Who Bought The Blue Ribbons?

There are many things Millennials are labelled these days: entitled, entrepreneurs, lazy, passionate, addicted to technology, the best generation ever, and the generation that will doom us all.

But the label that seems to come up most often when discussing Millennials is the ‘blue ribbon generation’.

For right or wrong, it’s fairly true. This name stems from the idea that Millennials as kids always got a participation ribbon. Didn’t matter if you were first or last (in fact, little attention was to be drawn to that actual place), everyone got a ribbon. Putting in an effort and participating was all that mattered. Millennials were rewarded for trying.

And it is precisely these blue ribbons that many claim ruined this generation. Expectations were set low within each person, that effort and trying were the measures of success. That everything and everyone should be equal. That outcomes don’t matter if you tried your hardest. Millennials became ‘soft’. And it’s all because of those blue ribbons.

But the real question here is: who bought the blue ribbons?

I certainly cannot imagine a 6-year old wandered in to the trophy store, turned to the attendant, and said, ‘I’ve been thinking it would be best for me and my team to each get a ribbon this year. It’ll really drive home the team concept and allow our self-confidence to grow, which will surely be a benefit for our outlook on life for the next 10–20 years. I’ll take 30 blue ribbons please.’

No, it was the parents who were saying this. The parents bought the blue ribbons. It was the parents who were telling their kids ‘you are special’, ‘follow your heart’, ‘you can do anything you put your mind to’, and ‘don’t settle for anything less than what you want’.

Flash forward 15 years, and is it any wonder why Millennials have these feelings? Why they get frustrated with unfulfilling jobs, why they constantly try new projects, or why they can’t seem to find their true calling yet? It’s because they were instilled with the idea that they should never settle for anything less than they want. That in the end, effort means more.

I am not saying this is right or wrong, I am merely pointing out what generated the blue ribbon mentality. This mentality wasn’t created solely by Millennials, the Boomer parents had a lot to do with it.

It amazes me that I can talk with a Baby Boomer leader of an organization, who in one breath talks about their kids as the greatest thing to ever happen to the world, and how they are going to do great things, and how they are under-utilized at their workplace, all while complaining about how Millennials these days come in to their business with inflated sense of self, thinking they can change the world, and assume they can do more than they actually can.

Of course you want to tell your children that they can do anything, be anything, and accomplish anything. But what other result besides a ‘blue ribbon mentality’ would you expect when you have 60 million Boomer parents telling their 75 million Millennial children the same things?

While some may see this mentality as a detriment, I think it can be a positive. You have an entire generation eager and excited to do something great. They are ready to conquer it as a team. They won’t settle for anything less than greatness. The goal becomes learning to harness this energy and excitement, not just push it aside. For a company, this will be the difference between ‘our Millennials are our greatest liability’ and ‘our Millennials are our greatest asset’.

Get your Millennials excited around your company’s goals, ideas, values, and strategy, and you can harness that blue ribbon mentality for your advantage. You have a generation that wants to change the world and accomplish great things. Let them try.

Are you marginalizing your Millennials, or ready to leverage the Millennial margin?