Career Advice to Generations Young and Old: Learn to Work Together

Millennials are criticized for not working hard and wanting a participation trophy. Bryan Cranston doesn't buy it. He thinks they have valuable lessons to teach older generations, if they can listen.

BRYAN CRANSTON: Everything takes – I know very few geniuses, very few, if any, who can just show up and be brilliant. The rest of us we have to work hard. There is no magic potion. There is no secret sauce. It’s work. And it’s a lot of work. And not to be afraid of work but indulge in it. Take it. Be confident with it. Work hard.

There are certain things that come in time, you know? And experience is one of those things that comes after time. You need the time. But you can put yourself in a position to gain experience by allowing yourself to voluntarily be a beginner at something.

I find that to be a very big character trait, an admirable character trait, when someone purposefully puts themselves in a position to be a beginner. So the CEO of a major corporation says you know what? I don’t know how to snowboard. I’m going to go out there and this person, man or woman, who is a commander, of legions of people perhaps, is now on the side of a mountain falling on his or her ass and having a 16-year-old kid be the teacher.

It’s a fantastic position to put yourself in. And I think people should constantly look for ways to voluntarily put themselves in a position of not knowing, of being vulnerable, of saying I’m going to learn something here, I want to be open to this. And admit “I don’t know how to snowboard, please teach me.” And have an experience. And empowering a millennial, a younger generation person, to say, “you are my instructor, you are my teacher, please do it.” And it’s like wow, that’s a beautiful thing for human beings to share is to reach out and say no, you’re the boss, please show me the way.

There’s power in confidence. I’m on the other side of the table now a lot. I produce and I direct and I write. And I can really feel the difference when someone comes into a room with confidence. But I want to draw the distinction between confidence and boastfulness. Someone who is figuratively pounding their chest saying how great they are, that’s not confidence to me. That’s egocentric behavior. And that makes me push away.

Someone who boasts about how great they are – I’m leery about that. But there’s a quiet confidence and what I try to express to millennials, to a younger generation of actors, writers, directors, artists of any kind is to value your talent. And I would say to them, "I’d say are you talented?" And I hope you say "yes." That’s not a boast. It’s being honest. Do you go out and tell everybody on the street “hey, I’m talented, I’m really talented”? No. It’s for yourself. It’s internal. And you can own that and you can value, greatly value your own contributions to something. Your intellect, your imagination, your humor, whatever experience you have so far. You’re young, you’ll gain more experience. That’s great.

Be confident in that. When I sense confidence I want more from that person. I do the reaching and I think that’s a great lesson. I just came back from a USO tour and talking to only millennials and, you know, millennials have been maligned a lot thinking that you’ve been given the bullshit line of “oh, you just want the trophy, you just want to show up and you’ll get a trophy, you’re not really willing to work for it.”

And just don’t buy into that. Just don’t listen to any of that. I was so impressed with these young men and women in the military in this case: commanding, great presence, confidence, nobility, kindness. My wife and I said “I think we’re going to be okay, truly.”

It’s like, if this is the next generation of leaders, we’re going to be okay. We really are. We’re going to be fine.

I think every generation looks to the next one and says “oh, they’re not like us, we were better.”

It’s like nah, you guys are fine. But there is definite value in work.

I knew that when I was starting out as an actor I was all about work. It was like I still am. I love it. But that’s the key If you find something that you love to do then when Monday comes along, you’re not going “aw, Monday.” You’re like, “Monday! I get to act!” That was great for me. I love Mondays. Get to love Mondays.

Not many people are born with genius, says Bryan Cranston. You've got to work for aptitude and success. It's a trait—hard work—that Millennials are too often criticized for not having. But having returned recently from a USO show and seen young people accepting responsibility and taking charge, Cranston feels confident about the leadership of the future. He'll feel even more confident if older generations find ways to listen to younger ones. In fact, it's an important learning tool. Allowing yourself to be a beginner at something—even though you may be an expert at "X" or "Y"—is a trait as humbling as is it empowering. Cranston's book is the spectacular memoir A Life in Parts.

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