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Charles Murray’s Advice to Millennials
Someone needs to send Pajama Boy a copy of Charles Murray’s new book The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead. In it, he offers advice to Millennials on how to succeed and live the good life.
I started reading the book last night and couldn’t put it down. Murray is unapologetic in his assessment of the millennial generation and dishes out some tough love with compassion and humor.
First, he reminds them that, when it comes to moving up in the world, most of the time they’ll be working for curmudgeons like him—people who are “inwardly grumpy about many aspects of contemporary culture, make quick pitiless judgments about your behavior in the workplace, and don’t hesitate to act on those judgments in deciding who gets promoted and who gets fired.”
His advice is simple and straightforward. Here are a few examples:
- Don’t suck up. If you have talent and work hard, you won’t need to flatter others to get ahead—which doesn’t work anyway.
- Don’t use first names with people considerably older than you until asked, and sometimes not even then.
- Excise the word like from your spoken English.
- Get rid of the body art. “If you have visible tattoos, piercings, or hair of a color not found in nature, curmudgeons will not hire you except for positions where they don’t have to see you, and perhaps not even those.”
- Dress to impress.
- Learn to write well, and be respectful in emails.
- Have good manners—but more than that, learn to be gracious.
Not surprising advice coming from a self-professed curmudgeon, but where Murray’s book gets really good is when he confronts Millennials on some of the harder truths—like their sense of entitlement, lack of resilience, and inability to engage in “rigor.”
Many curmudgeons believe that a malady afflicts many of today’s twenty-somethings: their sense of entitlement. It is their impression that too many of you think doing routine office tasks is beneath you, and your supervisors are insufficiently sensitive to your needs. Curmudgeons are also likely to think that you have a higher opinion of your abilities than your performance warrants.
Curmudgeons are also irritated by the complaints they hear about today’s job market, as if in the olden days every college graduate went directly to a meaningful job with a career ladder. When the curmudgeons in your life were twenty-two, most of them found that getting started in the job market was characterized by low pay, boring entry-level work, little job security, and promotions that had to be hard-earned. They don’t see why you should feel like you are being subjected to some unprecedentedly harsh entry-level environment.
Here’s a secret you should remember whenever you hear someone lamenting how tough it is to get ahead in the postindustrial global economy: Few people work nearly as hard as they could. The few who do have it made.
Murray emphasizes the need for kids to leave home, so listen up Pajama Boy:
Don’t argue that you can’t find a job that pays enough to support yourself. You can. You just can’t find a job that will support you in the style to which you have been accustomed. So accustom yourself to a new style. Learn to get by on little—prove to yourself how resourceful you can be. Move out. No matter what. And don’t let your parents support you. . . . Many of you have parents who, for the most loving reasons, are willing to prolong your adolescence if you let them. Don’t let them.
Murray’s book is filled with insight, as he encourages young people to take advantage of the freedom of their twenties and not fall for the myth that they have to be successful before the age of 30 or they never will be. Most people are at their best in their 40s, after they’ve gained some practical wisdom—some life experience—and young people should do all they can to get that experience and learn to be resilient.
Most young people today have had excessively easy childhoods, Murray says. They haven’t been pushed beyond their limits, broken down, or forced to overcome obstacles and learn to adapt. As a result, they aren’t resilient (he finds this particularly true among graduates of elite colleges). Murray encourages Millennials to find the courage to put themselves in challenging, difficult situations so they can grow from the experience and become stronger individuals.
If I could get Murray’s book into the hands of every Millennial, I would. It’s sage advice for a generation that greatly needs it. Murray is encouraging in a grandfatherly kind of way as he urges young people to discover what they enjoy most in life and find a vocation that fulfills those desires.
This generation is terrified that it won’t be successful, and they’re running from college to grad school, then back home, then back to college again in a frenzy. Murray tells them to take a step back and relax. He assures them that they don’t need to rush. Take your time, he advises. When you’re in your twenties and single, you have time. You have the freedom to explore life, to take jobs that will introduce you to people you might not have ever met before, and to go on journeys that will help you become a fully actualized person.
Live a humble, judicious life, Murray says, in which you think less of yourself and more of others, work hard, and be good. If you do that, you will find the satisfaction and happiness you seek.
For those of you thinking of graduation presents, this is the perfect gift. I know my children will be getting a copy. It’s a short, easy, fun read, but it’s rich and powerful. A much-needed message to a lost and fearful generation that has so much potential.Published in General
Sounds good, but I’m not sure it’s true that self-promotion doesn’t work or is unnecessary.
DocJay was a carny for a spell. Seems to have worked for him.
Point 1 is lunacy! I agree that people shouldn’t suck up to others; they should have more self-respect than that. But let’s not pretend that sucking up doesn’t help people climb ladders. Sucking up and being well liked are, for the vast majority of corporate or bureaucratic jobs, MUCH more important than being good at what you do.
