It feels like I’m always late for something. Like I’m rushing to get to some destination, but have no idea where I’m going. I don’t even know if I want to go there.
I roam around with all these grand ideas racing inside my brain; ideas of how I can be happy, fulfilled, a contributor to society. I chase them, trying to see where they might land; I’m left dizzy and confused. All of these intangible ideas swim around in my brain. They act like helium, filling my head up like a balloon until I feel like my feet are lifting from the ground.
I’m just floating around, trying to get a grip.
And being in your 20s feels exactly like that — like being a balloon. Someone pumped us up with these ideas of grandeur: college, career, money, success, stability, family; and then they tied it up with a nice little bow called a diploma and let go. Out into the real world, with no intention or direction. They just let go and we’re supposed to figure it out. Which is fine; we’re a resilient bunch; we can handle it. But I wish someone had prepared my generation for this feeling of aimlessness that comes with post-grad life.
It’s like no one wanted to admit how bleak it would be. Graduating into a nearly jobless market, being forced to move back in with our parents, realizing we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives doing what we just devoted the past four years of our lives studying — why weren’t we prepared?
It’s causing an anxiety epidemic among my generation. We feel like we’re supposed to be doing something, but aren’t exactly sure what. We’re treading water playing a gigantic game of Marco Polo, screaming out into darkness trying to chase after success.
Millennials are more stressed than any other current living generation, according to a new survey conducted by the American Psychological Association and Harris Interactive. While stress levels for most Americans are falling, young adults ages 18-33 are reporting more depression and anxiety.
I’m starting to realize that we were all fed this recipe to success, this vision of what post-grad life is supposed to look like based on a dated generalization from generations past. We have no idea what success is, and that’s making us feel like we are doing something wrong. And we shouldn’t feel that way.
Success is intangible, and it is unique to each individual. Success takes time and experimentation and risks. Success requires finding the recipe that tastes the best to you. We know how to solve differential equations and pass standardized tests and write annotated bibliographies, but we don’t know what we want!
For four years I was trained to want a certain outcome. I picked a major. Worked hard, studied, read, lost sleep, studied some more. I followed the dotted line to success. That was the plan. But from my experience and conversations with fellow post-grads, that plan is starting to unravel.
I’m finally seeing the plan for what it really is: a cop out. It’s a shoddy instructional manual to happiness passed down from the generation before us. It worked for them, so it should work for us. But no one has taken the time to craft a new manual for us, one that fits our generation. So we’re figuring it out. We’re starting to discover the cracks in the system. And we are sick of it. Unfulfilled. Aimless.
We are a generation who is never satisfied. We crave immediacy. We are entitled and selfish and greedy. Shouldn’t we be? Shouldn’t we want to make changes, question the status quo, fear settling? We should be mending the cracks in this outdated manual, because clearly no one is going to do it for us.
The older generation views us as selfish brats. Maybe they all felt the same way we do now, but just didn’t know what to do about it. And so now, when they hear us complaining about wanting more, they become bitter and tell us to deal with it. They could never figure it out. But we can.
We grew up surrounded by innovation. We are a generation that saw the birth of the Internet, smart phones, social networking. We’ve witnessed social norms crashing down around us: gay rights, drug reform, a black president! It is ingrained in our system to try to test limits, push boundaries and fight the status quo.
We are obsessed with change. It has been estimated that we will have 15–20 jobs over the course of our working lives, Why? Not because we are lazy, flighty or entitled. No, because we aren’t willing to settle. We want to make a difference, make an impact. We are creators, innovators, thinkers, speakers and believers.
The new generation has arrived and we will no longer succumb to this anxiety epidemic; we are ready for our balloons to land.
Lauren Ellman, a graduate of the University of Central Florida, works at an advertising firm in Miami.