First Impressions of Hong Kong

Another post from guest blogger Lexie Ermi.

hongkong1Hong Kong is a city I had never given much thought to. For that matter, Asia was a continent I had never given much thought to! But somehow, this summer, I ended up living in Hong Kong teaching senior middle schoolers (equivalent to our high schoolers) English. Say what??

I am blown away by the city, the culture, and the people here in Hong Kong. Hong Kong literally has it all. It has the bright lights big city atmosphere in the most extreme way possible. If you think New York City is fast paced, you need to visit Mong Kok in Hong Kong. Sensory overload extreme! It is beautiful in a pushy, hawker, blinding sort of way.

hongkong2Hong Kong also has mountains. The humidity is insanely high and the heat is oppressive, especially in the middle of the day. But the mountains that you can see from almost anywhere practically make up for that. Imagine standing in the middle of a crowded city sidewalk and looking up to see luscious green mountains simply towering over you. Hong Kong is a city of paradoxes.

And then finally Hong Kong has beaches! As if the mountains and the city weren't enough, Hong Kongers (yes, that is really what they are called) really get your goat by also having beautiful beaches. The water is warm (though the beaches are a bit rocky) and, where we were, very shallow. My teammate Megan and I went kayaking, which I had never done before and always wanted to do. It was such a cool experience.

hongkong3

But this city that has it all also has its downsides. Though it seems to have everything, it also seems to have nothing. There is a distinct lack of meaning in the culture. The lights, the shops, are beautiful. And they are genuinely everywhere. Every single MTR (metro) station is surrounded by a mall. Think of our metro stations in DC—they are not exactly where the finest shops are. But here, even their public transit is swamped with shopping. The malls are clean, the metro stations are well-laid out and easy to maneuver, and the streets are free from homeless. It feels very safe. Yet it is this very state that seems to point to a lack of something more. They are trying to fill a void that cannot be filled by stainless steel malls.

The shopping culture is inundated in Hong Kongers from birth. They eat, they shop, they eat, they shop, they walk to malls and sweat, they shop. When I ask my students what they did over the weekend, invariably the answer has something to do with shopping. It is more than an activity; it is a pastime, an attempt to fill the emptiness. The malls are seven or eight levels, massive structures, and it is more common to see a mall than a church. The malls never seem to fall into disrepair, and they never seem to close. To get to the MTR station, we have to walk through the Kowloon Tong mall. We have come home as late as midnight and found the mall still bustling. We have left for school as early as 7:15 and found the mall already open and functioning. I have never experienced a culture that places so high a premium on what can be obtained from the mall. The focus is not even just on the material goods themselves, but rather on the act and "sport" of shopping, or so it seems.

Many people want to bring the gospel to people in the jungle, or the desert, or the Artic, or some place remote and far from human habitation. I once heard someone say, "There are more lost people in the city than in the jungle today." People with nothing frequently have the most joy in life. They know what they lack and they can often respond to general revelation (God's glory in creation) better than almost anyone else. But people with everything, living in a metropolitan world with anything they want at their fingertips, do not know what it is they lack. They think they know everything and so they think they have the answers. But they do not truly see the darkness in which they live.

 

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Mid Year Tune Up

Summertime always seems to interrupt the flow of my business due to vacations and scheduling conflicts.  Clients are away recharging with their friends and families, and organizations are typically not making big decisions regarding their leadership development needs.

IMG 1510Each year when I am in Maine I try to reflect on trends I am seeing in the corporate and federal leadership space and get inspired on where I should be focusing, or a new idea pops into my brain that guides me for the next year.

Two years ago I was inspired to focus on Millennials.  At first I was thinking it was a book.  I declared it, researched it, conducted over 100 interviews, and wrote the proposal.  I learned a lot about what it takes to write a book, including self-publishing or traditional.  Also how much time and money it requires.  As a result, I developed a series of modules for workshops and keynotes and have been having a lot of fun with it.  Clients responded well to the differences, and I believe many of the managers I worked with are more effectively leading Millennials now.  As far as the book, I had to make the decision to put that on hold.  Primarily due to the time it was going to require, and the energy it consumes.  Since my husband is a stay-at-home dad, The Ermi Group supports us, so that is my primary focus, and I was blessed with new clients and very interesting work in the last year.   Secondly, I think I missed the window of relevance.  There are many books and articles out there on the subject, and I do not want to clutter the leadership book market with something that is a me-too.  And you never know what the universe has in store.  I look at my 6 year old and wonder what a book about her generation might look like in ten years and get very excited about the possibilities. 

This year however, the revelations and epiphanies I gleaned were not necessarily about what The Ermi Group should be focused on next, but what this Ermi girl is destined to become.  I have been on a pretty significant self-development/awareness journey these last couple of years, and I was able to articulate and embrace what appeal and draw Ogunquit, Maine has had for me these last 30 years. 

IMG 1663As I have shared, my mom died suddenly of a heart attack when I was 16, and when I discovered Ogunquit in 1982, the tranquility of the sea was a healing force for me, and when I moved here the summer of 1983, it was therapeutic in ways I hadn’t fully realized until this year.  I always said Ogunquit makes my soul happy, and in reality, as fabulous of a beach town it is, I think it is more of a healing place.  And a lot of the emotion that comes from grief and loss are conjured upon my return, and I am ready to move beyond that energy, and be a catalyst for generative possibilities. 

This is going to be my last summer in Ogunquit for a while.  I am saying goodbye to this little town after 30 years of loyal pilgrimages and what it has represented to me.  I may return some day as my daughter really loves it here, but it is time to explore some new venues.  This chapter is closing, or maybe this novel has come to a serendipitous finale. I am about to write another epic. 

