Branded “the ‘me’ generation,” millennials in the workplace have a reputation for being, as Simon Sinek says, “tough to manage. They are accused of being narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, and lazy.”
During an episode of Inside Quest, the author and infamous TED speaker describes millennials in the workplace as follows:
“It’s as if they are standing at the foot of a mountain, and they have this abstract concept called ‘impact’ that they want to have in the world, which is the summit. What they don’t see is the mountain. I don’t care if you go up the mountain quickly or slowly, but there still is a mountain. So what this young generation needs to learn is patience. That some things that really matter, like love, job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self-confidence, a skill set—any of these things—all of these things take time. Sometimes you can expedite pieces of it, but the overall journey is arduous, and long, and difficult. And if you don’t ask for help and learn that skill-set, you will fall off the mountain.”
What has since evolved into a standard societal myth is the belief that millennials have been over-indulged by their baby boomer, helicopter parents that once encouraged their children to “be whatever you want to be,” while softening the blows of rejection, failure, and the pain of hard work through their divine parental intervention. Consequently, millennials have been doomed from the start to become apathetic, idealistic monsters of co-dependency and entitlement, desperate for immediate gratification, approval, and reward without labor or sacrifice. Though they enter the workforce with a noble, yet vague, desire to “make an impact,” crippled by impatience, insecurity, and an inability to process real-world stress, they throw in the towel before the actual hard work even begins.
See the full video below:
(Originally featured on Inside Quest. Source: YouTube, uploaded by user David Crossman)
A Deeper Look at Simon Sinek’s Description of Millennials in the Workforce
According to Sinek, “through no fault of their own,” millennial minds have been hardwired to have idealistic expectations for an instantaneous sense of job satisfaction and fulfillment, courtesy of the unique coddling they received from parents coupled with the instant gratification provided by the perks of the digital age. However, what they realize upon entering the workforce—and/or the “real world,” so to speak—is that the hard knocks of life are far more complicated and grueling than perhaps initially anticipated.
With competition against experienced baby boomers/gen-X’rs/ gen-Y’rs who have paid their dues to the left; emerging (albeit rare) “unicorn” businesses led by millennial contemporaries, insta-famous social media celebrities, and the anomaly that is the Kardashian empire to the right; and a pile of meaningless “congrats for participating” ribbons awarded in childhood now in the trash (if not already being used as a cheap alternative to toilet paper)—coming to terms with the fact that not all are meant to be considered as “special” or “extraordinary” by the rest of the world is sobering realization for many millennials.
It would be easy to dismiss this experience as one not exclusive to millennials, noting that this loss of innocence is an inevitable part of maturing from childhood to adulthood. Yet, millennials seem to have more difficulty coping with this fact of life than the preceding generations. Rather than take this in stride, millennials essentially emotionally process this universal life phase like a sucker-punch to the gut and find themselves lost aimlessly in existential crises before they can even earn enough to purchase an office-appropriate blazer (without the help of mom and dad).
The overwhelming shock and intensity of what, to millennials, seems like an unexpected blow, transforms these well-intentioned, starry-eyed dreamers into emotionally fragile, highly troubled, ambivalent members of society with low to no self-esteem. And where does this leave this whole generation of young adults? Well, Sinek asserts that worst-case scenario, they become crippled with depression, anxiety, or even drug addiction. Best-case scenario, they remain trapped in indifference and, completely desensitized to feelings of deep fulfillment or sincere joy, “waft through life just ‘fine.’”
Now, I don’t doubt the accuracy of Mr. Sinek’s research. I’ve not only witnessed and observed some variation of these qualities and behavioral patterns in millennials firsthand, but as a millennial myself, I’ve had my own fair share of trite, distracting, and unproductive existential crises. What’s obvious, however, is that throughout all this research, Mr. Sinek did not have the privilege of speaking with Ms. Mea Boykins—a millennial with a clear mission.
Meet Mea Boykins: An Extraordinary Exception to the Millennial Rule
“I’m a perfectionist when it comes to events and work for my clients. I don’t operate like someone else my age—the typical ‘millennial’—and I haven’t my entire life, even in my youth,” she tells me, during our phone interview.
At only 27-years-old, Mea Boykins is a millennial whose mission to “make an impact” has been guided by her strong, yet grounded, sense of personal determination and keen ability to strategically set specific, poignant, tangible goals.
“I’m a full-time entrepreneur offering five main services: event planning, fundraising, public speaking, marketing, and consulting. I’m launching my global management and marketing firm soon, but at the moment, I solicit clients by leveraging my personal brand,” she says.
(Image: At a fundraiser event Boykins helped organize on behalf of STEM NOLA. Judge Tiffany Chase (left); Mea Boykins (center); Katherine Sanders (right), who is the granddaughter of ‘hidden figure’ Katherine Johnson, the physicist and mathematician that helped launch John Glenn into space. Image Source: Mea Boykins.)
