It’s happening again. The generational turnstile is clicking forward a third-rotation, sweeping from mystic Generation X to the text-message tapping, social-media snorting, Obama-loving, Gaga-blasting, vampire-lusting gang that goes by Millenials.
They say Millenials like to make decisions by consensus, with widespread buy-in and an air of wonderful, impossible democracy. They are conversational, and thoughtful, and excellent at holding hundreds of personal relationships. Also, they’re accustomed to positive reinforcement, truckloads of it, slathered on like suntan lotion before an afternoon of poolside Twilight skimming and iPhone gaming.
Personally, my biggest lesson from working with and managing the lot is that you can’t tell them they screwed up directly. It doesn’t work. They draw quiet, and sullen, and sulk; something dies in their soul. It’s far more effective to lay a good hard base of compliments, then scatter constructive comments among a hailstorm of positive reinforcement.
I can’t blame em. It sucks to be told you screwed up.
But the brutal motivational power of failure has, ironically, helped kickstart my career. I’ve been rejected hundreds of times, from literary journals you’ve never heard of, from agents you don’t care about, from publishers you’ve never considered beyond a passing thought. Every time it stings. Every time I put my head down and ram against the wall, a little differently. Eventually it dents, cracks, buckles, and gives way.
Part of that’s my personality: I’m the rambunctious definition of a red-headed Aries. But I also came of age listening to Axl Rose and Chuck D raise unholy hell and watching Arnold Schwarzenegger and Van Damme destroy city blocks. Madonna danced with crucifixes and Sinead O’Connor tore up the pope. Our cultural icons were human battering rams, “no” a word you kicked in the gut before trashing its hotel room.
I failed plenty growing up. Missed a block on a screen pass; bombed a chemistry test; slid a particularly evil insult at a sibling. And people smarter than me–my parents, bosses, teachers, coaches–let me know about it with careful, clear, colorful terminology that stuck in my skin like poison arrowheads. Gearshifts rocketed into sixth, dials whirled up to 11, and I whipped back to work like a provoked rattler, fueled by a deep, scalding, unstoppable anger.
Take my debut novel, The French Revolution. Rejected by 30+ publishers, I was frustrated and peeved. Charged with the simmering rage of powerlessness, I got to work and created a spreadsheet of all the publishers’ feedback and plucked three core nuggets of honest literary criticism from a forest of niceties. Then I spent three months revising the manuscript before re-submitting to more publishers. After a few months passed, and the book wasn’t getting any traction, I released the book on Twitter and made headlines worldwide. Two months later I landed a book deal; The French Revolution was released in easy-to-read hardcopy form a few weeks ago.
I don’t want to be that old fogie moaning about how kids today don’t know their toenails from their asshole. But converting failure into directed fury has been vital for me to pull out of ruts, to run through life’s walls, to get shit done. I feed off the primal, hyperproductive emotional power, and go back to work harder than ever.
So, a reminder: anger can work for you.