Millennials, Don't Let Your Only Relationship Be With Work

Over the last decade or so millennials have been exposed to stories of young entrepreneurs making millions, even billions of dollars seemingly overnight.  Furthermore, social media has given way to unrealistic perceptions of young twenty-somethings jet-setting across the globe, driving fancy cars, and living the dream. It’s no wonder, millennials have adopted the “keeping up with the Joneses” mindset from past generations, only amplified.  This mindset coupled with the rise of the gig economy and technology has led to many members of Generation Y to throw themselves into a world of constant work. The drive to live and present the “good life” has led many to justify this obsession with success as part of “the hustle ”, even wearing it as a badge of honor, not realizing the consequences it has on building and maintaining meaningful relationships.   

What many millennials don’t appear to be realizing, is that researchsuggests having meaningful relationships helps manage stress and improve health.  Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, marriage and family psychotherapist, shares the importance of relationships, “ human beings are built for relationships. It's in our DNA.  It's what ensures the survival of our species, and its what will ensure the survival of your career.” He goes on to share the importance of relationships, “we enhance our selves, our families and the world around us.”

If it truly is part of a person’s intrinsic need to cultivate and have relationships, then why are so many millennials adopting this "work first, relationships second" mentality?  Dr. Hokemeyer has a pretty straightforward response to this, “People are human beings, not commercial transactions. Millennials, as bright as they are, get that basic idea screwed up.”  The good news is that millennials are not actually very different from previous generations according to Dr. Hokemeyer. “Like other ambitious generations before them, millennials mistake quantitative markers for qualitative successes. So instead of measuring the quality of their lives by a sense of place and meaningful engagement with the world and the people in it, they use external constructs that define success in transactional terms, things like money, and positions of status.”  The bad news is that over time these external markers lose meaning, whereas relationships tend to grow deeper and provide a greater sense of self-worth as we age.

If you, or a person you care for, engages in workaholic tendencies, it doesn’t mean relationships aren't valued, but rather the compulsive work style may be a coping mechanism or an outlet for something else going on.  In Dr. Hokemeyer’s experience, “compulsive workers tend to be overly sensitive and suffer from intense emotions including depression and anxiety.” He explains a person's compulsion to work is, “a way they manage the intensity of their world and their discomfort in it.”  This doesn’t mean that workaholics are doomed forever, but a sudden shift in behavior isn’t likely. Instead, by developing meaningful relationships and a deeper sense of purpose in life, extreme work habits can soften over time.

Historically, “successful” often conjures ideas of a high profile career, money, and social status. Being a “go-getter” is not a bad thing.  I was brought up with the mentality that if you want to be “successful” you have to work for it. The same rule should apply to relationships and should be factored into what it means to be successful today. 

If you find yourself reading this, starting to worry about all of the people you feel like you should call and see immediately, don’t fret.  This is not something that you need to go all or nothing on. Dr. Hokemeyer reminds us that, “the best approach is small and incremental.” He says it’s important to remember that, “sweeping and dramatic changes makes for good theater, but in real life, they're not effective.” Give yourself permission to start small as “interpersonal skills are learned over time. Like yoga and meditation, the goal is to improve incrementally through practice. So easy does it.” 

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