What great advice. I’ll e mail this abridge examination of Murray’s thoughts on Millennial’s to my 21 year old, then go home an kick him out. No more coddling, and then tell the 18 year he’s next….
Just kidding, I let then stay home as long as they are “actively enrolled” (i.e. full time, none of this 3 class per semester nonsense) in a college degree that has market value. I reimburse them 100% for every “A”, 80% for every “B” the rest is on their nickel. It is my contribution to them to graduate as debt free as possible. They still have chores (helping me with a clutch change this weekend!) and have to pay their own auto insurance, phone bills, text books, and fees (and photo speeding tickets for the lead footed one). Which means they still work part time and during the summers.
Got to have that skin in the game.
True blue—Murray offered the caveat on that point that sucking up probably works in the entertainment industry and politics but in the rest of the world it’s looked down upon as a ploy of the insecure. His advice is about doing what’s right and he said in a good company sucking up doesn’t work because character matters. He said if you’re in a company where sucking up is rewarded then you’re in a bad company and you should start looking for another job. Secure people dont need to flatter others to get ahead. They let their hard work and talent speak for themselves. That’s his advice. Not lunacy at all. Wise.
D. C. I absolutely agree that sucking up is a sign of insecurity. Refusing to toady is a sign of strong character. The reason it requires character is that said refusal often works against one’s self-interest. If sucking up weren’t advantageous, at least in many circumstances, it wouldn’t require character to refrain from it. His claim that it doesn’t often work just seems way too sanguine to me. The saying “virtue is its own reward” resonates because expecting other rewards from virtue is likely to leave you s.o.l. (as my mother liked to say).
I think what he means is sucking up might work in the short term but not in the long term.
King Prawn, indeed having a broad understanding of humanity has been quite helpful. I’ve learned to love almost everyone, except maybe suck ups :-). Nice article D.C.
I’d also say that there are lots of cultures in which young people don’t necessarily move out of their parents’ homes. There used to be a young Ricochet member who had lived with her parents or in-laws (I can’t remember which) after she got married, while she and her husband were saving money–perhaps to buy a house? It seemed to have been a financially responsible decision that was satisfactory to all parties. If young people are living at home because they aren’t working and are letting their parents support them, that’s a problem. If they are living at home because everyone likes the arrangement and it seems more financially responsible than pouring money into a landlord’s coffers, that should be fine.
You can get the book, put it in their hands, even lock them in the bathroom with it. They will not read it out of sheer stubbornness. I’m afraid Dr. Murray’s book will be read by many, many parents and not a single Millennial.
Good advice for anyone, anytime. It’s funny because I just read this one again the other day (wondering why I had bookmarked it). After reading it the first time I took up knitting again, after reading it this time I decided to actually take those cooking/wine classes (plus work- and sorry no direct link, ipad again): http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-harsh-truths-that-will-make-you-a-better-person
OK- that didn’t work either, but if you’re interested just google the words- most of the responders are young people it seems.
As a person on the cusp between the Millenial and Gen-X, I would say that his impression of much of the Millenial generation is right on, particularly the sense of entitlement. One thing that really bothers me is that we have a whole generation of people that get out of college never having worked menial, physical jobs.
Regarding the efficacy of “sucking up”. There is a reason that Dwight on the TV show, The Office, is portrayed as a total buffoon. The stereotype is instantly recognizable. I agree that the tactic might be useful in the entertainment industry where the egos are gigantic and insincerity is the norm. In the average workplace it’s obvious and off-putting.
From one’s own workplace observations, one that is sucking up looses respect from co-workers to begin with. The outcome actually shortens the learning curve leading to incompetence compounding the issue. In the end it is a shallow and self isolating activity. Makes for very small souls.
My extremely standoffish parents taught me not to suck up. What they neglected to mention is that they were teaching me to be ungracious in the process.
A sufficiently cynical person will have a hard time distinguishing “sucking up” from being gracious. If you don’t know the difference (and I still don’t know where the exact boundary is, or even if there is one), it is far better to “suck up” sometimes than to be ungracious simply for the sake of “not sucking up”.
From Murray’s Coming Apart published in 2012:
The phenomenal growth in the proportion of working-age men out of the labor force from 1960 to 2000 raises the possibility that we are looking at larger numbers of discouraged workers… But the male unemployment rates in 1960 and 2000 were not much different ( 7.3 vs. 8.9 %). When they talked about jobs, young men lamented the loss of high-paying factory jobs, but they did not say there were no jobs to be had anymore.
In other words, this ‘trend’ started over a decade ago.
Excellent post, DCM! Many thanks for highlighting one of my favorite authors.
Re: the topic of “sucking up,” I have to say that is a phenomenon generally restricted to academic environments in the 21st century. My experience in the modern corporate world has been that the maker of the donuts almost always reigns supreme in any kind of profit-based environment.
