KEHLAN KIRWAN: Kehlan Kirwan: Misconceptions about millennials

This week Kehlan returns to the subject of millennials in business and work after he appeared on TV3’s ‘Pat Kenny Tonight’ show to talk about it. After his appearance he was moved to challenge misconceptions about his generation.

Sometimes it is utterly staggering how much we choose to see and how much we choose not to.

Last December, I wrote a column in this newspaper about millennials and how they see their role in the workplace changing and what a job means to them.

It was this article that got me an invitation to join in a ‘discussion’ last Wednesday on TV3’s Pat Kenny Tonight programme. The topic was millennials, how they are too needy, too sensitive to things.

The total lack of objectivity within the programme was staggering and consisted of a complete misunderstanding of challenges faced by this generation and indeed the generation to come. The blasé attitude of ‘Ah sure just stop moaning, you’ve never had it so good…’ showed how very little this country changes.

I run my business, I know lots of my own age group do likewise. I know friends who work for some great companies and some who work for not so great companies.

They are not lazy or indecisive about what they want. They do not moan about things that are trifling. They care about their lives and what they get from them.

Do they want to do the same thing as their parents? No, they don’t. We’ve seen where it leads.

Eddie Hobbs’ comments on the show of how he would encourage his kids to take up public service jobs, shows everything that is wrong with this country. The lack of endeavour, the limited ambition.

For all this country’s talk on small business and start-ups, it still seems what it wants is a country of employees and civil servants. People who don’t rock the boat or challenge the status quo. Forging your own path is still frowned upon, it seems.

Running your own business is hard, extremely hard. It provokes a range of emotions. However, the creativity and self-determination that it brings are beyond compare.

I love what I do and it has only been recently that I sat back to recall what an extraordinary journey I have been on for the past five years. Failures, yes many of them. But the successes have far outweighed the failures.

My sense of personal self-worth is beyond anything that I could get doing anything else.Therein lies the point. If we don’t produce a generation more creative than the one before, how do we expect things to change or get better?

My generation is deeply angry and frustrated. Frustrated that other countries remain better prospects than our own.

Angry that we keep getting told to stop moaning as we work longer hours and find ourselves with less and less money. Angry that two people can work at full-time jobs and still barely afford their mortgage and their bills.

Or maybe we’re just angry that an older generation that continually sleep walks us into major disasters keeps telling us to stop complaining. Saddled with having to clean up yet another mess.

Our wages are quickly eroded on health insurance, car insurance, utility prices, rent, mortgages, household tax and the list goes on and on. The price of which goes only one way, up.

We are not interested in working ourselves to death. Not interested in simply looking to survive to pay bills. Just working to pay bills is no life, it’s just existing. If we don’t want that then I think that is a pretty noble thing to strive for.

In my opinion, this generation has created more start-ups and small businesses whose ability to scale the global compass is greater than any that have come before.

That requires ambition on a huge scale, on a generational scale. I do not believe that it shows a generation who are lazy or unambitious. In fact, I think it shows quite the opposite.

If you ever go to start-up events like I do, you’ll realise that there is one overarching message that comes through again and again. No matter the idea or the product, without hard work and perseverance there is no company. If you want to be successful, prepare to have failures and pitfalls.

That creative thinking is what sets you apart from the competition. Looking for investment, alone, as a start-up or small business is exhausting. I’ve talked to founders on the edge of a nervous breakdown in the pursuit of the next round of investment.

I’ve heard the stories of just what people sacrifice to keep their company going. Friends, family, marriages, weddings and parties are put to one side to make things work.

Through our creative thinking, we have been able to create technologies that are changing the world we live in. We are tackling social problems like never before.

People like Foodcloud tackling the issue of getting people food that otherwise would be thrown out by the large supermarket multiples. Or Emily Duffy, a 16-year- old who developed social enterprise around sleeping bags for the homeless.

Through enterprise we’re tackling the problems of our time; looking to governments for answers simply doesn’t work anymore.

Look at the social impact we are having. Who would have thought that even a decade ago men would be granted leave from work to go and spend the first few months of their new born baby’s life with them.

Yet paternity leave was a big leap forward in this regard and a hurdle that was overcome as we continue to redefine the role of women in the workplace.

We are not interested in just being, we are interested in impacting. Impacting our own future through creative thinking and ideas that shape a society that we want, for us and our children.

We are more informed about everything than ever before. It’s not information overload, it’s a desire to be informed. There is a difference.

This generation is working hard to create the companies of the future. The difference is we want to create companies that can have a positive impact not just financially for people, but personally as well.

That we realise that people have a life outside of work is a deeply important and profound starting point in creating jobs that work for people, not against them. To have companies that people are engaged with and don’t just see as a job.

You might think that sounds very utopian, very kum-ba-ya around the fire. However, we have reached our limit of caring what the previous generation thinks about us. We’re tired of listening to what you have to say, because you talk at us not with us.

There is something very different about this generational gap than there ever has been in previous ones. There is so much more at stake in all our futures. It’s why we complain more, it’s why we open up more, it’s why we can’t just accept things.

We are not lazy or just mouthing off. We’re a generation who cares and that impacts on everything we do from jobs to life and society. If caring is this generation’s flaw then what a wonderful flaw to have.


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