Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:00:00] But I think, now, actually, it's the reverse kind of swing where they're looking for new voices and speakers that are kind of coming from different spaces because maybe the traditional approach isn't working.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:14] Welcome to From the Dorm Room to the Board Room, a podcast where we provide insights, tips, and inspiration for college students and young professionals, so they can make a really successful transition from college life to the professional world and beyond.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:31] My name is Andy Molinsky, and I'm your host. I'm also a Professor of Organizational Behavior and International Management at Brandeis University's International Business School, where we record and produce this podcast.

Andy Molinsky: [00:00:51] All right. Today's guest is Adam Smiley Poswolsky, who is a millennial workplace expert, and international keynote speaker, a best selling author of the book, The Quarter Life Breakthrough and The Breakthrough Speaker. So, Smiley helps companies attract, retain, and empower millennial talent. He's had speaking gigs at a whole number of companies. He speaks about millennials, employee engagement, intergenerational collaboration. He's been published in lots of impressive places. I'm actually going to stop here because I kind of want him to tell us about his career in person. He's right here. And so, Adam, thank you so much for joining us.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:01:35] Thanks so much for having me. It's great to be here.

Andy Molinsky: [00:01:37] Awesome. So, tell us about what you do now. And then, I want to kind of rewind to how you got there. So, tell us about your job, your role, what you do.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:01:46] Sure. So, I spend most of my time writing and speaking about millennials in the workplace, thinking about how we can attract, retain, engage young people. A lot of companies now are struggling with retention and keeping young people longer than six months, a year, which is incredibly costly. Millennial turnover alone costs US companies $30 billion a year. It's incredibly costly to hire someone, train them, and then have them leave after a couple months.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:02:15] And so, really helping people think about how you can make young employees happy, engaged, purpose-driven, and focused on learning, and coaching, and growth in the workplace, which I think is possible but is definitely a little bit of a different paradigm than the traditional workforce engagement.

Andy Molinsky: [00:02:35] So, in a nutshell, how do you do it?

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:02:38] I think, the biggest -- I mean, there's no one simple answer there. I think the biggest thing is understanding that the average young person is entering the workforce at a pretty volatile and challenging time. The average millennial will have about 20 different jobs in their life. Technology is changing very quickly. I graduated college about 15 years ago and Facebook wasn't even a thing. It was just kind of getting off the ground. And just thinking about how many jobs have evolved and kind of how the workforce has changed in the last 5, 10, 15 years.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:03:11] So, I think young people are scared. They're nervous. They're entering a very uncertain world. Many of them are suffering from high student debt and uncertainty. So, what they're looking for is less kind of this job security thing of, "I'm going to work here for 10-15 years. I'm going to get a pension, I'm going to have a salary for a long time and Social Security," because they know that that kind of contract has been blown up, and they're much more focused on meaning, social impact, purpose, making a difference today, getting skills, and training, and mentorship, so that you can kind of have this fulfillment in the moment. I think it's a much more nearsighted approach of, how does this job reflect who I am, what I care about in the world? What can I do today rather than tomorrow?

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:03:58] So, there's a lot of good that comes with that, right. This purpose, the sense of meaning, the sense that you want to contribute. Young people, usually, are very motivated. There's a lot of stereotypes about millennials as lazy, entitled. I, actually, think that those are completely false. And when we look at the data, most young people are very, very motivated. They're just expecting certain things to happen quickly, and they want more transparency and authenticity in the workplace. But when given a mission and when their mission aligns with who they are and what they want, when their values align with their workplace and what their role provides, they're going to show up, and work really hard, and do a great job, and perform really well.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:04:37] So, I think the biggest piece is that meaning and purpose piece. I think that there's a huge, now, emphasis on mentorship and coaching. Your less kind of, like, focused on how are you prepared just to do your job well, but you want to be prepared to be a good adult, to understand kind of your personal development. You're expecting to get some of that in the workplace as well.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:04:57] So, you see the organizations that really have increased their millennial retention or focused a lot more on keeping young people in terms of learning, and education, and development. Not just professional development, but personal development, whether it's kind of pairing talent with life coaches, or therapists, or helping their bosses become better coaches, not just better supervisor, really kind of that nurturing voice and spirit that helps people navigate this uncertain world.

