Do you remember the song “Wear Sunscreen”? The words to “Wear Sunscreen” were originally written as a hypothetical commencement speech by columnist Mary Schmich, originally published in June 1997 in the Chicago Tribune. It became the basis for a successful spoken word song released in 1999 by Baz Luhrmann, “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”, also known as “The Sunscreen Song”.
If you remember this song, then like me, you are probably a Gen X. You are also likely to be learning to appreciate the unique characteristics of Gen Y (also known as the Millennials, the Tech/Net/Digital Generation or Echo Boomers). Gen Ys are the demographic cohort following Gen X. There are no precise dates for when the generation starts and ends, but most agree that they range from the early 1980s to around 2000.
I have had the pleasure of coaching many Gen Y, and my observations of them are that that they are energised, creative, crave stimuli and continually seek that ‘something new’. After all they have been born into the information age, where the world is constantly connected and technology is integrated into our way of life. Therefore I would like to share some of my observations and thoughts about Gen Ys as based upon my own personal experiences in coaching them, leading them and working with them. My hope that this might bridge the generational gap and assist my fellow Gen Xs to better understand and leverage our experiences to help guide Gen Ys as future leaders. However, in the spirit of the song “Wear Sunscreen”, I make the following disclaimer:
“If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proven by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now…”
In his book “The ABC of XYZ”, Mark McCrindle depicts this phenomenon of texting in quite eloquently. If Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet were written today, the famous balcony scene where Juliet proposes marriage to Romeo might go something like this:
Romeo: R u awake J? Want 2 chat?
Juliet: O Romeo, where4 art thou?
Romeo: Outside yr window J.
Romeo: Had to come. Feeling jiggy.
Juliet: B careful. My family h8 u.
Romeo: Tell me about it. What about u?
Juliet: ‘m up for marriage f u r. Is tht a bit fwd?
Romeo: No. Yes. No. Oh dsnt mat-r, 2moro @ 9?
Juliet: Luv U xxxx
Romeo: cu then xxxx
Failure is a part of life, and I believe the differences in how Gen Ys deals with failure is associated with how it has been framed in their minds. I suspect that many parents of Gen Y who didn’t want their children to live the hard life have shielded them from the difficult experiences and mistakes that are necessary in teaching us to work through challenges and difficulties. They were encouraged to do their absolute best at school every day and to beat the competition, and praised when they won. However I question how much praise and encouragement is appropriate. Much has been made of the fact that Gen Ys have been one of the most praised and encouraged generations in history, and there is evidence to suggest that too much praise, or at least the wrong kind of praise, can actually be detrimental in learning how to recover from failure.
One of the gifts that I believe Gen Xs can bestow upon the Gen Ys is associated with resilience. The Gen Y response to failure might be to figuratively press the ‘un-do’ button and subsequently find a different idea that is more likely to succeed. I have found that positive support offered to Gen Ys in a collaborative way can turn an ‘un-do’ into a ‘re-do’, and lead them to more successful outcomes based on their original ideas or modifications to their original ideas.
“Wear Suncreen” became one of the first viral sensations to hit the Internet in the late 1990s. No doubt the advent of the Internet has become one of the greatest influences on society, offering us a wide range of new opportunities. Having grown up in this era, Gen Ys have been quick on the uptake, continually leveraging technology to push the realms of possibility into new territory. However, like sunscreen (the real SFP50 type), research has demonstrated the vital role that parents have in influencing their children’s sun smart behaviours despite the myriad of awareness campaigns. Similarly, Gen Xs have the ability to influence Gen Ys as future leaders just as much as technology, information and their own networks. They are the generation who will lead Gen Xs children, the Gen Zeds, in the future workplace and in our community. I firmly believe that Gen Ys have a desire to make a positive difference and it is in our interest to guide them in their aspirations.
“Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth…but trust me on the sunscreen.”