Have you seen the latest article on why millennials are delusional, lazy, and going to ruin the world? It’s called Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy, and I’m not its biggest fan. This post started as a Facebook comment, but it became an essay, so here it is.
I think there’s some merit in the article, but something’s off too, and I’m having trouble articulating what it is.
I do think it’s worth turning one of the smaller points into a fuller discussion, re the effect of social media when we (of any age) compare ourselves to others. As someone said, we compare others’ highlights to our blooper reels (both internal and external). And frankly I’m not sure that comparing ourselves to a magical idea of the Greatest Generation or to our parents is any better than comparing ourselves to where we feel we ought to be or where our acquaintances seem to be.
I’m a fan of the “stiff upper lip” style of public persona because I like good boundaries (acquaintances are AWESOME, not everyone has to be a friend), but on a one-on-one close/friendly basis it’s crucial to both parties to occasionally say and hear “Hey the cat is skiing down Laundry Mountain on dirty plates, I’m drowning at work, this one guy is being snide and I can’t figure out what I did wrong, and I haven’t had ten consecutive minutes to myself in weeks and I think I’m forgetting how to breathe.” We need that connection, we need that tight community of people we can be honest and vulnerable with. And we need to remember that these people we’re so proud of, and a little jealous of, have their own struggles.
Social media seems to me to, at least often, go too far in one direction or the other. Either people are a little too polished with their perfectly-curated blogs of their charming lives, or they’re oversharing about little gross minutia and complaining incessantly. And I think in a way both approaches prevent intimacy.
And thanks to FB, I’m not just looking at my geographically-close friends, coworkers, church and family. I can see every life update of 400 people who’ve been on my radar over the past 10 or 20 years, and chide myself for not going to ____ school like X did AND finishing a novel by age 16 like Y AND being happily married with a gorgeous kid and one on the way at age 22 like Z. These Paths-Not-Taken are in my face all the time, and I do have to remind myself that I made my choices for sound reasons, and that I’m pleased with where my choices have taken me.
I’m doing pretty well in life, and I’m actually quite happy. But self-comparison is a NASTY temptation, and it can ruin anyone’s joy. I don’t think that’s age-dependent. And I highly doubt the Greatest Generation was magically immune to it.
Yes, being willing to work hard and invest that effort for years is crucial. Yes, our society at large (not just millennials) is allergic to the concept of suffering. And yes, all of that has an effect. But there are also a lot of good things going on with millennials. It’s pretty—dare I say it—normal.
I think to say “Oh no, the new lazy young people will DESTROY THE FOUNDATIONS OF SOCIETY” is just as melodramatic and absurd as “Oh no, the new lazy slang will DESTROY THE FOUNDATIONS OF LANGUAGE.” (Cf. Guy Deutscher‘s response to the second, and you more or less have my response to to the first.) Some things change, some things evolve, and many things have far-reaching effects. But the young have always had to learn how to grow up, and that process has never been a cake walk. But just like today’s slang becomes tomorrow’s hotly-defended grammar rule, I think today’s young people will eventually figure out how to be hardworking, successful, and even happy. Just like every other generation before us.