Andy Molinsky: [00:05:28] It's funny when he talks about Facebook not really being a thing when you graduated from college 15 years ago, I was thinking about myself. I graduated from college about 30 years ago and computers weren't really a thing. So, I remember, I used to have -- I got a computer my senior year of college. I didn't even know how to type. And I had a friend who was talking about the internet. That's because he was an Engineering Robotics major, and they were kind of like doing this internet thing. I think, it kind of came out of the military or something. And so, that's pretty funny. So, you went to college at Wesleyan. I know that because I read your bio, in Middletown, Connecticut. You majored in film. I know that, too. And so what did you do after college?

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:06:09] So, I've had a very windy road. In my book, I call it my wandering career path. But I was a film major at Wesleyan. It's a great liberal arts school. I kind of -- like many recent college graduates, you say, "Okay. Well, what did I majored in? I guess I'll get a job in that." So, I majored in Film Studies and moved to New York City, where many of my friends were moving. And I started working kind of freelance in film production. So, I worked as a location scout, finding locations for movies. I worked as a production assistant, a camera assistant. I mean, any job I could get in film that would pay me money, so that I could live in New York City in Brooklyn with some friends.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:06:50] And it was a fun experience. It was a time, actually, very different than today. I used to go around and take photos of different buildings and get the film developed to show the photos to the art director, and the production designer, and the cinematographer. I used to find locations for these movies and actually have to drive the directions using MapQuest to make sure that all of the roads were open, and there weren't construction blocks, and that the trucks did get under the tunnels, and that the exits weren't close. That job does not exist anymore of actually having to drive the directions because we have Google Maps now.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:07:26] But it was it was a fun time. I got to meet a lot of interesting people and work on some cool projects. I just kind of found over time that the film industry wasn't really the place I wanted to be. And in these massive projects, I kind of felt lost on set, and that I wasn't kind of -- really, it was something that I really enjoyed studying and kind of fell into the major in college, but it wasn't reflective really of who I was and what I really wanted. So, it's a great experience. I have a deep appreciation now when I watch a movie to always sit at the theater to the end of the credits because I was one of those people whose name is in 10 font at the very, very end that you have to wait seven minutes to see their name. I'm like, "That was me."

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:08:05] So, after that, I kind of got disillusioned with living in New York City. I spent some time abroad in Argentina. I worked for a film festival there. And then, came back and worked on the Obama campaign in 2008. I got very excited about getting involved with this wave of change and kind of a new voice in younger voices in politics. And I worked on Obama's election campaign in 2008. I was in Indiana. So, in a rural part of Indiana running a local field office, trying to get people registered to vote, and then people to show up and vote for Obama in the general election.

Andy Molinsky: [00:08:43] And then, what happened next?

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:08:48] That took me to DC. So, as as many people that worked on the campaign, they got really excited about this amazing candidate of hope and change, and let's go to DC. Let's change Washington. Let's change the way things work. Let's make -- and I went to D.C. kind of starry eyed and hopeful. And eventually - not right away but eventually - got a job working for the US Peace Corps, which is a great agency. It sends Americans abroad to volunteer. And it was a great experience, except I also kind of got to realize how slow things happen in Washington, and how hard it is to work for the federal government and the bureaucracy there, and kind of how this situation that, I think, many young people sometimes face of a job that on paper is kind of everything you want - good salary, it's impressive, your parents are impressed, it meets like the college alumni status markers or whatever, your business card looks cool, everyone's like, "Oh yeah. Good job. You got a job. Like most people don't have a job. Good for you." But then, inside, feeling all this turmoil because you're like, "This is not what I want."