As Boykins prepares to launch her global management and marketing firm, she works with contracted clients that are acquired through her personal brand. “It pushes you to work really hard because when you have a client, you never know when you will get the next client or a new client if you don’t have a long-term partnership,” she says.
So, is Boykins a millennial anomaly? Perhaps. Her down-to-earth approach to entrepreneurship—and life in general—has not only enabled the positive progression of her personal and professional development, but her career path simultaneously manages to benefit the greater good.
Below are takeaways from my interview with this phenomenal woman. This is a must-read for any millennial who seeks sincere professional fulfillment but is unsure of how exactly to obtain it…because—yes—such a thing is possible. Mea Boykins is living proof:
1. Cultivate a Diversified Worldview
Armed with three degrees—a B.S. in psychology from Spelman; an M.S. in Child and Adolescent Health from King’s College London; and a Master’s in Global Entrepreneurship from the University of San Francisco—Boykins has lived in five different countries and is fluent in multiple languages.
She’s also been a featured panelist and guest speaker at numerous notable engagements across the globe, to discuss topics such as cross-cultural and business management, social entrepreneurship, community outreach, and mental health. Most recently, Boykins served as the keynote speaker for the Cross Border Summit in Shenzhen, China.
“Travelling the world, meeting people from different countries, hearing their business perspectives, and observing how business is done in their cultures has helped to broaden my horizons and communicate better. I studied with 39 individuals from 15 different countries, so miscommunications would happen. But, so much growth happened from those groups, because we were able to overcome that,” Boykins says. “[Also], being in third world countries, [in particular], has helped change my perspective. I’ve realized the only things that matter in life are the essentials—food, clothes, shelter.”
(Image: Mea participating in a spiritual ritual during a visit to Tokyo. Image Source: Instagram, @meaboykins.)
2. Understand the Value of Patience and Be Strategic
Sinek points out that a common trait among millennials is impatience. The explosion of technological advancements concentrated within the decades of their formative years has conditioned the expectations of millennials. They are accustomed to and, in turn, demand quick, immediate results. Such quality and skill is a double-edged sword in the corporate world. On one hand, millennials have the advantage of being quick studies, able to pick up and execute new tasks with ease. But on the other hand, this can lead to more impulsive decisions based on temporary solutions that ultimately have long-term consequences.
Boykins, however, has found more success by, first, making a clear, strategic blueprint for herself, with achievable benchmarks based on overall professional objectives.
“I’m very strategic, and I have to do things that fit into my goals—I’m very long-sighted. The things I’m doing now fit into my 20-year goals, then I break that down into five years, then one year, then months. Then, I just continue to make choices and do things that are going to push me to into the direction of those goals,” she says.“ A lot of times, millennials will think for ‘the now’ and make permanent or major decisions for something that is going to be temporary, but that may not necessarily catapult them toward the direction they want for their future.”
Boykins’ company is based in her hometown of New Orleans—a strategic choice based on her long-term goals. “I was born in Opelousas, Louisiana, a small town two hours outside of New Orleans, but I was raised in New Orleans,” she says. “New Orleans is [relatively] small, so I knew I could make a greater impact here in a shorter period of time. But, because I do work for myself, and that is my primary thing—I can really be anywhere.”
3. Make a Blueprint for Your Future—and Stick to It
Although “beggars can’t be choosers,” a newly independent millennial desperate to restore the comfortable bubble of living circumstances once provided by their parents may make the mistake of accepting the first gig to come along, without considering how or if the particular commitment truly aligns with their goals. However, Boykins understands the benefit of being selective.
“I’m a millennial that is just finishing up school. You know what that means—starting from the bottom and trying to make money, just like everybody else. Yet, I still turn down jobs and clients, because I’m always thinking about my long-term mission. For instance, one of my clients is STEM NOLA,” she says.
STEM NOLA is a New Orleans-based nonprofit that exposes the community’s youth to science, technology, engineering, and math by hosting hands-on educational events for students. “I do fundraising and am a spokesperson for the organization, so I try to solicit funds from people and develop partnerships with other corporations, nonprofits, and other influencers,” she says.
(From left to right: VP of AECOM Tyler Jones and Mea Boykins at a STEM NOLA event, with the $10K check she helped solicit from the company. Image Source: Mea Boykins.)
“I specifically chose to work with STEM NOLA because it is an organization that supports the education of youth,” Boykins continues. “They allowed me to fundraise, so I’m able to hone my skill set in that arena. Fundraising is among the top skill sets I will need to achieve the ultimate 20-year goal I have set for myself.”
With utmost enthusiasm, Boykins’ describes the nonprofit’s impact and growth. “STEM NOLA has been active for only three years, but they have already worked with over 8,000 youth across 400 schools, and it is tangible work. Like, more kids go to STEM NOLA events on Saturdays than they go to football games these days.”
