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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
So true, ALWAYS be nice to the PAs/AAs/EAs. Word gets around fast how well you treat them. There will come a time when you want/need their help. Help them want to help you. Lastly, do it because you’ll be happier if you’re not a jerk.
Let me use Eric Whitacre as an example:
Now, he is a genuinely talented composer. His best works are pretty awesome. But he is not that talented – I’ve heard no-name graduate students in music write works comparable to his, and his less-appealing works are pretty much junk.
He is, however, a super-nice guy, with rock-star good looks, and one of the few composers of “classical” (though I doubt he’d like to be pigeonholed like that) music who knows how to promote himself on social media. Moreover, he’s willing to travel pretty much anywhere to hold workshops on the music he writes.
Because of his winning looks, personality, and self-promotion, he is adored as a genius. He has groupies, for heaven’s sake!
I do not mean to disparage him by pointing out that he not a genius, but merely a composer of moderately outstanding talent who really knows how to schmooze. I say, good on him for making the most of his talent! For no one gets to choose how much talent to be born with. We can only choose whether to make the most of it, given our circumstances.
Interesting discussion. I would distinguish between “sucking up” and “self-promoting”. The former is as others have observed the darker side of “graciousness”; sucking up is objectionable because it implies an unacceptable level of insincerity. Obviously on a practical level, that’s a hard line to find, but at least conceptually it’s fairly clear.
Self-promoting is working to call your accomplishments to the attention of others because you’re afraid they won’t notice you otherwise. Clearly it can be obnoxious, but sometimes it’s necessary, and I think on a practical level people are far more likely to damn their future prospects through deficiency of self-promotion than through an excess. Unfortunately. I’ve known some wonderfully talented people who underachieved through a failure to appropriately self-promote. It’s another hard balance to find.
As Robert Kiyosaki likes to point out, there’s a world of difference between a best-selling author and a best-writing author.
It’s also worth noting that sometimes, Millennials just have it tougher than their parents. That’s definitely true in academia, where a lot of the last generation were hired under dramatically gentler conditions than those faced by today’s applicants. Just as younger people should avoid being entitled, older people should avoid being stingy and ungenerous. I’ve seen older academics being remarkably supercilious in their rejection of candidates who were almost certainly better qualified than they at the time of their original hiring. I’m sure similar trends can be seen in other fields too.
If you’ve succeeded already, you can afford to be a little bit magnanimous about acknowledging the efforts and struggles of others. The person who declares “I’ve deserved every advantage I’ve ever gotten” is almost always exaggerating or self-deceived.
I’ve found this to be true. I’ve worked with lawyers who were always one step away from malpractice, but they had many excellent clients. I was never much of a BSer, but I was very good at lawyering. The SBers made a lot more than I. But so what? Now that I can no longer practice, put down by a 50 year old chronic illness, I can’t look back to many big bucks times, but I can look back at many accomplishments. I can look back at 91 appeals with one loss; writing (without pay) the definitive CLE manual on Montana Construction Law, and, most importantly, representing a significant number of clients who just flat needed my help, some of whom stay in touch years after their case is resolved. To me, these are permanent accomplishments worth all the fancy cars, clothes, houses in the world. Young people need to quit thinking about themselves, get in and do the work without obsessing about their own desires, and develop a sense of accomplishment that has nothing to do with riches. Virtue, not wealth, is the measure of a man.
It’s a lot easier to choose virtue over remuneration when one isn’t carrying a mortgage-sized student loan debt …
I just have to laugh.
If I work a job that doesn’t allow advancement without playing office politics, I’m demeaning myself.
If I insist on only working for the virtuous companies that only promote on merit, I’m being entitled.
If I do whatever it takes in order to get promotions, I’m a selfish jerk obsessed with money.
If I don’t do whatever it takes to get a promotion, I’m a lazy bum. (Who can’t do things like pay off student loans or afford to have children.)
How about the curmudgeons decide that there’s something we can do right, instead of complaining about why we’re awful for taking any of the options available to us. Just a thought.
No, it does not, but few companies are anxious to rid themselves of producers. “Sucking up” is a political strategy generally successful within divisions of a company not responsible for the bottom line. (HR is a prime example.)
I can use my personal experience with employees as an example; I have promoted and compensated some I have actually disliked because of their financial contributions to my business.
