Too Hot or Too Cold…Never Just Right!

 We all know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (bears live on mountains…the climbing metaphor totally still works…shut up!). Goldilocks never preferred things too hot or too cold, or too hard or too soft; she always wanted something in the middle. Which is an endearing segway into where I left off last post about my survey of millennials. The first question I asked participants was, “What main factor drew you to your current job?” And the results were not wildly unexpected. Yet when I asked participants the second question, “What is Your End Goal for Your Career?” their responses were almost the polar (a bear joke…get it?) opposite of what I expected, essentially a  “Goldilocks” model.

                As a refresher, I asked a group of millennials aged 22 to 30 from four different cities across the US a series of four questions. Today I want to discuss their responses to the second question, “What is the End Goal for Your Career?” In the last post I talked about the factors that pull us towards our initial career paths, but I was also curious about the frame of mind that millennials have when they first arrive at a new job. A professor of mine once told me that the biggest disappointment 20 year-olds will face in the coming decade is the realization that we aren’t all future CEOs and Board Members; “just by plain math, today’s coddled graduates are in for a rude awakening!”

                I’ll address the perception of millennials as “coddled” in future posts, but for now I want to dissect my professor’s comment that we cannot all be CEOs. Mathematically that obviously makes sense. There are only so many top dogs in the pound. But do all of us even want to be “Numero Uno” or are our definitions of success maybe a little more spread out? Before I even designed this survey I assumed most people (yes, even extremely driven millennials), would be like Goldilocks and ultimately content themselves with a comfortable life somewhere in the corporate middle. I expected some of the participants to be extra summit-driven, just by nature of knowing them outside of this questionnaire. But I did not expect for my professor’s opinion that all millennials are summit-driven to be correct.  



                As it turns out, his stereotype proved true…and…it didn’t. Over a third of the participants said that their end goal for their career was to become the CEO. And at first glance that number seems stunningly high and seems to confirm my professor’s thoughts on the matter. But when you stop to think about it, the data also reads that only a little over a third of the participants stood at base camp and said to themselves, “I’m going all the way up!” For a generation that is supposedly so defined by immediate and prolonged success, only 36% of millennials striving to be the CEO challenges the mold a bit in my eyes. True, that number might be higher than previous generations, but I think maybe it would be fair to hit the brakes a tad before we say “All millennials expect to be the CEO.”

                So if the majority of us don’t envisioning climbing all the way up to the Presidential Suite, where do most of us want to go? Therein lies another interesting find. Half of the millennials surveyed seemed to fall somewhere between my professor and me. Combined, half of the participants said that they would want to either be upper level management or somewhere near the top, but not be the sole person in charge. Yet contrarily, 14% said they would be happy precisely where they were, at an entry level or lower-rung position; the exact opposite of the driven millennial stereotype!

                So, wait a minute. If some of us want to be at or near the top, but not an insignificant number of us are fine being near the bottom, is there an aversion for millennials of getting “stuck” in the middle?What’s most interesting to me about those two findings is that, just like the first question, there was a category in which zero participants said that it described them. Zero percent of the millennials wanted to be “middle management.” Too hot or too cold…never just right! Are some of us not climbing to the top because we’re afraid of getting bogged down in the middle? So far it seems that if nothing else, we know more about what we don’t want than about what we do want!

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