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:09:51] So, I had this. I was a special assistant to the Director of Global Operations at the Peace Corps, which is a cool job, and I had a lot of access, and got to go to sit on some cool meetings, work on some cool projects, but it really wasn't -- again, I felt that it wasn't the right fit. Although, I'm very grateful for the experience of kind of working in government, seeing how that works, understanding kind of how hierarchy works, and how decisions are made. I think that being in that culture made me realize, now, as I work in workplace culture in a different way, and sometimes what not to do. There was a lot of the mindset there of kind of wait your turn, you're younger, you don't matter, kind of pay your dues first that I think is actually being broken down now, and we're moving much more to inclusive.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:10:39] But I'm very grateful for that experience. I learned a lot. And I eventually mustered up the courage to leave. It was very hard. I ended up -- I worked there about two and a half years and start this kind of whole new career path in my late 20s, early 30s. So, I often tell people that I think one of the things millennials aren't good at is patience, right. I think a lot of people graduate college, and they think they're going to have all the answers, and that they're gonna do the thing that they studied in college, or their first little startup project, or they do one little cool side project, and they're going to turn that into a business, or whatever it is. And then, sometimes, there's two, three, four steps down the line where it clicks.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:11:17] That was really the case for me. I'd always loved writing, but I didn't know I wanted to be a writer until I was almost 30 years old, right. I'm about 35. I'm almost 36 right now. I didn't find my "calling" or career path. And I don't even think people have one anyway. I expect to be many more things now in the next 10, 15, 20, 40 years. But I didn't find the thing that really lit me up until 10, 12 years after that, 10 years after graduating college. So, I think that that's a really big thing that millennials need to work on is the patience piece.

Andy Molinsky: [00:11:52] If I could interrupt for a second because I think that's a really important point I want to sort of underscore here. I'd love to talk just a little bit about the connection between patience and meaning. So, earlier, you talked about how millennials crave meaningful work, and you also talked a little bit about how millennials characteristically maybe have a hard time with patience. I can imagine that if you're impatient, you might see work initially as not being very meaningful because you're doing sort of the scout work and so on, paying your dues. Like, how do you bring those two ideas together to be more patient, and at the same time, have some sort of tolerance for different levels of meaning? I'm not sure. Tell us what you think.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:12:33] Yeah,. I think the key thing here is that millennials are used to getting things immediately, right, whether it's a an Uber or Lyft, Airbnb, a hotel, a date. You're just swiping, right. "Okay, cool. Ordering some food on DoorDash," or whatever it is. Okay, cool. And then, they get to the workplace, and they don't get the meaning and fulfillment right away, or they don't get to run the project right away, right. They can't swipe right and be like, "I want to be promoted," or "I think we should change the way our organization does this." It's like it's your second week, and you're 24. That's not how this works here.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:13:11] But I think those intentions, and that voice, and that drive are coming from a good place. So, I actually just gave a talk, and I kind of had been focused in my first TEDx about purpose. I called it Millennials: The Purpose Generation, which I believe very strongly in. But in this new talk, I was talking about from purpose to patience, where you're kind of grounded, yes, in this desire, this sense of knowing yourself, and self-discovery, and what your values are, and what you care about, and what you're contributing to, and the types of people you want to surround yourself with, and projects you want to work on, but that the more important piece is this kind of understanding that it's a journey, not a destination, right. 

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:13:55] And that you get the meaning and the purpose really down the line when you're looking back that in that first moment, it's just annoying where someone's telling you what to do, or you're learning, and it's hard because you don't know yet, or you have to take directions, or you have to do the grunt work with things you don't want to do, or it's not working. What you want to do is working, but then, two steps down the line, two years down the line, five years down the line, you're like, "Oh, now, it makes sense." 

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:14:25] Like, I think about that very much in my job in government. Now, looking back, I'm like, "I understand why I was there." That shaped me. I know what I don't want to do. I also know I've had the experience, and I'm doing a very good job in that setting. It taught me kind of a lot about about work. But at the time, I felt lost. I felt basically depressed. I felt like everything was -- the sky was falling. But if you can kind of dig in there, you kind of see the light on the other side. So, I think that that's the piece that, like, the purpose comes delayed, right.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:15:03] But I also think, on the flip side, you don't want to -- if the whole thing is, "Well, maybe it'll work out down the line. Maybe it'll work out. I'll never do something I care about. I just put in my time." You wake up 10 years later, and like, "I hate my life. What am I doing?" So that's not okay either, right. I think, constantly, you need to be checking in and pushing yourself by just understanding that it's not supposed to happen overnight.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:15:25] So, I think it's a balance. It's an interplay. And I think that an evolved person and like millennials that are kind of succeeding - and by succeeding, I don't mean necessarily on a wealth metric but on a meaningful kind of contentment, fulfillment metric - are able to balance the purpose and the patience. They're able to kind of say, "Hey, it's not about perfection," right? I think that's the thing though. It's not about perfection in the moment, "Everything's perfect." I think that desire comes a lot from the social media stuff, and sort of the highlights, and "Oh my God, they're perfect. I'm perfect. I got to show that everything's perfect."