I generally agree with Murray. But, as someone who barely fits Generation X, I would add a caveat to what Z says.
Yes, work is work. While one might regret working beneath one’s aptitudes, everyone should be willing to get his or her hands dirty when needed.
That said, believing that working at a fast-food restaurant, for example, is somehow beneath one’s dignity is not the only reason one might have reluctance to accept such a position. The effort and commitment applied to any work might be respectable, but prospective employers do care about where you have previously worked. A fast-food restaurant doesn’t look as good on an application as a steakhouse or oyster bar.
America might be a classless society in that people are commonly able to move up and down between economic and social tiers. But, like any society, we have stigmas and preferences which are not all logical or fair.
There is also some sense to delaying acceptance of a job which pays less than a previous job, because that signals to other prospective employers that you are willing to work for less. It weakens one’s bargaining position. On the other hand, it is of course better to apply from a poor job than having no job at all. This can be a Catch-22.
Also, a considerate person might be reluctant to apply to a low-paying job as a holdover between better jobs because the employer with the low-paying job available usually expects a longer commitment from employees than only a few weeks. Is it justifiable to fake a desire to remain at a meager job for months to acquire that job, when you have every intention of skipping to a better job as soon as possible? This burdens the low-wage employer with weeks wasted on training on a stop-gap whom he might not have identified as such. But what employers would be likely to hire such stop-gap employees, except those who operate businesses reliant on seasonal spurts?
Also, employers tend not to want overqualified employees. They figure that such people will probably be bitter know-it-alls who will continually be looking for a chance to move up. Which are reasonable concerns, most likely.
It’s perfectly true that Millennials have some entitlement issues; I’ve certainly experienced this firsthand as an instructor. But it’s also true that it’s devilishly difficult to find one’s way through this labor market, even if you’re hard-working and nice and have reasonable expectations. All of which makes it particularly hard to give advice that’s universally applicable to everyone.
That is the flipside to the sucking up advice, and it’s just as wrong. It’s certainly true that “few people work nearly as hard as they could.” I’d go as far as most people. It’s the second part – “the few who do have it made” – that is not nearly as true. As someone said earlier: it may be true for the owner or the CEO who stand to benefit directly, but for those lower on the chain the benefits of the hard work first get filtered through the company and what comes out the other end is hardly always worth it.
Good managers are truly hard to find. I don’t mean people who bring in extra revenue or people who manage to keep costs low. I mean people who know how to get the most out of their employees: effectiveness, efficiency, productivity. Most managers that I’ve worked for have been oblivious, generally, but specifically oblivious when it came to even noticing extra or exceptionally-good work. The incentives are such that they can succeed without investing in any of that “soft” effort. At best, the people not working nearly as hard as they could fair no worse than people who do work hard; at worst they sometimes do even better since they can fill in their free time being “social” (ie schmoozing/sucking up).
Here’s the thing. You don’t need to meet him; you have to be him.
Another reason good managers might be hard to find is that many managers never wanted to be managers. When deciding college pursuits and prospective career fields, people tend to consider the overall goals of a company or the technical skills necessary to reach those goals. Personal skills and management of underlings are hardly discussed and rarely taught.
Rarely taught because it can’t be; on site exposure is the best MBA of all. (And one of the reasons many MBA candidates used to have 5 or more yrs of work experience before earning their degrees.)
Recently had an interesting discussion with a friend on the Board of Directors of the U-Michigan Bus Ad school; his perception is that too many students are now being admitted without prior real world experience and even the professors are complaining.
Oy. All this talk about HR reminds me of this classic scene (with NSFW language) from Clint Eastwood’s third Dirty Harry film.
OK, but it can be hard to get real world experience if you can’t get a decent starter job. Starting at the bottom is fine if it’s a job with actual room for advancement, but unfortunately, as Aaron pointed out, some jobs actually make you less employable. Does running a successful Etsy shop count as real world experience?
I’m officially spitting up my glass of vino right now. Classic, Dr. MLR !!
“Dr. MLR” – I do love the sound of that. Hope it was good vino! ;-)
I worked hard at Wal-Mart.
When boss said jump, I said how high?
For some reason they liked me.
When it came time to give out raises I got one.
Bitterness and accusations of brown nosing ensued.