Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fellow HKS Grad TED-Talks About How Millennials Are Paralyzed by Choice

I just wanted to take a minute to give a nod to a fellow HKS and classmate of mine, Priya Parker, who did a very interesting TEDx talk on the existential crises facing high-performing, privileged Millennials today.

About the talk, from the video's webpage:
Priya Parker argues this generation of leaders suffers from an abundance of choice and a fear of choosing that prevents us from fulfilling our potential. She shares a very personal story of burnout and what she has learned about living life with purpose and intention.
And the video itself:

If you're looking for an alternative presentation of these ideas, she's also got a blog post over at one of the CNN blogs. Some of the key points:
I recently completed a year-long study of the values and behaviors of the world’s next generation of leaders – the most talented, educated, capable Millennials. I was curious about how this rising cohort of leaders makes decisions and plots the future. I concentrated on dual degrees, or graduates of elite master’s degree programs in both business and public policy.
These are people in their late twenties and early thirties who have usually worked in both the public and private sectors, lived in multiple countries, and passed through some of the most prestigious organizations on earth (the Gates Foundation, McKinsey & Co., offices of prime ministers and presidents).
What I found was a rising generation of elite leaders who bring wonderful new gifts to the table – more empathy than their predecessors, more worldliness, more pragmatism for an angry, ideological age. But I also found my generation of young leaders paralyzed, hesitant, and unwilling stick their necks out and lead on the big questions of our time: how to build a more equitable and sustainable capitalism, how to manage the transition to a post-Western world, how to extend prosperity to developing countries without pushing the planet over the brink.
But strange anxieties are getting in the way of these ambitions – none more prominently than something called FOMO. It is the “fear of missing out,” and it has been written about by others (including in an article about SXSW last year) as a phenomenon caused by social media. These media show them all the cool places they could be and cool things they could be doing, which always seem better than where they now are. However, my research shows that FOMO is leaking out of the technology realm and becoming a defining ethic of a new generation.
“Am I setting up my adult life to be the way that it could optimally be?” one of my subjects asked aloud, speaking of her general approach to life decisions. This subject explained how FOMO could even invade the pursuit of a spouse: “On the personal side, there’s this fear of ‘Am I committing to the right person?’”
More and more, particularly among those who have yet to make those big life decisions (whom to marry, what kind of job to commit to, where to live), FOMO and FOBO – the “fear of better options” – are causing these young leaders to stand still rather than act. “The way I think about it metaphorically is choosing one door to walk through means all the other doors close, and there’s no ability to return back to that path,” one subject told me. “And so rather than actually go through any doorway, it’s better to stand in the atrium and gaze.”
Generally, I like to feel that I do a pretty good job maximizing my personal happiness and contentment rather than focusing on maximizing my productivity, output, and/or professional accomplishments at the expense of my happiness, family, contentment, health, etc. However, I do have the occasional existential crisis (though they rarely last more than an hour or two) about whether what I'm doing "matters enough" - even though my work is to help feed 75+ million hungry Americans. So, I'm not sure anyone from my generation and with my level of education is entirely immune to these feelings, in spite of where they are, what they're doing, how successful an impartial observer would declare them to be, etc.

Anyway - thanks, Priya, for putting into words and getting some empirical evidence behind the feelings that so many of us struggle with, at least occasionally, if not acutely.

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