Why Millennials Have Their Priorities Screwed Up

It's great to live in the moment, but if you want to live a great life, you have to focus on long-term goals.

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By Steve Tobak

Kelvin Murray | Getty Images

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you did any shopping over the long Black Friday weekend, you may have noticed a change in the way retailers are marketing: They're selling the shopping experience as much as they're selling products. Experiential marketing is all the rage.

According to research, millennials value experiences over owning things. So brand marketers are focusing more and more on the customer experience to attract that coveted demographic. Apparently, it's working. And therein lies the rub.

What's great for companies trying to sell you stuff -- experiences, products, services, whatever -- is not necessarily great for you, or your career, for that matter.

While I'm not a big fan of generational stereotypes, the data doesn't lie. All the reports I've seen tell the same somber story: the nation's largest demographic is overeducated, under-employed, and heavily in debt. And millennials have not benefitted from the post-recession job recovery as other generations have.

Entering the workforce during the Great Recession and being saddled with $1 trillion in student loans certainly hasn't made things easy, but I don't think it makes sense to simply blame it all on the economy and call it a day. At least part of the problem is that millennials are not as well-suited to thrive in a competitive job market as some believe.

From my perspective, this generation appears to be overly idealistic. Millennials want what they want and they're not particularly interested in settling. That's not a great combination, especially early in your career.

As a baby boomer who spent years after college working jobs I wasn't always excited about, I can tell you from personal experience, if that's what it takes, that's what you do. You have to be willing to sacrifice and pay your dues if you want to live the life down the road. That's not just the way it is; that's the way it's always been.

Related: How to Motivate Millennials, By Millennials

Look, I get the whole flexible work schedule, collaborative workplace thing. That's not nearly as new as everyone makes it out to be. I felt the same way when I was a young up-and-comer. And it's certainly laudable to want to love what you do and make a real difference in the world.

We all want our work to mean something more than just a 9-to-5 job for an hourly wage. But as the Rolling Stones so aptly put it, "You can't always get what you want." And the second part of that refrain, "But if you try sometimes, well you just might find, you get what you need," is really the key.

Related: 5 Ways Millennials Are Like No Generation Before Them

If you're sitting on a mountain of debt and don't have a pot to piss in, it might not kill you to say "yes" to a good opportunity that isn't exactly what you're looking for, in the hope that it will lead to something better down the road. Maybe it's a structured work environment with a big company that isn't big on social media. Maybe you won't have a say on every little thing. But it's not as if it's permanent.

If you want big things out of life, you have to be willing to make a few tradeoffs that will pay off in the end. It can't all be one fantabulous experience after another.

Whoever told millennials that they can have it all really sold them a bill of goods. I believe their coddling boomer parents did this to them, but that's neither here nor there. At some point, you have to play the cards you've been dealt. You only get one life to live; the sooner you own it, the better.

Related: 4 Strategies to Connect With Millennials

Look, I've known countless successful executives and business leaders. Not one of them got to where they are without making lots of sacrifices. Nobody just drops out of the sky into their dream career. We've all done our fair share of flipping burgers, serving drinks and making cold calls to make it big. The one thing we all agree on is that it was totally worth it.

No matter when you were born, my advice is the same: Life is longer than you think. It's great to live in the moment -- to experience life fully -- but if you want to make it over the long-haul, you have to keep one eye on the horizon and a priority on long-term goals.

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.

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