Millennials and Generation Z, How Do They Achieve Success in the Workplace?


A mentor of mine, an executive who worked in some of Silicon Valley’s most notable companies told me:

To be promoted, you need be the person, before you will receive the promotion.”

While those words didn’t mean much at the time, as I got older, the more they made sense. Essentially, you need to be the person, before the title recognizes it. You are not entitled to a promotion if you worked at a place for some 3 or 5 years. You need to actively show you are capable before you move up. Upper levels of management need to see you as that person before your title reflects that.

During my corporate career, I was what you would consider a typical Millennial. I wanted to be the CTO of a billion-dollar revenue company in just two years. The kicker- I was a beginner software engineer. At the time, this seemed realistic if I would work weekends and build good relationships with management. However, in retrospect, this plan seemed completely ridiculous.

Why such the gap in perspective- I didn’t know, what I didn’t know. I thought I knew everything of what it would take. As I grew older, the more I realized I wasn’t ready.

Since then I have worked in a few other startups and founded three profitable companies by the age of 27.  Needless to say, I have been through the gambit and learned quite a bit along the way.

In this post, I wanted to cover some of the most important attributes that I wish I knew, that I often share with other professionals my age or just entering the workplace. These four tips are imperative in order to be successful in their career.

Tip #1: Thoroughly Defining Success

Success is not all about money. In fact, success is relative to the individual and their goals in life.

Success as a Title

When I was in corporate, I thought promotion (title) was a success, not income. Back in 2013, I joined corporate America full-time as a software engineer in San Francisco. The pay was good, so I was more concerned about title than payment. For me, the overall objective as getting a title change and in order to do so, I had to put time in the off hours to improve my career trajectory. That meant reading about management and also building relationships with other more senior employees.

Success as Work/Life Balance

On the other hand, a friend of mine, who also worked in the same city, but in sales, defined success as being in control of their work/life balance. As a result, he focused his energy to optimize this workplace performance where he could achieve 90th percentile performance.

However, here is where it got weird.

Continuously, he was offered promotions by management, but he would decline all offers. Yes, he would actually turn down extra money.

Why would he turn down promotions even though it meant more money? Because of his goals.

It didn’t match up with what he defined as success- work/life balance. By moving up and receiving more pay, that would inhibit him from taking more time off infringing on his balance. Ultimately, he enjoyed his 20-hour work weeks, which involved leaving work at 4pm every day and putting time into his side gig. Management hated him for it, but because he delivered, he gamed the system and now the system worked for him.

Success as Gross Earnings

Other people define success as the amount of money they make regardless of the title and time invested. This would involve them working extra hours in order to increase their potential income and constantly taking more work on if that meant more payment. Other times this would involve negotiating bonuses to increase overall potential income. Someone with a large amount of student loan debt, or ambitious financial goals, this approach is most attractive.

Success as Maximizing Learning

As the tycoon investor, Warren Buffet put it best, “The more you learn, the more you earn”. Earlier on in some people’s careers, obtaining the necessary job experience to move forward is more important than finances. The mindset is as long as you are learning, you are successful. This is why a lot of software engineers switch jobs, they maximize learning in a current position and once that declines, they switch.

However, the reason for this goes beyond just career progression. When you are successfully challenge yourself optimally, you hit a state of flow, which is also can be one of the greatest sources of happiness that someone could achieve while working. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi PhD, spent a good majority of his life studying flow, described it as “It is by being fully involved with every detail of our lives, whether good or bad, that we find happiness, not by trying to look for it directly.”


Tip #2: Stop Talking and Listen

One of the biggest mistakes that younger professionals make when entering the workplace is assuming that their way is the best way. A majority of senior employees complain that younger ones don’t have a sense of why things are the way they are. The younger employees are thought to just assume that they already know. Hence why this tip is, stop talking and listen.

The world is its current way, for a good reason. Understand that reason before you decide to change it.  As Stephen Covey, internationally bestselling author would say, “seek to understand, before being understood.”

The scary thing about knowledge is that, the knowledge you don’t know, you simply do not know. It’s infinitely out there, and the brain cannot comprehend what it is, because you simply do not know what it is. When someone first enters the workplace, they are completely unaware of this unknown and simply don’t have the context to fathom its infinite intellectual landscape.

Developing Context

“A life unexamined is not worth living” – Socrates.

For people just walking into the workplace, many of them walk in with little knowledge, yet expect to make a huge difference in the world. However, as experience accumulates, the thing that makes it worthwhile, is examining and interpreting it. Unfortunately, it is the experience that opens up opportunity, and analysis provides understanding. However, a life without asking why something the way it is, is essentially accepting everything for what it is- living in ignorance. The goal is to examine experience to derive its meaning.

