Generations and Joy

Submitted by Gillian Harrison Cain, ATLA Director of Member Programs

Over the past several weeks a video of an interview with one of my favorite authors filled up my social media feeds and “broke the Internet” so to speak. Wary of click-bait and fake news in my Facebook feed, I wasn’t moved to click on provocative links about what’s wrong with millennials, even if there was a picture of Simon Sinek, a writer and speaker on leadership that I regularly follow. But after I returned to work this week and saw the same interview in my professional feeds, I decided it was worth checking out. And so I watched the video of an interview with Tom Bilyeu on Inside Quest where Sinek addressed a question he is frequently asked: “The Millennial Question.” I’ve spent many more minutes over the past few days contemplating what I’d heard.

In the video Sinek outlines four characteristics of the issues surrounding Millennials: 1) parenting, 2) technology, 3) impatience, and 4) environment. I won’t summarize his points here as it’s only a 15-minute video and it’s much more entertaining to watch him speak about these points than for me to tell you what he said. However, I do want to focus on one of his remarks, made about midway through, that stopped me in my tracks and has been haunting me for days. He said Millennials never find joy.

In the interview, Sinek reflects that because Millennials lack patience they don’t appreciate that things that matter take time. He believes that they don’t understand how relationships are formed and the strength of relationships. Ever-present technology doesn’t allow innocuous interactions to happen, he states, and Millennials never have a chance to enjoy the world. And without a chance to enjoy, he muses that there is no opportunity for the mind to wander and ideas to flow.

I’ve now been at ATLA slightly (one month!) over two years. There are days that I feel like I’ve been with this organization for a long time and days I feel like I started yesterday. Many of the projects I work on or the interactions I have are incredibly similar to things I’ve done before during my long tenure in library land. But the one thing that is new, the thing that brings me the most joy in my job, is my interactions with ATLA members and my chances to connect, and learn, and grow while visiting your campuses, chatting with you about your challenges, and hearing about your achievements.

It’s these moments of connection, these opportunities to build relationships that Sinek remarks are missing in Millennials experience of the world. And while it might be especially true of that particular generation, I speculate it’s something that is creeping into everyday life no matter your generation. Over the past several weeks, well before I watched this video, I made a conscious effort to spend time in a different room as my mobile phone, or a tablet, or a computer. Not only does the screen get really gicky when baking with it around… it’s easy to miss the opportunity to sit on the floor in front of the oven with a small girl and watch the magical moment that the puff pastry “puffs.”

It was hard. For the first few days I was constantly apologizing for not immediately replying to a text or I felt lost when someone mentioned a bit of news that was making the rounds on a given day. I was frustrated that I didn’t find out that Carrie Fisher, the actress who played the only princess I would ever consider being, had passed away until almost 24 hours after it occurred. But as the week wore on, my brain had space to work and think. Unexpectedly, I came up with a way to communicate a difficult concept to a vendor and figured out a way to move a stalled project forward.

I saw a tremendously inspiring speaker at a conference last year from a social movement and nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of humanity. Seems like a large and lofty goal, doesn’t it? But Alex Sheen (a Millennial by the way) didn’t set out to start a worldwide movement; because I said I would grew from the seed of a simple act and today is still rooted in the importance of an individual making, and honoring, a promise. All this reflection, and it being a new year and a time for resolutions, has inspired me to finally use one of those Promise Cards that were given to us at the conference that I’ve been carrying around for months.

I’m not going to come up with THE answer to the Millennial question, but I can be more aware in my interactions with staff or members who are Millennials. I’m not going to wean myself off technology entirely, but I can be more aware of how and when I use it. What is my promise? Be more aware. Whether you are a Baby Boomer or Millennial, Gen X or Greatest Generation, what is your New Year’s resolution or promise for the coming year?

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