During her first month fundraising on behalf of STEM NOLA, Boykins was able to raise over $20,000. But rather than gloat about her own incredible accomplishment, Boykins gushes over the student’s achievements. “It’s phenomenal to see an entire gym filled with kids all wearing white coats and doing experiments. The kids build rockets, motorized boats, hoverboards—honestly, it’s so amazing.”
In addition, she humbly expresses gratitude for all the organization’s willingness to include her in this empowering initiative. “Now, other organizations didn’t offer me the chance to fundraise for them, because I’m young and just getting out of school. But that’s why I’m so thankful that Dr. Mackie, [the founder of STEM NOLA], gave me this opportunity, because I’m gaining all this experience, and I get the chance to learn more, which I know is going to help me in the future.”
4. Don’t Just Talk About It, Be About It
“Everything I do is essentially tied into service, including my client work. I’ve always been a humanitarian and enjoyed doing charitable acts since I was a kid,” she says.
While still a student in college, the Spelman alumna launched an international nonprofit organization, Student Emergency Assistance, INC. (S.E.A.), which supports a scholarship fund “established to help young ladies at Spelman College who are having financial difficulties achieve their goal of graduating.”
“I have my nonprofit, Student Emergency Assistance, INC. (S.E.A.), which I’ve been managing for the last five years. Everything I’ve done and everything I’m doing now all started from this scholarship fund. When I started it during my sophomore year of college, it was something very personal to me. I didn’t even tell anyone about it. That is why I didn’t name it after myself; it was just something that was close to my heart. I did grassroots fundraising. I still have the letter that I wrote and used when I was 19-years-old to solicit donations from family, friends, and strangers—before I even had a website. Literally, no one knew who I was, so I didn’t expect for it to be so big. I was just, kind of, doing what came naturally to me,” she says.
(From left to right: Co-chair of Board for Rainbow PUSH Coalition Judge Greg Mathis; Former President of Bennett College & President of PUSH Excel Board Dr. Julianne Malveaux; Mea Boykins holding her Outstanding Achievement Award; Founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Rev. Jesse Jackson; Manager of Diversity and Inclusion at McDonald’s and Co-chair of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Board Pat Harris. Image Source: Mea Boykins.)
Last year, Boykins was even honored for her humanitarian work when Rev. Jesse Jackson presented her with the Outstanding Humanitarian Achievement Award at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s 45th International Conference.
5. Joy is a Process: Roll With the Punches and Try to Enjoy the Journey
When I ask Boykins about her thoughts on Sinek’s observations of how millennials operate in the workplace, she profoundly states, “I agree with some of what he was saying—like his metaphor about the mountain: how millennials ‘don’t see it,’ dismissing the value of the journey [itself], and how even joy [requires] a journey.”
Wise beyond her years, Boykins’ personal philosophies definitely diverge from Sinek’s conception of the average millennial. “When people say they ‘want to make an impact,’ what they really mean is they want to feel contentment, which is essentially joy. But joy is something that, from my perspective, is spiritual, and anything involving spiritual work is going to be a long-term process with trials, tribulations, and challenges. That’s why I say you have to be long-sighted; you really have to be patient,” she advises.
Though Boykins has never negated the necessity of hard work and patience—the existence of “the mountain” —she also hasn’t allowed the length of “the climb” to intimidate her, either. Rather, Boykins embraces her journey—the good, bad, and ugly. She sets new goals with each precipice, and with eyes permanently fixated on the highest peak, she continues scaling her way to the top.
“You have to be resilient,” she urges. “Life is going to happen—there are so many things that you can’t predict, but you have to be able to roll with the punches, use your brain, think fast, and figure it out. Pray that God leads you and guides you in the direction that is meant for you, so you can find and have that joy that is truly sustained. Though finding sincere joy is a long-term goal, it is one that is definitely achievable.”
It’s clear that Boykins has mastered the art of achieving professional fulfillment while simultaneously making a substantial positive impact—and on a global scale, at that. She’s parlayed her expansive experiences and expertise into a career path driven by her passion for helping others and enriching local communities, and in doing so, has managed to achieve this entrepreneurial excellence while succeeding in finding her true purpose. In essence, Boykins has not only found the profound level of personal and professional fulfillment that Sinek claims millennials desperately seek yet fail to discover, but her openness and inherently generous spirit serves as an inspiring beacon of hope for any millennial with a desire to, as Sinek says, “make an impact” through entrepreneurship.
Catch Mea Boykins live in action, as she discusses visionary entrepreneurship as the keynote speaker for Atlas Week at St. Louis University’s Missouri campus, on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
To learn more about Mea, you can also click here to visit her website and her follow on social media:
Are you a millennial with a strong desire to make an impact via entrepreneurship but you’re unsure of how to go about it or where to start?