I was having a conversation with a group of women business owners about the staffing challenges we all face. We talked about recruiting, retention and engagement. Eventually, as it always does the conversation wound around to the challenges of managing Millennial employees. There were the typical complaints about work style, impatience and feelings of entitlement. Somewhere in that conversation, it occurred to me the reason we Boomers struggle with Millennials is in many ways they are more like us than any of the interim generations.

Yes, my fellow Boomers, looking at Millennials is like looking in the mirror. Don’t believe me? Here are just a few examples.

They think the world revolves around them — Do I really need to prove this one? Think about it. There were 74.9 million people born between the years 1946 and 1964. Everything changed as we came of age. We crowded into classrooms, causing an explosion of school construction and today an explosion in senior living communities.

When we didn’t like something, we complained, loudly. I remember protesting, everything from school dress codes (remember when girls weren’t allowed to wear pants?) to the war in Vietnam and the voting age. 

As we have aged, we have redefined what aging and retirement looks like. We are starting new careers and launching businesses at an age when our parents were content to sit on the porch with the grand kids.

With 75.4 million Millennials in America today, they are now the largest percent of the population. Because immigrants tend to be younger, we expect that number to swell to almost 81 million by 2036. 

For sixty years, the world has revolved around us. It isn’t surprising we are not ready to see that emphasis shift. But it is time.

No respect for people who paid their dues — Remember not trusting anyone over thirty? We were pretty confident their brains had begun to atrophy, and that they had sold their souls to the corporate machine. 

We came to the job market ready to work and ready to move up. For older Boomers in a growing economy with fewer workers older than they were, there was lots of room for us at the top. 

For younger Boomers, like me, it took a little while. As a result, we were more likely to jump around until we found a company who would put us on the fast track. Older workers who had spent their entire career with one or two companies felt we were too impatient.

We have seen many workforce changes in our lifetime as corporate structures flattened and leadership roles for women and minorities have expanded. There is, however, still tremendous pay inequality. We were angry about the disparity thirty years ago, why shouldn’t today’s workers be angry now?

Want to be passionate — A survey done recently at YPulse found “76% of Millennial employees would rather have a lower paying career they are passionate than a high-earning career they are not passionate about.” 

Go ahead, Boomers pretend to turn your nose up at that comment, but you were like that once. It is the privilege of youth.

Before you had obligations like mortgages and family bills, you hitchhiked across America, marched for civil rights and women’s rights and an end to the war in Vietnam. 

You joined the Peace Corp or worked on political campaigns for Bobby Kennedy or George McGovern. You were passionate in a way only a young person could be. Maybe you are just a little jealous of the passion of Millennials because you can’t find yours.

Every generation enters the workforce with enthusiasm and impatience. Instead of sneering at their enthusiasm and desire to have meaningful work, we Boomers need to help Millennials find the meaning in the tasks they have been asked to perform. 

They will soon dominate the workforce. Help them channel their energy and ideas in productive ways. Their familiarity with technology gives them distinct advantages. Encourage them to play to their strengths and apply what they know. Give them a chance to learn from their experiences, both successes, and failures.

And when you are done focusing on your Millennial workforce, take some time to reignite your own passion. You may find that at work, or as you look beyond your retirement to your next career or hobby. But find it, because life is too short to live without passion.

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