Dear Simon Sinek: STFU About Millennials

Posted: January 12, 2017 in Political Wrangling
Tags: , , , , ,

The last few weeks or so, I’ve seen the same video endlessly going around on Facebook: a snippet of an interview with Simon Sinek, who lays out what he believes to be the key problems with millennials in the workplace. Every time I see it shared, my blood pressure rises slightly, until today – joy of joys! – I finally saw and shared a piece rebutting it. As often happens on Facebook, a friend asked me why I disagreed with Sinek’s piece, as he’d enjoyed his TED talks. This is my response.

In his talk, Sinek touches on what he believes to be the four core issues handicapping millennials: internet addiction, bad parenting, an unfulfilled desire for meaningful work and a desire to have everything instantly. Now: demonstrably, some people are products of bad parenting, and the pernicious, lingering consequences of helicopter parenting, wherein overzealous, overprotective adults so rob their children of autonomy and instil in them such a fear of failure that they can’t healthily function as adults, is a very real phenomenon. Specifically in reference to Sinek’s claims about millennials all getting participation awards in school (which, ugh: not all of us fucking did, I don’t know a single person for whom that’s true, shut up with this goddamn trope), the psychological impact of praising children equally regardless of their actual achievements, such that they come to view all praise as meaningless and lose self-confidence as a result, is a well-documented phenomenon. But the idea that you can successfully accuse an entire global generation of suffering from the same hang-ups as a result of the same bad parenting stratagems, such that all millennials can be reasonably assumed to have this problem? That, right there, is some Grade-A bullshit.

Bad parenting isn’t a new thing. Plenty of baby boomers and members of older generations have been impacted by the various terrible fads and era-accepted practises their own parents fell prey to (like trying to electrocute the gay out of teenagers, for fucking instance), but while that might be a salient point to make in individual cases or in the specific context of tracking said parenting fads, it doesn’t actually set millennials apart in any meaningful way. Helicopter parenting might be comparatively new, but other forms of damage are not, and to act as though we’re the only generation to have ever dealt with the handicap of bad parenting, whether collectively or individually, is fucking absurd. But more to the point, the very specific phenomenon of helicopter parenting? Is, overwhelmingly, a product of white, well-off, middle- and-upper-class America, developed specifically in response to educational environments where standardised testing rules all futures and there isn’t really a viable social safety net if you fuck up, which leads to increased anxiety for children and parents both. While it undeniably appears in other countries and local contexts, and while it’s still a thing that happens to kids now, trying to erase its origins does no favours to anyone.

Similarly, the idea that millennials have all been ruined by the internet and don’t know how to have patience because we grew up with smartphones and social media is – you guessed it – bullshit. This is really a two-pronged point, tying into two of Sinek’s arguments: that we’re internet addicts who don’t know how to socialise properly, and that we’re obsessed with instant gratification, and as such, I’m going to address them together.

Yes, internet addiction is a problem for some, but it’s crucial to note it can and does affect people of all ages rather than being a millennial-only issue, just as it’s equally salient to point out that millennials aren’t the only ones using smartphones. I shouldn’t have to make such an obvious qualification, but apparently, I fucking do. That being said, the real problem here is that Sinek has seemingly no awareness of what social media actually is. I mean, the key word is right there in the title: social media, and yet he’s acting like it involves no human interaction whatsoever – as though we’re just playing with digital robots or complete strangers all the time instead of texting our parents about dinner or FaceTiming with friends or building professional networks on Twitter or interacting with our readerships on AO3 (for instance).

The idea, too, that millennials have their own social conventions different to his own, many of which reference a rich culture of online narratives, memes, debates and communities, does not seem to have occurred to him, because we’re not learning to do it face to face. Except that, uh, we fucking are, on account of how we still inhabit physical bodies and go to physical places every fucking day of our goddamn lives, do I really have to explain that this is a thing? Do I really have to explain the appeal of maintaining friendships where you’re emotionally close but the person lives hundreds or thousands of kilometres away? Do I really have to spell out the fact that proximal connections aren’t always meaningful ones, and that it actually makes a great deal of human sense to want to socialise with people we care about and who share our interests where possible rather than relying solely on the random admixture of people who share our schools and workplaces for fun?