Understanding the Foundation

Understanding the foundation of a concept is similar to trying to move a house. On the surface, you can walk around and analyze it from different point of views. However, you are only capturing the outside of the house, but you think that is all there is. There is also the concentrate foundation, the interior, the plumbing feeding into the house and so much more. However, from your vantage point, you cannot picture what the rest of the house looks like because you simply don’t have the life experience.

Make a goal of yours to always ask why something is the way it is, before you conclude that you have the solution at hand.


Tip #3: Separating Actions from Self

Singlehandedly, mastering this attribute can completely transform your life. Imagine being able to do what you wanted in the workplace and not having to worry about constantly feeling bogged down by mistakes. That you had the ability to absorb feedback and keeping moving forward. Even better, you would continue trying at things until you would break through and succeed. This is mastering the art of rejection.

One of the core aspects of mastering rejection comes from how you interpret events. Traditionally, when something negative happens, the person associates that action with who they are as a person. While this does do some merit to correct future behavior, [feeling bad to avoid future action] the mistake that many of us make is that we look at an action we continue to beat ourselves up until we can’t move forward in our lives. Basically, beating ourselves up until we can’t move.

Now, feeling physical pain is common for someone who consistently mentally beat themselves up- but it’s for good reason. Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School found that when someone experiences rejection, the brain responds in the same way as if it was experiencing physical pain. Consequently, releases a natural painkiller, opioid, into the system. Therefore, if it feels like you are getting punched in the stomach when someone says you made a mistake, don’t worry, the brain is programmed to do that.

But why is it so important to master the art of rejection? Well, the job market has become a number’s game more than ever before. Imagine that instead of the local community being able to apply for a job, people from around the world can apply. With that means international competition and more people in the recruiting pipeline that you need to compete with. Point being, you will need to apply to more places, because there are not more jobs, but rather there are more people applying to them. You need more swings at bat to make a base hit, in other words get hired.

But how do you overcome rejection in the different areas? Here are a few:

Depersonalize Workplace Performance

Unless you are a prefect, you will definitely run into a time where you finish a task, present it to your boss, and they reject your efforts. But don’t lose hope. Heck, even Albert Einstein wasn’t perfect. He often struggles in college not being the top of his class or even at his job. No way is perfect and everyone has to deal with rejection at some point.

When you get that gut wrenching feeling in your stomach, here is something to remember: your boss is criticizing your performance, not yourself. Maybe it’s your coding ability, analyzing ability, writing ability… something along those lines. The point is, they are not saying you are bad, rather the ability you have needs to be improve. It’s a skill of yours, but it’s not you [your essence]. Your skills are malleable, they can get better or worse over time. You are in control of that.

When you are able to see your mistakes as performance issues with your skills, which are conveniently malleable, you will realize that you are in control of getting better. You are not a bad person for making mistakes. From here, you will be able to better compartmentalize situations that involve rejection and become the person you want to be.

Depersonalize Life Actions

Outside of the workplace, you may want to apply this same principle as well. Whether that is going on job interviews, or continuously applying to get into some school or job. Regardless, the same rules apply. Reflect on what skills are lacking and creating a plan for improvement. It’s not the end of the world, but the start of a new journey. Think about it, if you have a 2% chance into getting into your dream company, all you have to do is apply 50 times. The reason why so many people don’t do that kind of volume, is because they end up beating themselves up psychologically to the point of no action. By understanding this perspective, you will be able to take the necessary action to accomplish your goal, hence, become a success.


Tip #4: Monitoring Digital Presence

Monitor it, and monitor it closely. I was talking with a lawyer earlier this week and he suggested that:

“Whatever you write online, make sure you are okay with it showing up at court.”

That means email, text messages, all apps and social media accounts can be used against you. If, for a second you think that employers won’t look through your social media when they are looking to hire you, think again. Using social media as an investigation tool, has become an invaluable resource to find out more information than ever about their potential job candidates.

People need to realize that their personal social media accounts can be used against them in the workplace. There is no separation anymore between online personal profile and the workplace. I know that is a hard pill to swallow but that is the reality of the situation. Don’t believe me? Here are a few situations where people were fired because they posted things on their personal social media accounts:

Facebook– a woman was fired for using Facebook when she complained she was too ill to use a computer.

Instagram– a woman who was taking care of babies, posted one of their pictures online making fun them, and inevitably was found out.

Twitter– on a flight to Africa, someone tweeted something about the impossibility of getting AIDS because of their race. By the time she landed, she was taken into custody and fired.

Please don’t make an example of yourself, make sure to remove anything inappropriate that you wouldn’t want to show up in court.


Jeff Butler

Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.


Receive Stories and insights on navigating the ever changing working world