As I was writing this entry, it became so stereotypically millennial (self-centered, first world problems, all about me, etc) that I’m not even going to try to justify it. So, let’s get right to the sweeping generalizations about Life that I am so qualified to offer after 23 tuned-in years on earth. Hopefully it resonates with someone going through a similar situation, or opens your eyes to another viewpoint.
Millenial Problem #1: pressure to be great / comparison
The biggest problem facing Millennials right now is not unemployment or college debt or our crippling sense of narcissism… although they are related.
The problem is the paralyzing pressure to do something great with our lives, which we gain from our elders’ and peers’ influence and from comparing ourselves to others.
Since childhood, at school and at church, we get this message from adults that we’re destined to be anything we want to be when we grow up, and that we should “reach for the stars” or measure up to heroes like amputees who run marathons, missionaries who move to foreign countries to share the gospel or even our close friends who land big shot jobs in distant cities.
Why is that a problem?
These aspirations can go too far – we let them confuse us. We are not grateful for what we have and what we can readily accomplish. Why is there this pressure to venture off and do something crazy like backpack across Europe or adopt a kid? Obviously these things are fantastic, and God uses normal people to do incredible things. But I think Millennials get easily dissatisfied with life, because we compare our present selves to these aspirational heroes. And on a level below hero role models, there are our friends and acquaintances posting gorgeous photos of life highlights on social media. Got to vacation in Hawaii? Got married to the love of your life? Go you! I mean that without sarcasm. Sharing your joy with the internet is good practice. Sometimes I get jealous – but that’s on me!
The problem is not people who do awesome stuff with their lives; the problem is people fail to realize that each life is full of awesome stuff that can be celebrated and appreciate.
(… well, and that people very easily forget that awesome stuff posted online is a snapshot or highlight of someones’s life, without the struggles or pain. For example, don’t I look happy in that picture from February of this year? I had just raced my first Baylor Cycling road race. Someone might deduce from my smile and the fact that I shared it on Twitter and Facebook that I was sittin’ pretty, but in reality this was a bleak time.)
Anyway, life’s joy, the accomplishments and anticipations, come from the pursuit of excellence, wherever you’re at. Ad agency job or lawnmowing; Hawaii or stuck at home; it shouldn’t matter, strive to be your best.
So where did I commit this Millennial sin of comparison and allowing myself to feel pressured to do something superhuman?
After four rosy years of sailing through undergrad at Baylor, year 5 (this past year) challenged me in new ways. Between starting graduate school, getting hurt and not running for 6 months, having a job during the school year for the first time ever, and of course random personal experiences that made me actually have to to think for myself, I was experiencing, shall we say, growing pains. On top of all that, I had to plan my moves for the next year (check out my post from December called Scheming) which could have been basically
- finishing my graduate degree at Baylor ($$$ pricy without that athletic aid!)
- knocking off early and looking for a full-time job
- something to do with exclusively running?
If I was getting a job, where? I’m pretty sure I want to work in the running industry but even in that niche there are a lot of options. And how was running going to factor into this decision? What if I meet some dude and get engaged? Where am I going to meet someone? Why am I still single? And oh God, am I ever going to get over this injury and run again? Down the spiral I went…
Life was going against me, or so I felt, and I allowed the pressure to do something incredible with my life to overwhelm me. Talk about a first world problem… there were so many ideas and options for my next year (school vs. work vs. running) cramming my head that I began to feel out of control. I felt inept to achieve anything great; the odds were stacked against me. And even if I could perform a Great Endeavor, where the heck would I start? Instead of excited for the future, I felt powerless and stuck. Since I felt unable to achieve something great, I felt unable to achieve even something small. A couple times, I was doing a mindless activity like grocery shopping or pool running, and I started thinking about the future too much. The mental overpowered the physical and my heart literally started racing with nervousness. Whoa buddy!
These times exhibited extremely counter-productive thinking. They were preventing me from striving to be my best. They were allowing a comparison to govern me, blocking me from moving forward and being grateful for the opportunities I did have.
But I beat it, this millennial problem. How? Part 2 of this post is in the works.