The fact that Sinek talks blithely about how all millennials grew up with the internet and social media, as though those of us now in our fucking thirties don’t remember a time before home PCs were common (I first learned to type on an actual typewriter), is just ridiculous: Facebook started in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006, tumblr in 2007 and Instagram in 2010. Meaning, most millennials – who, recall, were born between 1980 and 1995, which makes the youngest of us 21/22 and the eldest nearly forty – didn’t grow up with what is now considered social media throughout our teenage years, as Sinek asserts, because it didn’t really get started until we were out of high school. Before that, we had internet messageboards that were as likely to die overnight as to flourish, IRC chat, and the wild west of MSN forums, which was a whole different thing altogether. (Remember the joys of being hit on by adults as an underage teen in your first chatroom and realising only years later that those people were fucking paedophiles? Because I DO.)

And then he pulls out the big guns, talking about how we get a dopamine rush when we post about ourselves online, and how this is the same brain chemical responsible for addiction, and this is why young people are glued to their phones and civilisation is ending. Which, again, yes: dopamine does what he says it does, but that is some fucking misleading bullshit, Simon Says, and do you know why? Because you also get a goddamn dopamine rush from talking about yourself in real life, too, Jesus fucking Christ, the internet is not the culprit here, to say nothing of the fact that smartphones do more than one goddamn thing. Sinek lambasts the idea of using your phone in bed, for instance, but I doubt he holds a similar grudge against reading in bed, which – surprise! – is what quite a lot of us are doing when we have our phones out of an evening, whether in the form of blogs or books or essays. If I was using a paperback book or a physical Kindle rather than the Kindle app on my iPhone, would he give a fuck? I suspect not.

Likewise, I doubt he has any particular grudge against watching movies (or TED talks, for that matter) in bed, which phones can also be used for. Would he care if I brought in my Nintendo DS or any other handheld system to bed and caught a few Pokemon before lights out? Would he care if I played Scrabble with a physical board instead of using Words With Friends? Would he care if I used the phone as a phone to call my mother and say goodnight instead of checking her Facebook and maybe posting a link to something I know will make her laugh? I don’t know, but unless you view a smartphone as something that’s wholly disconnected from people – which, uh, is kind of the literal antithesis of what a smartphone is and does – I don’t honestly see how you can claim that they’re tools for disconnection. Again, yes: some people can get addicted or overuse their phones, but that is not a millennial-exclusive problem, and fuck you very much for suggesting it magically is Because Reasons.

And do not even get me started on the total fuckery of millennials being accustomed to instant gratification because of the internet. Never mind the fact that, once again, people of any age are equally likely to become accustomed to fast internet as a thing and to update their expectations accordingly – bitch, do you know how long it used to take to download music with Kazaa using a 56k modem? Do you know how long it still takes to download entire games, or patches for games, or – for that matter – drive through fucking peak-hour traffic to get to and from work, or negotiate your toddler into not screaming because he can’t have a third juicebox? Because – oh, yeah – remember that thing where millennials stopped being teenagers quite a fucking while ago, and a fair few of us are now parents ourselves? Yeah. Apparently our interpersonal skills aren’t so completely terrible as to prevent us all from finding spouses and partners and co-parents for our tiny, screaming offspring, and if Mr Sinek would like to argue that learning patience is incompatible with being a millennial, I would like to cordially invite him to listen to a video, on loop, of my nearly four-year-old saying, “Mummy, look! A lizard! Mummy, there’s a lizard! Come look!” and see what it does for his temperament. (We live in Brisbane, Australia. There are geckos everywhere.)

But what really pisses me off about Sinek’s millennial-blaming is the idea that we’re all willing to quit our jobs because we don’t find meaning in them. Listen to me, Simon Sinek. Listen to me closely. You are, once again, confusing the very particular context of middle-class, predominantly white Americans from affluent backgrounds – which is to say, the kind of people who can afford to fucking quit in this economy – for a universal phenomenon. Ignore the fact that the global economy collapsed in 2008 without ever fully recovering: Brexit just happened in the UK, Australia is run by a coalition of racist dickheads and you’ve just elected a talking Cheeto who’s hellbent on stripping away your very meagre social safety nets as his first order of business – oh, and none of us can afford to buy houses and we’re the first generation not to earn more than our predecessors in quite a while, university costs in the States are an actual goddamn crime and most of us can’t make a living wage or even get a job in the fields we trained in.

