat of everything that makes us unique.
  2. We were never taught to call attention to our accomplishments, and thus, have no idea that we should be.

So where does this leave us? It leaves us in dire need of validation of our work. Just a small affirmation can go a long way when our minds are constantly besieged with the realities of a heavily populated world. It also leaves us with no true ability to call attention to our real accomplishments, to the tasks we complete well and that do benefit our company, because we cannot see the effects of our effort.

And ultimately, it leaves employers continuing to believe that we are just demanding recognition undeservedly, and that these entitled millennials need to recognize the value of true, hard work.


Photo Credits: originally is dead. by kaycianne.


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Interested in many things, but nothing captivates more than technology, entrepreneurship, futurism, and humanity's quest to problem-solve.