Let me tell you a little something about Millennials.
Nah, I'm only kidding. Millennials already have enough people singling them out, bashing them, calling them out. You don't need more of that--but I do have some kind, gentle, and ultimately uplifting truths that I'd like to share with you. And I'd also like you Baby Boomers to hear them too--and let me know if your generation understands them the same way.
Personally, I'm a member of Generation X--born between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. We're older now, with kids and mortgages and gray hair, and we're tired. But we understand and respect you, Millennials, more than you might think. We've been in a place not all that different from where you are now.
In a spirit of kindness, I'd like to share a dozen success truths I think most of us have learned, and that I think will make you feel just a little bit better.
(Bonus content: I wrote an e-book called The Big Free Book of Success. It's a continually updated work in progress, but it's pretty good if I do say so myself. If you like this article and want to check it out for free, you can download it here.)
1. This happens to every generation.
By "this," I mean that earlier generations talk about yours as if it's the worst generation ever in the history of everything. We went through it, but we weren't the first, either. Back in 1951 Time magazine went off on the generation born in the 1920s to the mid-1940s. They dubbed them the Silent Generation, and called them unambitious, "docile note-takers."
Among the members of this supposedly unambitious generation? People like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Bernie Sanders, Robert F. Kennedy, Che Guevara, Andy Warhol, Gene Wilder, Ray Charles, James Brown, Miles Davis, the members of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Quincy Jones...
Don't worry about how old people label your generation. You'll outgrow the labels--and they'll all be dead, anyway.
2. Remember the Golden Rule.
You'll do stupid stuff sometimes. We all do. But if you strive to treat other people the way you want to be treated, you'll go a long way.
So, just to use an example--if you're thinking of lying to your boss and saying you have to go to a funeral, but you're really planning to spend the day building a treehouse, maybe put yourself in the boss's shoes. Would you want to be treated like that by an employee--someone you might even be paying out of your pocket?
That's kind of extreme, but you get the point. A lot of the drama we hear about Millennials supposedly wanting to run the company on Day One might be ameliorated a bit if people just showed a little empathy--and treated others how they'd like to be treated themselves.
3. Remember the other Golden Rule.
This is the one about how the person who has the gold makes the rules. You can react to that rule many ways. You can change the way you behave to comply with the rules, for example. You can flout the rules in the hope that whoever signs the checks won't notice, or won't act.
Maybe most usefully, you can decide to set yourself on a course to become the person who actually has the gold. It's a simple choice that leads to a lot of hard decisions--but it can certainly be done. (Corollary: Follow the money, and do the math. At the least you'll understand the forces that matter most in this world.)
4. This too shall pass.
This time, by "this" I mean whatever crap you're going through. Stressed about a job search? You'll find something. In a bad relationship? Someday you'll look back and laugh when you realize you can't remember his or her name. Going through physical or mental pain? It's real, and it probably sucks, but in most cases you'll one day be grateful for the things you've learned from the experience.
I'd always thought Abraham Lincoln first uttered that phrase by the way--"this too shall pass"--in connection with slavery. I liked that idea, because it reminded me of how even horrible, societal institutions--which seemed destined for posterity--ultimately "shall have passed."
But, it turns out it's even older. Twelfth century Persian poets, apparently. Imagine how many difficult things people have endured--and persevered through--since those words were first uttered? Your troubles shall pass, too.
5. Treat other people kindly.
This one's a no-brainer when you think it through. Kindness makes you feel better and pays huge dividends. You can be remembered as a lot of positive things--smart, funny, powerful, for example. But if you're remembered kindly, I assure you you'll be remembered well.
6. You don't know the thing that will matter most.
I'm an expert on my own life, I guess, so I'll mention a few examples. What mattered most in the life of Bill Murphy Jr.?
- Gathering the courage to send an email to my old girlfriend from college in January 2012, especially since we hadn't talked in years. (We got married in 2013.)
- Driving to the deep suburbs of New Jersey on a cold Monday night to meet a lawyer last year. (We adopted our baby daughter as an indirect result.)
- Getting a phone call from a friend at The Washington Post who wanted to tell me about a job in 2004. (The job, which I applied for and got, was working as the top assistant to legendary journalist Bob Woodward; excelling in it changed my professional life.)