But yeah, sure: let’s talk about the wealthy few who can afford to quit their corporate jobs because they feel unfulfilled. What do they have to feel unhappy about, really? It’s not like they’re working for corporations whose idea of HR is to hire oblivious white dudes like you to figure out why their younger employees, working longer hours for less pay in tightly monitored environments that strip their individuality and hate on unions as a sin against capitalism, in a context where the glass ceiling and wage gaps remain a goddamn issue, in a first world country that still doesn’t have guaranteed maternity leave and where quite literally nobody working minimum wage can afford to pay rent, which is fucking terrifying to consider if you’re worried about being fired, aren’t fitting in. Nah, bro – must be the fucking internet’s fault.

Not that long ago, Gen X was the one getting pilloried as a bunch of ambitionless slackers who didn’t know the meaning of hard work, but time is linear and complaining about the failures of younger generations is a habit as old as humanity, so now it’s apparently our turn. Bottom line: there’s a huge fucking difference between saying “there’s value in turning your phone off sometimes” and “millennials don’t know how to people because TECHNOLOGY”, and until Simon Sinek knows what it is, I’m frankly not interested in whatever it is he thinks he has to say.


  1. bejewell says:

    I saw that interview, and thought it was summarily unfair. It did remind me a lot of the “Kids these days” bullshit that was tossed around about my own Generation X as we were coming up. Sadly, I think this is a natural progression – the older generation will always feel this need to frame the next generation as a bunch of selfish slackers, in whatever way they can, likely in an effort to deflect from their own failings. Maybe Sinek’s next talk can explore better ways for our generation to cope with the inevitable feelings of disillusionment and regret as we reach middle age and realize just how badly fucked we are.

  2. Jean Lamb says:

    I’m a Boomer. We’ve been blamed for everything since we were born and probably two days after we all die. We were all replaceable at any time because there were so many of us, we’re either slacking off because we can’t work any more or stealing all the jobs from younger people because we can’t afford to retire. GenX wants us all to die (thank you, Christopher Buckley). We’re all drugged out hippies or hollow-eyed Vietnam vets, when most of us were neither. We’re all supposed to be rich (never mind paying the nursing home for Nana or staggering under co-signed loans for the kids).

    Welcome to our world…

  3. Tenzin Sherpa says:

    Perhaps it was very stereotypical and generalized, but I feel these kind of statements need to be made for the youth today to acknowledge the roots of their behaviour and feelings. I myself have become more self-conscious and have a troubled younger brother who is facing problems as described. This video was pretty helpful and relatable in that sense.

  4. Kids These Days has been a thing since at least the days of the Puritans (no respect for elders! Wild and godless! Disobedient!). A few years before I was born, comic books were destroying kids. Then TV and rock music. Then disco, then rap, now it’s tech. People sneer at twentysomething guys who play videogames the same way they’d have sneered at them watching TV–why aren’t they out there working hard and making something of themselves (because obviously if you play videogames you can’t be accomplishing anything)?
    And clever people who talk loudly in restaurants (in Monty Python’s phrase) have been grumbling for more than twenty years now about people being dissatisfied with their jobs, not showing loyalty to employers, etc. Never mind that starting in the 1980s, the business world kept telling everyone that employees meant nothing–they deserved no loyalty, they would receive none, they would stay on staff only as long as they were useful.

  5. Montana says:

    I agree 100% with what you’ve said, and I just want to add: the idea that it’s somehow a personal failing to want a job that doesn’t suck out your soul is bullshit propaganda fed to the 99% by people who are amassing fortunes from abusing and taking advantage of them.

    Also, the whole concept of “don’t know how to people” is sickeningly ableist, and as the parent of an autistic millennial I’d like to cordially invite Sinek to go fuck himself and his narrow, neuro-normative, entitled white guy concept of “appropriate” social interaction. But that’s a whole other rant. *cough*

  6. Elisabeth says:

    Ah, this is refreshing. Thank you, Foz. I try to tune out millennial-bashing, but it does get to me sometimes. I’m a millennial, and I’d never even heard of “participation trophies” until older generations started using them to insult millennials. Being told that I was “special” and doing self-esteem exercises (ex: write 10 things that you like about yourself) in elementary school just made my insecurities worse, because even when I was a little kid, I could tell when adults were saying things without meaning them.

