Next to being an angsty millennial, it seems that bemoaning how shitty millennials are seems to be the funnest thing the 21st century has brought us. Gosh, why can’t we all just stop bitching and get a real job, buy a house, invest in some mutual funds? Is there a reason that we feel entitled, arrogant, over-worked and under-paid? Brought to your by your favourite group of Gen X-ers: Welcome to life! Here’s your anger-turned-depression-turned-apathy. If you flip to page 5 of the brochure it’s an e-mail list of all your fellow humans surviving the same, mundane bullshit. It sucks, get fucking used to it.
While I love my generation, and feel blessed that I was raised in a pretty functional family, in a great country, and in a time where technology and innovation seem to be at an all time high; I’m often flummoxed at the sheer misunderstanding by our elder counterparts when it comes to our pervasive and seemingly never-ending, angst. While it was certainly something I went through as a pre-teen – because that seems to be a pre-requisite for early teenage-hood – it has morphed into a dull pining as a young adult and is ever-evolving into a new understanding of life, one far different from the one sold to us.
For sale: The fantasy of the knight and shining amor, but the knight never fucking shows up
It was beat into me, and almost all of my peers that the path to a better life was through education. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for education, and I’ll be the first to back the value of an education no matter the subject. Yet, here we are, a bunch of high school kids, trying to figure out what we’re supposed to do with the rest of our lives, and all we know is that we ought to go to University and we ought to get a degree. In something, anything. “People don’t really care what your degree is in, just that you did it.” The collective understanding of my teenage years was to use my brain for something. Do what our parents didn’t do, or struggled to do. Education is so accessible these days! So we all packed up our bags, and our bongs, and our textbooks and headed off to University/College. Where we entered the big gleaming gates that were our ticket to a better, privileged life. Well like I said, the knight never showed up. ‘Cause he was too busy getting bombed at an iHop down the street. Universities used to be a cornerstone institution, specifically during the industrial revolution. They served as career producing facilities, designed to get kids in fast, and pump them back into the work force even faster. Since we are now in a new age where we need less labor and more specialized skills, Universities are no longer job factories, and we are left with a generation of kids with student loans up to their ears, and a minimum wage jobs. We all did what we were “supposed to do”. We went, we learned and we applied for jobs. And here we are, working in childcare and at Starbucks.
The ‘life path’ that is sold to us from a very early age is changed. I mean fuck, look at the game of life. Go to school, get a job, get married, have babies, retire. I know that generations of people have been going against this established way for a long time, and that NO millennials didn’t come up with doing everything backwards, it’s just now never been more clear that it isn’t really working. You know what works now? Having a marketable skill, that you can sell. And let me be clear, just because you went to University doesn’t mean that you have marketable skills. Even my education in Environmental Science has rendered me at a shitty point, not having any work available to me, and being past the point of my education being current and relevant. You want to know why millennials are so angry? Because we have $40,000 in debt, and no one will hire us without 10 years of experience, so we’re left with jobs that make just barely over minimum wage and paying off a loan for the next 12 years of our lives. Where in that ratio are we supposed to save up for a down payment on a house? On a car? On anything? It’s a never-ending cycle of rent, food, cell phone, visa, student loan.
The backwards way of living and our obsession with happiness
What IS IT with us first-worlders (more specifically westerners) that we are so obsessed with the notion of needing to be happy, and feeling guilty when we aren’t? Our society is now in a place where we are never more far apart, and never more unhappy. Edith Weisskopf-Joelson – who was a professor of Psychology at the University of Georgia – said it best:
Our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment. Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy.
Is there anyone more psychotic than someone who is happy ALL the time. I just want to be like, “Don’t you get tired? Don’t you get angry? You must be fucking nuts when you aren’t happy.” And while I’m in awe of people who are just, stoked, all the time, I’m in a position now where I see that the key to happiness isn’t to actively search for it and violently try to immerse ourselves in it. The key is to search for a peaceful contentedness. Where you experience a profound detachment from big, overwhelming emotions, and end up in a place where you are not searching, but allowing for things to come into play as they should, at the rate they should.
With all that in mind however, I still find myself frustrated at the lack of understanding. Everyone seems to be confused as so why we’re all SO bummed out all the time. Is it really confusing? Jobs that pay shit, working for people who are shit, education that’s worth shit. It’s profoundly easy, and almost natural, to find yourself in a quiet sort of desperation, trying and flailing to stay above water. While the two generations before us are pointing and rolling their eyes saying “learn how to fucking swim.”
Our Collective Neurosis
I just finished a very fascinating book called Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. Which is one part documentation of his time, and eventual release, in Auschwitz. Second part his coined style of therapy: Logotherapy. Despite overwhelming brutality and the most hostile of circumstances, Frankl talks about how it’s up to the individual to ascribe meaning to his/her life regardless of circumstance. His core conviction is that mans sole purpose is to find that which is meaningful. (It’s super good you should read it) But, later in the book he talks about ‘Collective Neurosis’. A phenomena every generation experiences in their own unique way. Our collective neurosis is what he likes to call our ‘Existential vacuum’. (Given that meaning is what we desire, meaninglessness is a hole or a vacuum. Whenever you have a vacuum bear in mind that things often rush to fill it – namely sex and money – however in our society it often manifests itself as profound boredom.) Now, I know as millennials we’re all die-hards for permanent existential crisis’ with a sprinkle of nihilism and the whole bit. But when you think of in terms of something that we all in one way or another experience, it can humanize this collective pain.
Every age has its own collective neurosis, and every age needs it’s own psychotherapy to cope with it. The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as the contention that being has no meaning.
Fight Club put it even better. (Am I mentioning Fight Club in an essay explaining why millennials are super angsty? YES I AM):
We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
And Fight Club was written in 1996 – YES IT WAS A BOOK BEFORE IT WAS A MOVIE – which was a whopping 21 years ago. (That math took me longer than it should have…). An entire generation of babies has been born in that time, an entire generation being raised on the inaccurate notion of what a successful life is. And it is true, we lack a big event that we can collective call our history. We are lingering in a weird limbo, wondering where we fit, and it’s causing some of us to be pissed off, and some of us to be sad. Where to we belong in an ever-evolving, distant world?
As they say, your perspective starts to change as you age, and hopefully never stops changing. Once our beloved millennial comes to terms with the fact that life just isn’t what it was chalked up to be, he is then free to adapt, or disconnect, or whatever he or she deems necessary to survive. We are no longer in place where we find our passion and work in that passion till we die. We can barely get benefits for christ sakes. Once the paradigm shifts in your brain, wrapping your head around a new way of earning money, of education, of everything becomes more possible.
But let us not forget, that our life as we know it is structured around a 40 hour work week, and the capitalist regime. We know that. We know that working 5 days and having 2 off is designed so you pour all your hard-earned money back into the system on the weekend because it’s the only time you feel free, but thus forcing you right back to where you started the following Monday. And it self-perpetuates as a system designed to keep you trapped. We know all these things. And we’re angry about it. So let us be angry for fuck sakes, let us be sad. Because this is what it is for us, we’ll likely work till we die. We might be smart and invest our money into something, we might get lucky and get a really good job out of university, but for a lot of us, this is the reality. This is the new reality. And being the first generation to REALLY have to deal with it, it’s a hard shift. For my millennials reading, there is an upside, eventually. Someones always said it better, and usually Richard Dawkins says things way better:
“There is something infantile in the presumption that somebody else has a responsibility to give your life meaning and point… The truly adult view, by contrast, is that our life is as meaningful, as full and as wonderful as we choose to make it.”