 

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Generation Jones meets the Millennials

Jonathan Pontell - 2005




Welcome to the first edition of The Ermi Group Blog.  I am new to this great media phenomenon so I will be starting out with a combination of original posts, and also asking some of my amazing friends and colleagues to be guest bloggers!

Ever get exposed to a new concept and then not be able to get enough of it?  That is my new obsession of Generation Jones.  Jonathan Pontell  coined the term and it has been on TV and various news programs, but I apparently missed it, as have most of the “Joneses” I know.  I have heard a few versions of who is included in this new sub-generation.  But it makes perfect sense that the group I belong to has to have it’s own subset.  For years I thought I related to being a Baby Boomer, in fact, I recall proudly categorizing myself in this group of esteemed trailblazers when I was in my late 20s and early 30s.  It seemed to fit, sort of, and I always had a thing for being “the youngest” to achieve something, or receive an award, or be promoted or following in my dad’s footsteps, yet a few years earlier than he achieved milestones.  Then, I was no longer in the “high potential” up and comer group.  The Generation X crowd took over and they had a beat of their own.  They did not seem to want to work as many hours as I was.  They came in later than I did and had a life.  I was a little jealous at the life, but then a little bitter that I was putting in tremendous hours and seemingly being paid the same.  Then that was back in the day that the good ole boys tolerated having women because they had a quota.  Wow, we really have come a long way.  Women in the workforce is a given, but the data seems to support that we still are not paid equally.

I have in recent years shared with my coaching clients that while I worked ridiculous hours and climbed the ladder and won awards, there is not one person in my life that was around when I put in all those hours, ruined my first marriage, and took the verbal abuse of my senior leaders that were bigots and chauvinists.  Yes, we have come a long way.  My two daughters will have it easier potentially, and I had it easier than the women that blazed that trail before me.  Recently my husband purchased Season One of the classic drama thirtysomething.  It debuted in 1987, two years into my professional career.  I remember watching it every Tuesday night at 9 pm (or 10?)  Hope, Michael, Nancy, Elliot, Melissa, Gary and Ellyn were a part of our family.  It was the first show that really represented who we were becoming.

While I was really twentysomething, these were our role models.  The Don Draper of the late 80s.  And interestingly, ad men of 90s vs the MadMen of the 60s.  These two shows have really been weighing on me and my need to write and to describe the journey to ultimately help the Millennials get ready to take on their legacy.  Events and culture shape our lives, and this sub-set born between 1953-1964 had some influences that may mirror the Millennials (Millies-some say Gen Y, but my 18 year old Millie likes Millennials better so that is what I will call her!).  Korea, Kennedy’s, Vietnam, Man on the Moon, TV dinners, and a lot of expectations that we will attend college (if socioeconomically we were fortunate of enough to have this as an option) but once we came of age, the environment was very different.  Now we live a life of abundance and excess.  We are ‘Jonesing” even still.  My husband makes fun of me but I am always dreaming about the future, about home improvements, about vacations, about fun, about hard work, about what’s next.  While I do not think we have to keep up with Joneses because we are the Joneses, we are redefining ourselves, wanting to keep up and connect with the generation being poised to replace us.

People I train in performance management and consult with I hear complaining about how the Millennials are spoiled, they expect rewards and positive feedback all the time, and if they are not satisfied with their growth, they move on.  They do not want or need to pay their dues, which the Jonesers most certainly had to.  But we RAISED these people!  We gave them stickers for going potty, celebrated their every move!  Over-engineered their lives with soccer, basketball, pep squad, piano lessons, AP classes, and lavish birthday parties.  Of course they want to be rewarded.  We did it to them, and now it is hardwired.  They don’t know any other way.  And now we complain about it. We need to get over ourselves and embrace them, throw them a bone of praise when they deserve it and learn from them.  They know technology like no one’s business.  When I was in high school there was one mammoth computer for the entire school, in college there were a few in a separate classroom and we had to sign up to get time with it.  There was no email, there were not even answering machines never mind voicemail and text.  The Millennials have leveraged technology from the get go.  In fact my 4 ½ year old downloaded How to Survive High School and Tetris on my cell phone (before it was ‘Smart”) at 9  months old and actually figured out how to find it!  I didn’t even know I had it until my bill was $40 higher one month!  Now she wizzes through the iPad and programs and downloads her own Netflix movies.  I better learn how to use those parental controls with this one!

So what does all this mean about leadership?  What did Gen Joneses learn that mainline Boomers may not have?

What do Millennials seek that will keep them happy in the workforce?  What will the Feds do when the Boomers “bail out?” Will the Millennials find a career in the Feds satisfying and meaningful?  What does a heart for public service mean in this day and age and era?  What will the legacy be of the Millennials?  What will be their unique brand of leadership?

Some of my peers and older would complain about all the texting and lack of verbal and handwritten communication of this latest generation.  “They won’t even know how to interview or have a conversation.”  I am not sure this is true.  The Millennials I have met and coached are eager, and want to contribute.  Perhaps their written communication skills look a lot different than mine did, I am not sure it really matters as long as the message comes across as intended.  In my early email days, more conflict arose from the written word and our little voices/gremlins inside reading it in the wrong tone.  Maybe some needless conflict would have been avoided with a LOL or J icon.

The days of the “my way or the highway” boss is dwindling.  These Millies watched us take our beatings, get laid off with and without severance, and line up in the unemployment line.  The job market now is not unlike that of the early 80s before those memorable Reagan years of prosperity.  They are not going to take it and we need to just deal with that.  “You’re lucky to have a job” does not resonate with this group.  Their needs are different, they had everything growing up, they lived a life of abundance, and they really are looking for simplicity.

My next post will be more on this topic and what I have learned about leadership!

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