    I turned off the video when he said that millennials want to sit on beanbag chairs at work. I don’t want to sit on a BEANBAG chair because I’m not a child (and I prefer ergonomic seating, beanbag chairs will fuck up your spine), and I doubt anyone else my age wants that either. We want job security and wages you can live on and that adjust with inflation. We want to not be condescended to by people who are completely out of touch with the younger generation. We want to not be blamed for every current ill of society. Most of all, I think, we want to not be told that we’re being spoiled brats for wishing we had the wealth of opportunities and the cheaper prices our parents had at our age.

  7. I really want to engage with your well written article… but I made the mistake of actually watching the clip and all I can think is DOPAMINE DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY! THAT IS NOT HOW DOPAMINE WORKS! WRONG ABOUT THE DOPAMINE! NOPE THAT’S NOT HOW DOPAMINE WORKS AT ALL!

    Literally, my whole brain is only that.

  8. oh boy!

    I’m a boomer; my parents members of “the greatest generation” and victims of the Great Depression.
    That event had a tremendous impact on them (until his death, my father was STILL eating “ketchup sandwiches” for a snack); my mother remains convinced that her money could “disappear” at any moment…

    As a member of the largest generation (and arguably also the greatest – obviously we were so wonderful that the previous generation wanted a whole bunch of us) I can say that I have personally observed many of the behaviors Sinek speaks about: I was distinctly impressed while visiting a haunted house attraction with wife and son-in-law a few years back: the lines were long and no one – No One – was talking to the people what brung ’em – everyone was glued to a phone, thumb-typing like crazy. No awareness of what was going on around them (physically), so entranced by their electronic marvel that they had to be reminded to move forward, and I wondered why they’d even bothered to pay the entrance fee – their friends could have told them all about it on Twitter….

    Here’s the thing: I believe generations are more affected by their youthful years than by anything else in their lives. Which means that the explanations for their concerns and behaviors are usually not apparent nor visible, so “where they’re coming from” is often inscrutable (and we often don’t know ourselves). Added to that is the fact that we’re watching our entire world crumble away, bit by bit, and the only people we can hold responsible are the succeeding generations.

    Deservedly or not, it’s your fault that the world is not the way it “ought” to be.

    You can fix that though. Start liking what we like(d), reject the re-makes of those things we hold dear (find the originals, they’re much better!) and restrict yourselves to a sensorium that does not include advanced electronics and we’ll get along just fine!

    • fozmeadows says:

      Nice of you to blame my generation for destroying the world as though nobody older could possibly have had a fucking hand in it. Get your goddamn head out of your ass.

    • Elisabeth says:

      “Added to that is the fact that we’re watching our entire world crumble away, bit by bit, and the only people we can hold responsible are the succeeding generations.
      Deservedly or not, it’s your fault that the world is not the way it “ought” to be.”

      Oh bullshit. Most of the real problems in this world (not silly non-problems like “kids play games on their phones while they’re waiting in line”) can be laid at the feet of the older generations. Most millennials weren’t out of school at the time at the 2008 recession, or were old enough to be responsible for voting in an American president who started the Iraq War and indirectly created ISIS a decade later. The outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries started before I was born, and the current state of the environment has been created by decades, even centuries of pollution and environmental exploitation.

      As for your argument about how personal electronics are destroying social interaction, I think this comic says it better than I could:

    • Montana says:

      “the lines were long and no one – No One – was talking to the people what brung ’em – everyone was glued to a phone, thumb-typing like crazy”

      How do you know they weren’t talking to the people with them? Perhaps they were being polite and talking via message, so as to avoid disturbing other people in the line with their loud, intrusive conversation, or because they didn’t want old busybodies around them eavesdropping? Someone’s already pointed you to the XKCD comic, so I don’t need to do that.

