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The Need for Impact

In my previous post I outlined the theory of Maslow: how several needs drive our motivation. In this article I am going to explain how not meeting a need can be incredibly demotivating. The need I’ll be focussing on is the need for meaningful impact and change, which can be classified in Maslow’s fifth level.

I am a great fan of Simon Sinek. On YouTube you can find endless interviews with him about the “snowflake” culture. This rather derogatory term refers to people from around my generation, also known as millennials. The ones that are unable to hold jobs for long. That don’t fit the system. Who are anarchic, free-minded, disrespectful, too individualistic, don’t have the 9-5 mentality and are especially entitled. The term snowflake was coined as it described the sense of uniqueness being felt by people of this generation. They all think they should get medals and participation prizes. They all think they are winners.

Now the main thing I want to focus on is the fact that snowflakes, I’m reclaiming the term here, are not able to hold jobs for long as a result of not fitting the system. I am not saying they are being fired, most decide to quit themselves. Move to a different job. Potentially with different hours, different projects and maybe even in a completely different sector. As long as this new job can provide them with what they need: the opportunity to make a lasting impact.

Making an impact is hard. It is also tends to be a very long and tedious process. To quote Simon Sinek: it’s a mountain. Most people have a concept of what a mountain looks like. To make an impact is reaching the summit of the mountain. The issue is that most snowflakes only see the summit. They don’t see the mountain.

The inability to see or understand the fact that most things of actual worth are not instantaneously obtainable is a concept that is baffling to most people of my generation.

I have talked about how it is perfectly human to want things, now. Immediately. We are temporal discounters, and having something now makes it of higher value than having something later. But this phenomenon is getting worse with each and every generation. The reason why is that we have been raised knowing instant gratification, to an extent that previous generations have not.

We are the generation that has grown up with and as a result is addicted to smartphones. Where social media and other apps designed to trigger dopaminergic responses are being checked every minute. We don’t have to go out to meet with people, we don’t have to plan. We’ll just WhatsApp them, if we need someone to talk to, someone to comfort us, to get rid of our loneliness. We don’t have to go to restaurants, we can order food in via an app, it will be delivered to us at our convenience. We don’t need to check the times certain movies are in the cinema, we can Netflix. And if we don’t just want to watch a movie we can just binge-watch an entire series. Instant gratification is great.

But what happens when this attitude is taken into a corporate environment? Our bosses don’t give us medals for completing projects. That is the bare minimum of doing your job. There are also no prizes for being the second-best. Only the actual “winners” get praised and get to fleetingly feel like they are on the right track to making an impact. But even being the very best at your job might not be enough to lead to a promotion.

So for most people there is no instant gratification. If you are not flying up through the ranks at a never before seen pace, it is difficult to see how working away at a desk, moving from one project to the next is helping to make that impact. The one thing snowflakes so desire. Having meetings, helping clients, it’s all unclear what it will lead to. And therefore, after having been at a company for only a short while, say about a year, snowflakes quit. Confused, insecure, looking for the next quick impact-making job out there. Shame it doesn’t exist.

It is not just the corporate environment where snowflakes are struggling. It happens in universities and other institutions of higher education as well. The drop out rate of students suffering from depression or anxiety keeps increasing. Their decrease in mental health is fuelled by not understanding how being in education is going to affect their lives. And not understanding how slaving away for a degree is going to improve their chances for obtaining a job in which they could make an impact. There has been an upcoming trend in refraining from higher education altogether, as it takes time away from being able to immediately make an impact.

The issue is that snowflakes struggle to see the process that it takes to actually make an impact. And although this is bad enough already, it can get worse, as snowflakes are blaming themselves for not having made an impact yet. When having reached the stage of self-blaming most start struggling with their mental health even more.

So what can we do? Wanting instant gratification is a part of being human. But even then, previous generations weren't struggling nearly as much as millenials are now. Snowflakes will really have to learn that making an impact isn’t as quick as updating a Facebook status. The process is endless and even worse: non-definite. Even after you have put in a lot of long hours of hard work, you might still not make an impact afterall. And that is a difficult realisation to wrap your head around. A helpful tool is to define and decompartmentalise what it means to make an impact. Divide the mountain up in stages. Divide each stage up in steps, indicating how each next stage can practically be achieved. Sometimes you are in fact in the wrong degree or job for making the kind of impact you want to make. In that case, do quit if you feel that will open up your schedule to invest time into making an impact. But be sure the kind of impact you want to make is doable, and attainable in a step-by-step program. If it's not, you might want to reconsider what it is you define as "making an impact."

Cheer up snowflake. Continue to work hard and do your very best. But do recognise that making an impact does not happen overnight. Whatever you may see on social media. You will climb that damn mountain. One step at a time.

Watch part of the interview with Simon Sinek explaining how Parenting, Technology, Impatience and Environment are influencing the snowflake, or the generation of millennials as he refers to them here.


Behavioural Science

Personal Finance



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