This last week I took my kids to see Monsters University and must say that I truly enjoyed the Disney, feel-good, work-as-a-team, family movie of the summer. And as I reflected on the movie, it hit me that Mike Wazowski's story seems to be so similar to the stories of the many millenials that are in my life. (Although, unfortunately, Mike Wazowski's story is one with a little more reflection and wholeness then many of my 20 something friends.) Here are 5 ways Mike's journey might be like yours and two take aways that all of us can learn from to thrive personally and professionally.
1) You can do whatever you want as long as you put your mind to it. This statement has got to be one of the most harmful statements to get drilled into your psyche. Every young person and student I talk to spouts off some version of this statement whenever we talk about their future. Raised in an era of participation awards, inflated grades, and zero feedback loops, young people actually believe that they can do or be anything they want to be. And even worse, that they deserve it! It is with this worldview that Mike Wazowski gets off the bus and begins his adventure at MU.
2) Lack of self-reflection and feedback loops. Over the last few years I have been more and more amazed at how little space there is for self-reflection in young peeps. When one commits an offense or makes a huge mistake, the response is that these are simply things that continue to make us who we are and it is on those who we offend to deal with it. There seems to be a change in worldview where now there are not even mistakes anymore. We do what we do, and it is up to our parents, teachers, friends, to deal with it and extend us grace. Because culturally, millennials can do no wrong, there is no need for feedback loops. And because there are no feedback loops there is no space to help younger people truly discern their abilities, gifts, capacity for jobs, school, and career. For those on the outside it is cringe worthy to see the idealistic passion of millennials chafe against their unaware lack of ability, capacity, or even skill set. In MU this theme is summed up in the scene when Mike Wazowski goes to prove everyone wrong and puts his education on the line betting that he will win it all in the Scare Festival. (or whatever it is called)
3) Friendships are self-serving. Mike Wazowski is actually a big jerk throughout this movie. He is self-righteous and a user of people. He is bossy and self absorbed. Because he is cute he seems to get a pass. But it is sad to watch how much his use of friends as props for the fulfillment of his own dream and nothing more. And this rhythm rings true because I see more and more young people treat friendships as commodities. Friends are friends as long as they are fun, or some how bring some value add to the relationship. This is a normal part of adolescent development. But what I find scary and sad is that more and more 20 somethings are continuing this trend. Friendships, romantic relationship all seem to last but a few years at best. It is actually pretty lonely the closer we become to the center of our universe.
4) Reality inevitably comes crushing down. The most heartbreaking thing to watch is when reality does come crushing down. When Mike fully gets that he doesn't have what it takes, he is crushed. It is time to pack up and head home. This moment of reality is awful and I see so many of my young friends either swing for the fences and crash and burn, or simply hedge their bets emotionally and never really try. In an environment where finding a decent job and the fear of committing to a job when its offered is paralyzing, home seems to always be the option.
5) Giving up and moving home. It is sad to me that for an entire generation of young people, the reality of who they are what they can do and not do is depressing. For whatever reason the expectation is that if you work hard and follow your dream you will get to have a fulfilling job that pays incredibly well so you can travel the world and still hang out with your friends. And when this doesn't pan out, giving up seems to be the culturally acceptable option.
This isn't intended to be a judgment on this journey, but simply an observation of the cultural and developmental journey of our time. The choice is what to do when we have finally gotten a gut check, and actually have a truer picture of who we are and what we are capable of. Unfortunately the picture we get, or should get, is that we are not as great as we originally thought. And as an average person, how then should we live? What I love about Mike Wazowski's story is that he doesn't give up. He has a gut check, he reflects on the feedback loops, and adjusts his world view and expectations.
And because of this, he ultimately doesn't just survive, but thrive!! Both Mike Wazowski and Millennials have a choice they can make when faced with the brutal truth of their situation, which is being young, idealistic, hopeful, and also unskilled, with no experience. They can give up, or they can get after it! These are the two things that Mike Wazowski did that we all should do so that we can thrive in life and professionally.
1) Do life in community. Community and authenticity are nice buzz words, but are amazing when lived out. Think of the rhythms of your life and the friends in your inner circle. Do you have an inner circle? How long have you had deep friendships? Where did your fiends go? Why didn't they last? Why didn't your romantic relationships last? Culturally, most of the reasons are that they no longer served us. But it is when we push through that we develop deep friendships that actually bless our lives. When we can hear hard things from our friends and those hard things are said out of love we become more whole people! Life is difficult and lonely. When we are always the center and those who are with us always have to be into what we are into, we miss out. Find friends that love you for you, and love them back for them. Challenge, encourage, play, laugh, call out, celebrate with those people in your life, and do it for the long haul!
2) Start at the bottom, work for excellence! Where Mike Wazowski is exceptional among his millennial peers, is that he took his shattered dream and found an other way to accomplish it. He didn't cry about it, go to a new school, apply over and over and over again. He found the organization he wanted to work for, and started at the bottom. I don't get why no body wants to start there anymore. The truth is everyone starts at the bottom. And the sooner you figure it out, the quicker you can move up the ladder. Personally, I would rather be at the bottom at 22, then at 32. But unfortunately, many of my young friends are hitting 30 and still haven't figured this out and now have to swallow some humble pie in order to get after the career they actually want to pursue.
There is no shame in starting at the bottom. When you work hard and do excellent work, your supervisors and those around you will affirm your gifts and abilities and if and when those gifts and abilities match the next level in the organization, you have a shot at doing the next rung. But this only happens when you excel, when your work is outstanding. Impress with the little things and those around you will want to give you more. You can't wait until you have arrived before you start to work hard. It is a discipline, a character issue.
Look around at those who are the leaders and people of influence you long to be. They are old, and soon you will be to. But until them, be exceptional with those small things, embrace feedback, hold on to your friends, and develop an unshakable foundation! Then you can not only survive this world but THRIVE!