Over the winter break, I watched a pretty insightful video of Simon Sinek on Inside Quest talking about millennials.
It’s tough to know where people land on millennials anymore. Sometimes people are on our side when it comes to finding work, affordability of living, student debt, and mental health. Others couldn’t care less about the struggles of entitled 20-somethings complaining about it not being Toonie Tuesday at KFC.
But, Sinek sides with millennials. He prefaced the meat of his argument by acknowledging our entitlement, a mindset our overly-rewarding parents have been encouraging for years. “[Millennials] were told that they were special all the time. They were told that they could have anything they wanted in life, just cause they want it. Some of them got into Honours classes, not because they deserved it but because their parents complained. And some of them got As, not because they deserved them but because the teachers didn’t wanna deal with the parents,” Sinek said. I was watching this entitlement happen even in my final year of high school. Students disappointed with their grades would literally kneel before the teacher’s desk and ask for a boost in their grade. Crazier than that, it actually worked. Friends of mine would brag about their new grade to those who worked their asses off for the grades they actually earned.
But, Sinek doesn’t blame millennials for this behaviour. He acknowledges that our parents praising us for every little thing we did as children convinced us that people in the real world would behave the same way. And for those who knelt down before their teachers at age 17-18, who’s there to prove this line of thinking wrong? Adults in the real world do seem to be rewarding nothing.
Sinek continued, “So you take this group of people and they graduate school and they get a job, and they’re thrust into the real world, and in an instant they find out they’re not special. […] And so you have an entire generation that is growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations.”
It’s here that his argument turned to our addiction to social media. I know for a fact that we hear this all the time. I’m told that we focus too much on social media. I myself spend too much time checking emails. I take my phone with me into the bathroom and watch The Office (reserve judgement). But it’s not just this addiction to social media and our devices that curbs our self-esteem.
“We’re growing up in a Facebook/Instagram world. In other words, we’re good at putting filters on things. We’re good at showing people that life is amazing even though I’m depressed,” Sinek said. He added that engagement in social media produces dopamine, which is why it feels so good when we receive texts from our friends. But he also added how addictive the chemical is and why it’s so dangerous for young people to have something that produces a seemingly never-ending supply of happiness. When that happiness is stripped, even for a second, we panic. I, myself, am guilty of this. How many of us remove selfies that don’t get enough likes? How many of us post selfies for the sole purpose of getting some nice compliments from friends? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel good but it’s what happens when we expect to feel good and don’t that a problem begins to seep in.
“We have age restrictions on smoking, gambling, and alcohol, and we have no age restrictions on social media and cellphones. You have an entire generation that has access to an addicting, numbing chemical called dopamine through social media and cellphones as they’re going through the high stress of adolescence.”
It’s frightening to hear someone say something you always thought you knew but weren’t really paying attention to. When I was growing up, I rarely turned to my friends for comfort. Facebook exploded when I was in high school, and it was through this platform that we all began to see each other’s highlight reel. Subconsciously, I was turning to a social media platform that inevitably made me feel worse, and I wasn’t even aware of it at the time. Reflecting on it as a 24-year-old, I now know that when I turned to Facebook and left feeling even more upset, it was merely because people were posting their best bits of the day and I was misconstruing it as their full-time reality. I was turning to Facebook because maybe seeing someone post a good thing would cheer me up. And on Facebook, I didn’t have to talk to anyone face-to-face, but all my friends were somehow there.
It’s this very thing that Sinek expands on. “As [adolescents] grow older, too many kids don’t know how to form deep, meaningful relationships. Their words, not mine. […] Deep, meaningful relationships aren’t there, because they never practice skillset, and worse, they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress. So when significant stress starts to show up in their lives, they’re not turning to a person. They’re turning to a device. They’re turning to social media. They’re turning to these things that offer temporary relief.