      Your statement that “it’s your fault that the world is not the way it ‘ought’ to be” is nonsensical. Whose definition of “ought” are we using? Yours? Mine? Some random person off the street? Are you trying to say that if people don’t like the way things are, they should get out and change them? Because if so, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. Millennials are perfectly happy with the aspects of the world that you’re complaining about; they generally have no problem with their own use of technology. What they’re unhappy with are the things that have been done to them, and to the world they’ve inherited, by your generation and mine, so it’s not their fault it’s *OUR* fault. (Which is not to say that they shouldn’t work to fix it, but neither should you or I sit on our asses and tell them to do something about climate change if they don’t like it, for instance.) And if you’re complaining about things they do that have no impact on you—e.g., their use of technology—then you should STFU* because see above re: “have no impact on you.”

      *That’s newfangled internet talk for shut your cakehole.

      • Lila says:

        I love your point about people using these devices to interact *with other people* (sometimes even *people they already meet in person too!*). Some of the complainers seem to think “if I can’t see them, they don’t exist” about the people on the other ends of those texts and emails.

        Remember parents in the 1980s complaining about teenagers spending hours on the phone?

        How many of those parents accused their teenagers of wanting to spend time on the phone for the sake of *the phone* because they didn’t know there was another person at the other end of the phone call?

        Anyway, which generations *invented* this gear? 😉

    • Bunny says:

      You know, it’s funny.

      I hear a lot of older folk bashing on millenials because we’re apparently disconnected from the world, antisocial, want everything handed to us, need to take responsibility for the state of the world and fix it…

      And yet when we were protesting the Iraq war back when I was *actually* a teenage millenial, apparently that wasn’t what they meant. When we were fighting for same-sex marriage and legal protections for trans folk, that wasn’t what they meant. When the world went, in the span of our generation’s maturation, from one where gay folk were so reviled that the US government was able to get away with *wilful neglect and obstruction* of medical research during the height of the AIDs epidemic to where we are now, that wasn’t what they meant. Marches and camps against the 1% weren’t what they meant. BLM protests and marches aren’t what they meant.

      People in my generation (and younger! The kids are doing some amazing things already and I’m frankly in awe of them) are using crowd-sourcing to help children access 3D printed, custom prosthetic limbs that their families can actually afford. They’re designing new kinds of fashion that are more comfortable to wear in a wheelchair and designed to look good while doing so. They’re volunteering their free time to help improve and manage the world’s largest repository of encyclopaedic information online, including translating it into as many languages as possible. They’re scanning precious artifacts in museums to help preserve the fine details for generations to come even if the original should be lost or destroyed, and to help give students who don’t have access to those spaces the chance to view and hold accurate recreations to help in their studies. We’re using technology as a tool. Did you know we can 3D-print organs now? Prototypes are being made as we speak. Think what that could do for the countless thousands lost each year for lack of a compatible donor.

      We are already making the world “the way it ought to be”. We’re already “fixing it”. I guess if life is so good that the worst problem you can see is people using their phones to keep themselves entertained while queuing, maybe it might not look like that to you. But maybe we’re just prioritising different things.

      And sure, we can be frivolous, too. While my grandparents while away the afternoons with candy crush and jigsaw puzzles and the pub, and my parents spend their free time on fruit machines and karaoke, I’ll admit I spend the odd bit of time catching imaginary monsters while going for a walk. I mean, my spouse’s grandfather went hunting when he was bored – I guess my way is quieter, but at the same time we don’t get to eat as much pheasant as he did.

  9. sorcharei says:

    Helicopter parenting is not a new thing. Don’t believe me? Go read “Understood Betsy”, written in 1916, which is nothing more or less than an impassioned screed against that style of parenting.

  10. Maddy says:

    YES FOZ. Thank you so much for this. You break it down so nicely. 😀 I was ranting about that stupid vid just the other day. I was mainly just amazed by the sheer illogicalness of his thought train. He talks about behaviours eg. obsessive facebook checking, which affect a fair few people, and definitely are problematic when done In Extreme (as are all behaviours…) and then for no reason whatsoever links a series of unsubstantiated hypotheses into simple cause and effect:

    1) These behaviours are exclusively problematic, instead of just ‘different’ or also (SHOCK) having some positive uses.
    2) therefore ALL millennials ‘suffer’ from these behaviours.
    3) therefore ONLY millennials ‘suffer’ from these behaviours.
    4) I, genius Simon, have the catch all answer: companies must seriously effing patronise their poor ickle brain dead millennial workers. Wait — wasn’t over parenting the source of the problem in the first place? WHO CARES, I NEED TO MAKE A CLICK BAITY TALK!