What mattered less? Things like what I majored in during college, whether I graduated at the top of my law school class, how I did on countless tests and projects and assignments that seemed super-important at the time.
Very different things--but the same kinds of things--will likely matter to you. You'll look back, amazed at the moments on which your life actually turns. If you live a life that's at all interesting, they won't be the moments you expect.
7. These are the good old days.
There are people who will read this article, I assume, who have not found their calling in life. There are some who haven't found their true love, or who have money woes, or who are stuck in jobs they don't like, or who feel like life is passing them by. I've been there at different times. Heck, sometimes I still wake up realizing I'm in my 40s and I have yet to start a super-amazing profitable company that employs tons of people and does an immeasurable amount of good in the world.
And yet--stop that. Ambition is generally a good thing. Looking forward to positive things is great. But if you fail to appreciate all the good things you have going for you now, there will come a time when you'll suddenly realize how great it all is--and it will be too late.
So make the best of the bad job while you figure things out. Go on hundreds of dates while you're single. Travel the world and try new things while you have the time to do them.
The things you want will come. Don't rob yourself of the enjoyment of the journey on the way.
8. It's never too early.
It makes sense to listen to people who have experience. But don't let their good intentions foreclose your dreams. There's a quote about second marriage by Oscar Wilde--"the triumph of hope over experience."
That's cute, but here, don't let someone else's experience triumph over your hope.
9. It's never too late.
One of my personal heroes is a woman I know whose husband was killed in Iraq. She had a career as a high school teacher, and she was good at it. But, a decade later, past her 30th birthday, she decided to follow another dream. She went to medical school, graduated, and she's a great doctor now--someone who refused to be told that her life's story had already been written.
Whatever it is for you--a new career, a new relationship, a new avocation--don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it, just because you're too old.
And if you're still young, and you don't think Truth #9 on this list is of concern to you, then use it to be kind to others. Be the person telling the older folks around you that they're still young enough to accomplish whatever it is that they want to do in life.
10. The answers are often in the past.
They say that those who don't study history are fated to repeat it. There's kind of a negative connotation to that idea, but I think there's a positive one that's just as important.
Whatever modern problem you face, chances are there's some kind of inspiration or even solution that you can take from how people solved other problems in the past.
There are so many examples I could use here, but let's just pick one that I find very amusing and relevant: Facebook videos.
The modern problem some people face is that they want us to engage with their videos, but most of us simply scroll quickly through our Facebook feeds with the sound on mute. The solution? It's not all that different from what filmmakers were doing 100 years ago, when movies were silent: They put the text on the screen.
That's just one example of course. Maybe it's out of left field or not particularly relevant to your life. But when you face a tough problem, even one that seems intractably related to our present age, remember it. The past is a great place to find inspiration.
11. It helps to grow younger.
Obviously I think older people have a lot to offer. I'm slowly becoming one of them.
But there's no doubt that it helps to grow younger--or at least grow older more slowly.
How? Take care of your health. Don't grow complacent in your styles. (Cargo shorts, amirite?). Learn, learn, learn, and learn some more. Spend time with younger people and let their youngness rub off on you.
Currently, I believe I'm the second-oldest person working at my 40-person startup. Last week, I was getting a tutorial on how to build a brand on Snapchat from a summer intern who was born the year after I graduated from law school.
I'm not sure that makes me younger, but I feel like it makes me slightly less old.
12. You sort of already know how it all ends.
Your story is yours to be written. Yet, somewhere deep inside, you have a solid sense of how things turn out.
This is because despite all of the unknowns and the adventures and excitement ahead, you know yourself. You know what you truly care about, and you know deep down the type of character you embrace. Maybe you can't quite articulate it yet--or maybe that's the easiest part--but somewhere in your core you've got the answers.
You know you'll be an entrepreneur, or an artist, or a parent. You know that you're creative or courageous or diligent. Or maybe you know, deep down, that you won't be these things. Yet, you're totally okay with that at core, because there's something else you'll want to be more.
Forget all the sniping, criticism and grumbling about your generation. It means nothing. What matters is that you'll figure it all out.
Okay, your turn. Millennials, fellow Generation X-ers, Baby Boomers--and anyone else--what other fundamental truths do you think I've missed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.