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:16:04] It's not about that. It's not supposed to be perfect. It's constantly supposed to be this kind of, "Are you learning?" Are you learning? Are you getting closer to something you care about? Are you developing that tool kit? Are you learning new skills? Are you becoming a better person, a better learner, a better manager, a better teammate, a better creative? And then, you're in the sweet spot, right. But I think that those are -- I think that holding those is challenging for a lot of young people.

Andy Molinsky: [00:16:35] Yeah. No, I see. And I want to go back just for a moment about your major in college, which was film. So, I often ask people who are guests on the podcast what they took from college, specifically, that ended up helping them in the workplace. I know, sort of, literally, you went right into film production, and you found it unsatisfying in a number of ways, though you did learn how the sausage is made, and you now appreciate it.

Andy Molinsky: [00:17:04] I know also that in moviemaking, movies are about narratives. Films are about narratives. It sounds like you've seen your life a bit as the narrative in the sense that you've discovered something about yourself as a character that you didn't expect, which is that you love writing, and you discovered that late in life, and so on. I mean, tell us about the connections, if there are any, for you between studying film and sort of your career.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:17:31] Yeah. I'll say that, first and foremost -- and I actually just went back to my alma mater, to Wesleyan, to give a TEDx talk last month, which isn't out yet, but it will be out soon. And kind of actually the thing that I most take from college and actually think is the reason that it still makes sense, although that it's completely unaffordable and that the higher education landscape is going to drastically change in the next 10-15 years because it has to of people buying into a $200,000 or more education to graduate, not knowing what they want to do with their lives. And in tens of thousands of dollars a student that and not being able to get a job is ridiculous and unfair. And that social contract has been broken and needs to change.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:18:14] But what I got most out of it, and I think a lot of people would say they got out of a liberal arts education or being at a good college, is the community and understanding how important friendships are and time with your friend, especially in this space that we're in where everything's moving with technology and we're seeing increased rates of loneliness, especially among young people. And anxiety, depression, teen suicide is is astronomically climbing. And a lot of data, now, shows the links there, sometimes, between technology use, technology addiction, and social media use, and mental health challenges, right. Workplace burnout, which is characterized as an illness by the WHO, World Health Organization. And young people show the highest rates of burnout, but that's off topic.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:19:08] But I think you asked about the film piece. That's the college piece. What I take most about it is deep relationships with several people in my life that I love, and I know that I can come back to, and having that experience. And I think that they check that I'm trying. You realize later, a little later right after college that when you get a little lost, you need to kind of build that community back in, right. The so-called dorm room life or this kind of community in-person connection. And you can do it at a fellowship program or a conference or going to meet ups. It becomes harder as you get an adult, and your friends move across all around, and people start to get married and have children. But that connection piece is everything, especially when people are spending 10 hours a day on a cell phone.

Andy Molinsky: [00:19:51] I think I hear that, too. We interviewed 50 people who had recently graduated in the last sort of one to six years from college. And one of the things that they noticed was challenging for them was this sort of like sudden and unexpected lack of community.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:20:07] Right. And then, to directly answer your question about the film piece, it's much easier to look back and kind of connect the dots as you look back than in the moment. But I definitely think that I gained an understanding of storytelling. And I very much consider myself a storyteller today. That's what I do when I give talks, and speak, and write talks, and when I write articles. Storytelling, and narrative, and [film talk, setting film], I'm talking a lot about that.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:20:36] I also think, I went to a liberal arts school where you're learning -- you're taking classes in a variety of different disciplines. And my work today kind of encompasses many different spaces. So, I like that I had exposure to these different fields.

Andy Molinsky: [00:20:49] At least, at first, was it weird talking to sort of business audiences when that wasn't necessarily your background?