“The science is clear. We know that people who spend more time on Facebook suffer higher rates of depression than people who spend less time on Facebook,” Sinek continued. “There’s nothing wrong with social media and cellphones. It’s the imbalance. If you’re sitting at dinner with your friends and you’re texting somebody who’s not there, that’s a problem. That’s an addiction. […] And like all addiction in time, it’ll destroy relationships, it’ll cost time, and it’ll cost money, and it’ll make your life worse.”
Of course it was at this point that I stared at my phone as if it was the root cause of all my problems. But, I didn’t think of myself as addicted to my phone or social media. I had always heard about this so-called addiction to technology, and I either ignored it or kept off my phone for a few hours before returning and never again thinking about being addicted. If anything, I deserved a pat on the back because I quit my technology for a few hours.
Social media doesn’t really do as much as it used to for me—if it used to do anything for me. I can scroll through Instagram or Facebook and see a cute video of a puppy barking at a lemon slice. Hilarious! But when I keep scrolling, I then see a stunning profile photo of a friend or of someone doing something I always wanted to do, and I’m right back to my sour puss. Yet, I keep scrolling in the hopes of finding another adorable dog.
Sinek only added to his insight by talking about our need for instant gratification. I’m guilty of this as well. I binge watch shows on Netflix. I sometimes hold off on buying something online so I can get it when next-day delivery is free. So many of us get sucked into this mindset that we’re already rewarding ourselves with instant gratification of material things that we enter the real world thinking the same thing will happen there. This includes our need to make an “impact” and the devastation that comes when we don’t immediately achieve it.
“It’s as if [millennials] are standing at the foot of a mountain,” Sinek said. “And they have this abstract concept called ‘impact’ that they wanna have on the world, which is the summit. What they don’t see is the mountain. What this young generation needs to learn is patience. Some things that really, really matter like love, or job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self-confidence, a skill set—any of these things, all of these things take time. […] The overall journey is arduous and long and difficult and if you don’t ask for help and if you don’t learn that skillset, you will fall off the mountain.”
“The worst case scenario is we’re seeing an increase in suicide rates in this generation, we’re seeing an increase in accidental death due to drug overdoses, we’re seeing more and more kids drop out of school or take leaves of absence due to depression. The best case scenario is you’ll have an entire population growing up and going through life and never really having joy. They’ll never really find deep fulfillment in work or in life. They’ll just waft through life,” he continued.
Sinek’s words struck me. Two years ago, I took a leave of absence for the very reason he described. When I told some of my friends about it, the majority of them responded with, “I wish I could do that.” There seemed to be this disturbing want to be able to take time off. As if admitting that you need help or some time for yourself was unheard of. The only reason that I actually took a leave myself was because a professor of mine told me it was okay to go through these things. If she hadn’t, though, I wonder what would have happened. It’s scary to think that I (and who knows how many others) have been conditioned into thinking that taking a leave of absence somehow means failure. Graduate in four years or you’ve failed.
Sinek wrapped up his interview by reminding us to remove the temptation to constantly be on our phones. We should be charging our phones in the living room, not by our beds. We shouldn’t bring our phones out to dinner with friends. It’s through these simple acts that we remove temptation and begin to enjoy life.
His interview reminded me of my addiction and why it’s so beneficial to remind myself that a few hours off my phone for one day isn’t something to celebrate. It reminded me of the freedom that comes with being off my phone and living as opposed to watching others do it for me. More than anything, it reminded me of Bo Burnham’s Netflix special, Make Happy. Like Sinek, he admitted that he was raised in a generation that taught kids to perform and that they could be whatever they wanted. “Social media, it’s just the market’s answer to a generation that demanded to perform,” Burnham said. “So the market said, ‘Here, perform everything to each other all the time for no reason.’ It’s prison. It’s horrific. It is performer and audience melded together. What do we want more than to lay in our bed at the end of the day and just watch our life as a satisfied audience member? I know very little about anything, but what I do know is that if you can live your life without an audience, you should do it.”