    What a farce. He would get utterly rinsed in my uni’s debates union for lack of analysis and unrealistic mech. He can eff off.

  11. Kat Goodwin says:

    I’ve explained to my daughter, a passionately engaged millennial who finds these articles uber annoying clickbait, that this is a rite of passage (and encouraged her to watch the move Reality Bites for amusement value.) Once a generation fully hits the “adult” years range (currently 18-30), they become highly visible in the work world and thus the media, more influential politically and economically and therefore are seen as a threat to the generations right before them. So they receive a generational name to define them — millennials instead of “Gen Y,” etc., they receive a second derogatory name — the “Me” generation for Boomers, Slackers for Gen X, the Selfie generation for millennials — and they get touted as the end of civilization by the people who are worried that the new kids will take their jobs and/or make a ton of money off of things that seem fluffy and unfair to them at the time — television, computers and video games, the Internet. They are accused of being in an arrested state of adolescence by older folks who conveniently forget the details of their own adolescence.

    It’s simple fear of being replaced by those with more time, energy, and ability to learn, not to mention are cheaper as labor, and thus, an attempt to further delegitimize younger workers as valuable. The fact that younger adults are considered the desirable group for consumer goods and control the current culture and arts does not help to abate the resentment. The fact that younger adults inherit the failures and problems of the previous generations and have to clean the mess up (which environmentally becomes harder each day,) does not stop older generations from claiming that the younger generation is incompetent and not as good at problem solving as their own generation. And of course, as you said, the media always focuses on the well-off (and white) middle class because if you focus on the other groups forced more often to hustle, that breaks the ritual of self-justification.

    Right now, “Gen Z” is in its childhood and teens, so it does not yet get its own name. Much of the behavior attributed to the millennials is actually related to teenagers from another younger generation altogether, which is part of the rite of passage (and unfair to both.) Once the middle of that generation has hit the university years and the front line of it is in the workplace, then Gen X and the Millennials will give them names and start bashing them too. I am always reminded of one of my favorite quotes, attributed to Marcus Tullius Cicero, who lived 106-43 BC: “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.” Younger people challenge older people and push for a place in the world that will hopefully be better — that’s their job. Sinek is grabbing his platform while he still has it to gripe — and to justify mortgaging the futures of the young. He’s desperately trying to give himself meaning, because he fears he is becoming irrelevant. And he is, especially when he shows no vision.

  12. natcbowman says:

    Thank you for this support, as a Millennial myself! My co-blogger and I drafted up a similar response to the whole “Millennials suck” argument here

    I hope it provides some greater insight into wth we’re thinking!

  13. Youreadipshit says:

    You’re an idiot. His statements are backed by actual data where you just rant and hide behind a blog. Put some numbers and research to your mumbling first before you get the panties your mom washed for you in a wad.

    • fozmeadows says:

      Bro, I’m the one writing under my own name, whereas you’re too scared to leave insults without a pseudonym. Hiding much?

    • Fergus says:

      No. You’re an idiot. Simon Sinek is an idiot. You are both idiots. Please try to be less of an idiot. I hate you, like, actually.

  14. Fergus says:

    Thank all the Gods of everyone for someone finally talking sense. I’ve been thinking that I live in some strange part of time and space where everyone on earth actually believed that pigeon holing entire populations of people based on nothing other than their birth year was a scientifically useful practice.

    What the actual fuck? What amazes me is how many fucking morons watch Simon Sinek (some guy most people never heard of who looks like an absolute cunt) talking obvious bullshit and then follow up by saying: “wow! yeah, haha so true.”

    I honestly find just thinking about Simon Sinek’s face makes me want to hurt someone. What’s more annoying is people who fit into his arbitrary birth catchment zone who are too thick to notice he is talking about them, then agree with him.

    I need air.

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