Having worked for 30 years in industry I can honestly say rule #1 is wrong. Those that suck up beat those that work hard 9 times out of 10.
Star Trek DS9 fans know, Murray’s Rule #1 is trumped by Ferengi Rule of Acquisition #33: It never hurts to suck up to the boss.
The maker of the donuts may reign supreme. But if one ever wants to meet him, one has to sufficiently ingratiate oneself with first his HR trolls guarding the gates and then his petty dukes of middle management. Emphasis on petty.
This has not been my experience at all. The people who work hard and have talent beat out the people who suck up and have no talent. Maybe you’re confusing people who have talent and promote themselves in legit ways with people who simply flatter to get ahead.
From reading this thread, a lot of you have been in what Murray calls despicable businesses. There are certainly sucky people out there and egomaniacs who run businesses certainly want suckups around them.
But if we’re giving advice to kids—and the advice I will give to mine—is while other people suck up—and the losers who want them to suck up prove to be the losers they are—be the better man. Be the better woman. Do your work. Put in the extra time to make yourself stand out. Don’t flatter but be willing to put yourself out there in a “work hard” kind of way, not in a “flattering” way.
And if, as Murray says, you find yourself in a situation where you have to demean yourself to “get ahead,” leave. Even if that means taking a less-paying job. Character is what is most important.
I’ve worked for several companies throughout my life. All of them rewarded excellence. I guess I’ve just been lucky not to be surrounded by jerks. Or, maybe, I made that happen by discerning in the first place what kind of people I wanted to work for.
As a caveat, I also wonder how many of you are really seeing “sucking up” or maybe you’re seeing something else entirely and misinterpreting it. I’ve seen bitter people working at their desk scowling at everyone who walks by and then accuse the person next to them who is simply respectful and gracious and actually talks to people as being a “suck up.”
If you’re anti-social, whiny, and nasty, you will work against yourself no matter how good your work is. Have a good attitude along with the hard work and you’ll go far. Being nice and gracious—and social!—isn’t sucking up. You are the choices you make.
Wait, which is it? Are we supposed to accept whatever job we can get in spite of things like miserable working conditions (which includes a toxic corporate culture where office politics count more than talent), or are we supposed to pick and choose and wait for a job that fits our requirements?
My shoe job was the only job I could find for two years, and it was at a company where nepotism and office politics counted much more than ability, as I learned the hard way. (In fairness, I only got a job myself because I knew the manager.) Was I supposed to not take it? Quit on principle when it became clear I would never advance because I was on the district managers feces list for not bowing and scraping when he visited the store? Bills still have to be paid, after all. Isn’t demanding that they measure up to my standards part of being an entitled Millennial that the curmudgeons hate so much?
My observation is that if one wants to work in an environment where only talent counts, one’s best option is to be a CEO. Close second is for any company small enough where one can knock on the CEO’s door to ask a question.
But if we’re serious about telling people to work crap jobs like corporate retail or fast food instead of living with one’s parents, we need to be honest and tell them that doing one’s job well is only half of what it takes to advance. The other half requires a lot of buffing buttocks.
And what if taking the lesser-paying job means not making enough to move out of your parents’ house? Which is it?
Um. Yeah. Yeah it is.
Midge and Amy. The answer would be in those difficult situations to suck it up but don’t suck up. Life’s hard.
I have not read the book, but based on the articles and comments I have seen, there is one issue I have seen in Millennials which is not addressed. Call it the flip side. There are many young adults I find, including 2 of my 3 children, who totally lack drive and ambition. Barney told them they were special. They got a trophy for participating. The schools told them everyone was a victim. They never had to focus or dig deep for anything because the PC, Xbox, iPod,iPad, iPhone kept a constant stream of distraction and entertainment coming their way. Besides, they must have ADHD, so drug me and leave me alone. I’m fed, clothed and entertained. I really don’t need much else, so why bother?
I have often told my kids, for all the opportunity I can give you, I cannot give you one of the most valuable things my parents gave me. Fear and Want. They were great motivators.
About sucking up–if you are nice to everybody, those above you and those below you, it will pay off. But in order to really be nice, you aren’t nice because it gets you ahead, you are nice because it is the right thing to do. And, as Midge pointed out, it’s best to actually be gracious. Now I know that some people are more naturally gracious than others, but we can all learn to be nicer and more gracious. The golden rule is there for all of us. In other words, pay attention to your character. Do your job well and be a person with sterling character. If it doesn’t seem to work, well, sometimes people and jobs are bad fits. Good character will pay off in the long run, and nobody likes those who are nice to those above them and mean to those below. My husband often says that if you want to know whether or not a person is really nice, go out to dinner with them and see how they treat the waiter or waitress.
I agree. It’s the manner by which you self-promote. Of course you have to have something to promote. If you’re not delivering then it’s empty air. If you are performing then you’ve got something sell.