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Millennial Minute: Letting Your Freak(ed) Flag Fly

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Editor’s Note: This Millennial Minute is a dialogue between LMC’s resident Millennial Kato Murray and CEO Kristen Carroll.

Kato: Kristen, in your “Effectively Handling Diversity in the Workplace” panel at the Chauffeur Driven Orlando conference, you said something like, “Millennials are much more willing to let their freak flag fly.” I look like someone who has sat in the corner and eaten Saltines for the past 28 years, so I am not sure I have much of a freak flag to my name, but I absolutely let my freak(ed) flag fly.

This is all a very clever way to say that I have anxiety and, thankfully (or unfortunately, depending on your stance), I am not alone in this. According to research conducted by Bensinger DuPont & Associates, anywhere from 1 in 5 to 1 in 3 millennials experiences some form of mental health distress, including depression and anxiety, and some studies show an even higher incidence.

Why do you think Millennials are such an anxious generation?

Kristen: I think it’s because you were raised communicating more removed than connected. You are a generation who is often at your best, brightest, and wittiest with the separation of a screen . . . so in-person interaction is not only uncomfortable, it can also be flummoxing.

Kato, or The Personification of Anxiety, with Kristen

Kato: That’s true. It’s been difficult to come of age in a workforce that’s already stacked against you – millennial has become the eighth dirty word that George Carlin didn’t know about yet in 1972. It should surprise no one that LMC remains an anomaly, and instead of feeling like a problem they need to stamp out, I am a resource for them to utilize. You once told me you found millennials “fascinating,” and it was the first time I was painted with a broad brush and didn’t hate how it colored me – instead I became LMC’s Happy Little Accident.

Kristen: I love my Millennials! I personally identify with a lot of traits of this new generation: I value experiences over things, I’ve been in a one-car household for several years, I opted for a small, inexpensive wedding, I travel religiously, and I have always needed to reconcile my values with my professional efforts. Alternately, I was definitely the employee who worked around the clock to progress in my career, and while I don’t see as much of that in this new generation, I think that’s a good thing. Balance is key, and life is to be financed by our work efforts, not to be reduced to them. With that said, I actually embrace all generations, and I’m glad we have a wide mix of diversity at The LMC Group. Each different path brings a different perspective and skill set that makes us better at what we do.

I do need to ask about the toys on your desk.

Kato: Over the past six months, I have incorporated a number of fidget toys into my coping toolkit, and I find that I am less anxious and more productive for it. Prior to these items entering my life, that nervous energy did not have a productive outlet, and I spent more days exhausted and frustrated as a result. Phone calls and meetings would be spent bouncing my leg, biting my nails, and ultimately, not fully paying attention. My personal favorite is the fidget orb, gifted to me by our Social Media Manager (and resident millennial in denial), which comes with 12-sides for my non-stop brain to fuss with even while I write this blog entry. It allows the focused parts of my brain to stay on tasks, and it allows excess nervous energy to siphon off into a condensed, controlled activity.

Word of the day: dodecagon, noun. Used in a sentence: No one has laughed at me for carrying an unwieldly dodecagon in my pocket.

Kristen: The popularity of the fidget spinner seems to suggest you are not the only millennial who benefits from them. I don’t personally get the attraction, but perhaps that’s because my hands are so busy typing 110 wpm. 😉

Kato: Correct! As I said earlier though, anxiety affects about 3 out of every 10 millennials, so I have decided to bring you not one, but three differing millennial perspectives. I reached out to Madeleine Maccar, Editor at Chauffeur Driven magazine and one of my favorite industry millennials, for her insight on the pros of fidget items. Full disclosure: she sent me two glorious pages in 9-point font on the subject; below is a Reader’s Digest version.

“I have stuttered since I was five years old. Fidgeting while talking helped me sail over the disfluency that was bearing down on me like the monster under my bed. I knew that choosing the life of an article-slinger meant a career dotted by pep talks before every single phone interview I have conducted since my first job as two local newspapers’ social editor in 2006: because nothing brings out the worst of my stutter like talking on the phone."

"You know what helps? The fidget cube I immediately purchased for myself after I first bought one on a whim for my anxious husband. He was deeply skeptical at first, but now has a habit of leaving his well-used fidget cube around the house. Have you ever spoken to a reporter who pronounces her occupation as being a “re-re-rrrreeeeporter?” I imagine it is awkward, based on the uncomfortable looks I got during the face-to-face interviews of my early career. Anything— I repeat, ANYTHING—that can stave off the horror of disfluency is worth its weight in gold as far as I am concerned.”

Pictured: Heaven, probably.

For our third and final millennial perspective, I asked my roommate, another millennial with anxiety, to explain why he uses fidget toys:

“To me, I am going to be fidgeting with something. It is either a nearly silent ball bearing or it is a clicking of a pen or tapping on a desk. It is going to happen regardless, so I choose the least disruptive form that I can find. It is not a matter of if it happens, it is a matter of when it happens.

It is keeping my brain off how anxious I feel, enough to let me get through my everyday life without a full-blown panic attack. If I am doing something, it is not sitting in my brain waiting to explode. I used to be on several daily medications to keep my anxiety at bay, and since adding the fidget spinner to my life, I haven’t needed that.”

Something Madeleine said at the end of her submission stuck with me, and I want share it with my non-millennial readers. “One person’s fad is another’s lifeline: By continuing the dialogue that misused gadgets have further dragged into the societal spotlight, we can start moving away from looking down on those who are different and start seeing their unique abilities and perspectives.”

Kristen: Some of my friends and colleagues have complained to me that the millennials are so anxious, it has become almost a fad…or an acceptable state. I think there’s some gray here. First, I believe we are all in charge of our destiny to a great extent, and any challenge we face, whether it is anxiety or otherwise, is something we should work to overcome. When I was new to the workplace, I was in senior level roles at a very young age, and I experienced a great deal of anxiety in a myriad of workplace circumstances. I overcame that anxiety through putting myself in situations that were difficult and living through them. Each time I proceeded with a challenge despite my anxiety, my capacity grew. I don’t want us to lose that spirit in our efforts to embrace and understand.

With that said, anxiety is a very real condition, and as a leader, I do all I can to create a fun, creative and open environment where differences - and even unique challenges – are both considered and even celebrated. I enjoy the quirks that make us all unique, and I think that by dropping the pretense and creating a safe and open space for all at work, you are not only doing the right thing, but you are also creating an environment where employees of all backgrounds can thrive and contribute at their highest level.

Kato: I think this is the epitome of the millennial perspective; for us, special snowflake is not a pejorative. I know that I have completely embraced being the most special snowflake, because I do not think it is a weak link in my personality. I know that it has led to me having more empathy, patience, and understanding for the people that I interact with.

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