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:20:56] I think, at first, I think that there's an interesting -- a lot of people assume that, okay, if you don't have this training in the corporate arena, or you didn't go to business school, that you shouldn't be going into businesses and giving them any ideas. But I think, now, actually, it's the reverse kind of swing where they're looking for new voices and speakers that are kind of coming from different spaces because, maybe, the traditional approach isn't working, or it's helpful to have fresh ideas about this.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:21:27] So, for me, I've always experienced with my talks, (A), you're clearly getting results. People are recommending you. They like your talks. It must be working. People care less that you spent 10, 20, 15 years developing your theories or that they were supervised by this corporate entity or whatever, and more about how do people feel when you go in and do your work. Not to say that credentials don't matter at all. I believe that they do.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:21:58] But I also think that there is less -- the subtitle of my book, of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough is Invent Your Own Path, Find Meaningful Work, and Build a Life that Matters. I do think that we're moving much more into the world of if you want to be something, do that thing and call yourself that thing. I mean, if you're speaking garbage, and your stuff's not grounded in anything, then, yeah, people are going to call you out. But if you're waiting for 20 years to get that certification from someone or to have some old person tell you that you are the thing, then good luck.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:22:35] I just don't think that that paradigm exists anymore, that you have to be able to use the tools available, whether it's online or your creative suite, to make things happen. I think that I really encourage young people, you want to write a book? Write a book. You don't need a publisher to do that. You don't need to gain fame to do that. And I think that if it's good, people will recognize it, and people will want to hear from you more, right. I think there's a lot of these gatekeepers that that paradigm is dead. And I think that I, for one, I just know that my work wouldn't have happened if I didn't.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:23:17] Just to give you a little bit my story, I ended up leaving my job in DC after being very scared and nervous about quitting and making that leap. I was almost 30. I had a secure job in government. And not the smart thing to do, not what my parents wanted me to do. I could pretty much have stayed in that realm, not in the same agency, but moved around for pretty much my career without much effort, and making a very -- living a very good life in DC in that government space, and decided to kind of throw it all away and go for it because I wanted to write. I wanted to do something more creative. I wanted to move to California. I to try something new. I saved up money. I kind of took this leap knowing that it was going to be tough for a couple of years, and that I was going to have to piece things together, and work a few different side jobs here and there, which I did, and make it happen in order to kind of start a new life as a writer and a creative.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:24:11] And what I did when I first started, I moved to San Francisco. I ended up doing a crowdfunding campaign to self-publish this book called The Quarter-Life Breakthrough in an Indiegogo campaign, like a Kickstarter. I ended up raising $12,000 from 400 people in 38 countries, most of whom I didn't know or many of whom I didn't know because they thought this was cool, and they wanted something like that. They wanted this guide. And they thought the stories were cool. And they identified and resonated with the material. It sold very well. So, I did a campaign to raise money to do the book, self-publish the book. It sold almost 10,000 copies. And then, I ended up getting a version of the book published.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:24:52] So, if without these kind of tools that say, "All right, you want to do something, you want to go for it?" That's you." The only barrier between that happening is you. And of course, putting stuff out there, raising money, and what have you. But that there's not this kind of, "Oh, well. If anyone doesn't want it to happen, it won't happen," or the board of whatever. Harvard University doesn't like your stuff, so you can't. You aren't this thing. I hate that stuff. I think you have to invent your own things and make it happen. If they have a creative vision, if they want to write a book, if they want to give a talk, if they want to start something, encouraging that, those voices is where innovation happens. So, I'm a big proponent of that mindset.

Andy Molinsky: [00:25:39] That's a great message to end on. I think a lot of people be inspired by your words. And if they want to find out more about you and your work, where can they go?

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:25:47] Yeah. my website is It's a great place. You can check out my books on Amazon and follow me on Instagram or Twitter at @whatsupsmiley.

Andy Molinsky: [00:25:57] Awesome. And we'll link all this in our show notes. And thank you again so much for joining us.

Adam Smiley Poswolsky: [00:26:03] Andy, thank you so much for having me.

Andy Molinsky: [00:26:07] Thank you for listening to From the Dorm Room to the Board Room. If you're interested in learning more about the work that I do in helping people step outside their comfort zones and transition successfully into the professional world, please visit my website, That's A-N-D-Y-M-O-L-I-N-S-K-Y dot com. And also feel free to email me directly at with any feedback or ideas for guests for future podcasts.

Andy Molinsky: [00:26:38] This podcast is brought to you by Brandeis University's International Business School. By teaching rigorous business, finance, and economics, connecting students to best practices, and immersing them in international experiences, Brandeis International Business School prepares exceptional individuals from around the globe to become principled professionals in companies and public institutions worldwide. Thank you so much for listening.