Why don't millennials want to do the "dirty work"?

When I was in elementary school, we used to have a grade-wide field day. We were divided into teams and we had certain activities and obstacle courses where we competed. It was like the school-wide Olympics.

There was a large group of us that didn’t want to get first.

Because the ribbon for last place was the prettiest.

Besides, if we didn’t try, it’s not like we *really* failed.

In high school, there was a huge emphasis on participation. We got points for saying words in class. The idea was to offer some sort of contribution to the class. These words didn’t always have to make perfect sense. The point is that we tried.

At least we were trying now.

Sort of.

By college, we were adults. No one could really force us to go to class. As a result, many professors have attendance or participation points. We didn’t have to show up to class, as long as we were okay with failing. With such a huge portion of our grades being in attendance/participation, showing up was literally at least half the battle.

We could show up half-asleep and wearing whatever we woke up in, or drunk/hungover, or worse.

As long as we were physically there and not being disruptive, we got credit.

Full attendance/participation with half-assed work was enough for us to pass a class.

So at least were passing now.

Just passing got us through our entire lives. This is how our education trained us since elementary school. This is how we learned to get through college. And now that we have jobs, most of us don’t seem to understand that simply showing up isn’t going to be enough.

Our entire education since elementary school into college taught us to pass. Some of us did work hard for perfect grades, while others just avoided failing. And yet, when the perfect A+ student and the C average student both get jobs after graduation, it doesn’t matter which one you were.

Now we’re in the real world.

It’s not about a grade anymore. It’s about doing good work, and it helps if that work is meaningful to you. Every job will have downsides, or “dirty work” that you didn’t expect and don’t particularly enjoy.

This is what most of us probably didn’t expect.

If the job is really worth it, we won’t mind the dirty work. In fact, we will understand it in the larger picture of things. We’ll be okay with it, we won’t complain, and we may even learn to enjoy it.

And every job will include some form of “dirty work.”

Every job has a downside.

When I worked for the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute, I remember one of the Foreign Service Officers describing his work in regards to family life. The Foreign Service Officers are essentially the overseas diplomats that represent the United States abroad. They live and work in other countries for a designated amount of time. This was over a year ago, so it’s definitely not word-for-word, but the point is the same:

“In this job, you will travel to different countries, learn different cultures and languages, and represent your country. If your spouse isn’t in the Foreign Service, they might not be able to work overseas. Those with families planned exactly when they had children so they could go to school in specific countries. But you will also miss weddings, 50th birthdays, class reunions, family reunions and funerals.

And I wouldn’t change a thing.”

I knew I would.

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You can’t be an overseas diplomat without making compromises to your family life. You can’t be a reporter without realizing that you won’t be able to choose every story you cover, and you will be jerked around by the news organization. You can’t work in human rights without understanding that you probably won’t save everyone.You will see people suffer and die. You can’t work in a laboratory and not expect to clean your equipment. You can’t work in medicine and expect to get nights and holidays off. People will get sick and need surgery at every hour of every day.

But if you truly love your job, it’ll be worth it.

You’ll love representing your country overseas enough that you’ll make those compromises to your family life. You’ll love reporting stories enough to be okay with a news organization jerking you around. You’ll love working in human rights because the lives you do touch are meaningful enough that you will continue to try and save everyone. You will want to clean your laboratory equipment because you want your data to be perfect. You’ll be okay with working nights and holidays as a doctor because you love helping patients at all hours and holidays.  

If the “dirty work” isn’t worth it, you might want to rethink your career.

Every job will have dirty work.

It’s finding the job with the dirty work that’s worth doing.


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