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Answering the call to leadership

Millennials are wired for challenge, not the 'easy life', says Christine Gilland Robinson

“Millennials are so entitled; they want all the reward without putting in the hard work. Actually, do they even know what they want?!” These responses, as millennials like me know, are just some of the standard replies that accompany millennial-focused articles on work and leadership in comments sections around the world.

A simple Google search of Are millennials lazy?” yields more 4.3 million results. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek says that millennials don’t stick with things long enough, preferring to drift through life in pursuit of our purpose’ rather than working towards becoming competent leaders.

While I don’t endorse negative generational stereotypes, I have to admit to spending far too much time in cafés lately, eating avocado on toast and questioning whether there may be, at least in me, a grain of truth in some of these complaints. In particular, I can see in myself, at times, a disconnect between a desire to do something of significance and positive influence in the world (which, over and above any role or title, is how I ultimately define leadership) and my desire for an easy and comfortable life – a life free from unnecessary conflict, challenge, or struggle. 

The easy life’ may seem a natural desire: a self-evident and perhaps even laudable pursuit of happiness’. And of course, most of us in the West do lead comparatively easy lives. However, and I realise I may be late to the party here, I’m beginning to realise that the pursuit of an easy life isn’t quite the unmitigated good that I once thought it was. For one thing, a life without challenge is …well, kind of boring. It starts to feel constrained and small – insignificant; unsatisfying. And, ironically, it’s been in the easy and safe times, the comfortable times, that I’ve started to yearn for something else – for risk; for, dare I say it, struggle.

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Our natural self (our ego) desires, among other things, comfort and a trouble-free existence, but the call to leadership and significance requires a conscious and courageous choice.

This boomeranging between a desire for ease and a yearning for challenge is nothing new. According to the cultural commentator Erich Fromm, two of the primary needs we have as human beings are a sense of security, or belonging and a sense of purpose, or progress. These two drives compete within each of us, and require a delicate tension to be maintained: too much safety and we become apathetic and fearful; too much risk and we become chaotic and overwhelmed.

But delicate tensions aside, I’m also realising what storytellers and Joseph Campbell have been telling us for years: our stories, our own hero’s journeys, if you like, need the struggle. They need the risk and the adventure. And yes, we need to start the journey from a place of security, knowing who we are, having a good community around us, being connected to God. But for many millennials, myself included, the battle is in actually starting: being willing to get uncomfortable – not being content with simply measuring out our lives with coffee spoons.

All great stories and myths, according to Campbell, begin with a call – a summons or an invitation. A chance to step into something new. It is, in fact, a lot like the call to follow Jesus. It requires us to step out from the comfort of what we know and enter uncharted territory, where we must be prepared to face the discomfort and struggle of risk, challenge and adventure. The call to leadership always requires, at some point, a yes’ to the call: Luke 9:61 – 62 reads: Still another said, I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”

To be honest, I’m beginning to realise that being a person of faith, a follower of Jesus, doesn’t allow us much room to opt out’ of leadership. We’re called as believers to go against the grain, to live lives of purpose, courage and, yes, sometimes even of sacrifice. Our natural self (our ego) desires, among other things, comfort and a trouble-free existence, but the call to leadership and significance requires a conscious and courageous choice. For us as millennials, belonging to what sometimes seems like a lonely and deeply unhappy generation, the call we are facing, the call we must answer, is one for leaders of integrity and character; leaders of wisdom, who carry a counter-cultural hope; and perhaps most crucially, leaders who aren’t afraid to enter the fray and embrace the struggle.

Are you wondering where to go from here?

Check out the Evangelical Alliance’s Public Leadership programme, for Christians in leadership outside of the church, including national programmes for leaders in their 20s and 30s, and make the most of Forge Leadership’s unique research and resources on millennial leadership. I also encourage you to look into the upcoming Millennial Leaders Retreat in 2019.

Christine Gilland Robinson is a writer, coach and co-founder of HOLOS London, an ethical kombucha company created to support survivors of human trafficking. 

About the author

Christine Gilland Robinson is a writer, coach and co-founder of HOLOS London, an ethical kombucha company created to support survivors of human trafficking.

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