Millennials are anywhere from 17 to 40 years old this year, depending on who is defining the parameters. That’s a huge age spread, and there are significant differences between Millennials born in 1977 and those born in 2000.
That being said, if you are 20- or 30- something, you might be feeling lousy about where you are in life right now. Nobody told you how hard these years were going to be, and you think you must be doing something wrong. Being 20- or 30- something has always kind of sucked, so don’t pay too much attention to the old-timers who are telling you “these are the best years of your life”. That’s just wrong.
There is a lot you can do to feel better and make sure you are on the right path. Here are some important things you should know:
1. You may not be where you want to be right now, but you’re still on track.
Many of you are living at home with your parents. Due to crippling college debt, the difficulty of finding appropriate employment, and the high cost of housing, many Millennials can not afford to live on their own.
About one third of Millennials are currently living with their parents, more than in any other living situation.
While your generation may be living longer with your parents, in generations past young adults have also struggled to find their way.
If you are confused, under-employed, and frustrated that you haven’t figured out your life path or landed your dream job, you are in good company.
This is what 20- and often 30-something looks like. Hang in there.
2. Focus on Resilience and Self-Compassion
Here’s the secret about resilience– you learn it by making mistakes. A lot of mistakes. That’s where the self-compassion comes in handy.
Your generation, more than any other generation before, has been shielded from making mistakes, in the erroneous belief that this would give you more time to practice succeeding.
How wrong we were.
This is now a task that your generation needs to learn in their 20’s and 30’s, when there is often less compassionate support and the cost of failing can be much greater.
Fail anyway. And then forgive yourself.
The first failure may feel devastating, but you will survive, and the next time will be easier. It’s the only way to succeed. Or be happy. So there’s that.
3. Your unique strengths will create a future that is new and exciting, and could not, cannot, be envisioned by other, older generations.
Your generation is labeled narcissistic because of its tendency to focus on itself, but this is also one of its greatest strengths. Millennials identify with the ground-breakers, the innovators.
Helen Min, Head of Business Marketing for DropBox, says of young Millennials,
“It really doesn’t matter if the vast majority of people follow a certain path; their reality is with outliers and they benchmark themselves against the top 1%.”
You are going to need this kind of belief to mobilize your creativity and determination in order to solve some of humanity’s most difficult issues.
Global climate change, starvation, oppression, and unavailable healthcare are all issues that demand creative and collaborative solutions. Your generation didn’t create these problems, but your generation will need to solve them before it is too late.
What does this mean to you on a personal level?
Every generation (and every human) has characteristics that dominate their psyche. Others can be quick to label them faults, but these characteristics can also be great strengths.
Keep learning and asking questions.
You don’t need to know everything from the start, just keep moving forward, and have faith that you will find your path. You will find it.
Follow what interests you. Eventually patterns will emerge and you can use your own unique way of seeing things to craft part of a solution to the problems that interest you.
4. Your generation is responsible for a revolution in acceptance of individual identity.
Your sensitivity has been endlessly mocked, but it is also creating a safe place for people to define themselves in ways that were never previously accepted.
One way your generation is really changing the social landscape is in the area of gender identity and expression.
Generations before you have fought for the rights of people to openly express their sexual preferences, but your creation of the concept of cis-gender as only one possibility on a spectrum of gender expression is changing the way we define ourselves as humans.
Your challenge will be to find a way to spread your own ideas while listening to the thoughts and opinions of those who are not yet among the converted.
This is always the challenge of being a young adult. Traditionally, young adults have many ideas about how to change the world for the better. They are usually energetic and even strident in their opinions. This attitude often alienates older generations.
The only way to communicate your ideas effectively is to first listen to the opinions of those who oppose you, and then speak to the fear that is driving their resistance to your new ideas.
Let me explain.
One excellent example of this is “trigger warnings” on books, especially those that are considered to be great literature. Older generations have been resisting trigger warnings and claiming that Millennials are too sensitive.
The way to win them over is not to come up with a flawless argument about how trigger warnings are important for those with past trauma. The way to win them over is to address their historically justified fear of censorship. When you get caught up in their argument that “life doesn’t come with trigger warnings” you miss the point.
Pay attention to their fears, so you can assuage them. This is how to win hearts and minds.
And there will be compromises.
Finding a balance between idealism and practicality has been the challenge for every generation before you. It is a classic task of growing up for 20- and 30-somethings.
Baby Boomers and Gen-Xer’s marched and protested and wrote letters to the editor (and many of us are doing this again, for different reasons, a different balance!) and made a difference to society before families and finances and holding down a job or two became the more important task of the day.
Our parents were just as upset with us for being so contrary and argumentative. We stood up for what we believed, and made as much of a difference as we could. We eventually made concessions so that our social advances would take hold, and you will, too.
Know that even if it feels lousy, you are still on track. Adulting is f***ing hard.
Your unique characteristics as a generation are both your greatest strengths and your greatest weaknesses. Young adulthood is when you learn to accept yourselves, even laugh at yourselves, both as a generation and as individuals.
When you feel lost and unsure of yourself, just keep moving forward. That’s the way it works. It’s simple, but not easy.
You will need to learn to convince generations before you of the wisdom of your new ideas. The only effective way to do this is to speak to the fear that is behind their opposition.
You are the future of our culture, our planet, our humanity. I’m confident that we are in good hands.
This is part 3 of a series for Millennials and their parents. You might also be interested in:
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The paper in the link below offers a thorough analysis of differences in young adults of various generations (over nine million individuals studied over four decades). This is a research paper with corroborating statistics, but the conclusion paragraphs are understandable (and fascinating!) even for the non-social scientist.
Here is a compelling and succinct argument for “trigger warnings”
Here is a thoughtful and well-researched book about the Millennial Generation: