Is everyone adulting but me?
I recently read a statistic claiming that Millenials report higher levels of anxiety and depression than any other generation at the same age reported.
I am not interested in the actual research behind this statistic. Perhaps it’s true, or perhaps our generation is just more likely to acknowledge mental illness, but as a Millennial myself and as therapist who works with this population, I can say this: there is absolutely no shortage of stress, insecurity, and fear happening in our generation.
We have been branded as the species of “special snowflakes,” brought up on everyone’s-a-winner trophies, minivans, and a cool hundred or so social media platforms.
We are called entitled, quirky, and stubborn.
We are accused for glamorizing tragic mental illness and the surrounding symptoms of it, and we are also shamed for being too triggered, too sensitive, and too politically correct. We are encouraged to channel our talents and follow our passions, and we also face criticism when we venture beyond the college-work-children recipe. We spend hours editing and filtering pixels, rewording hashtags and statuses, portraying a just-right image of beauty and uniqueness. If we do not participate in this social media trend, we are outsiders. And if we do participate in it, we are “shallow.”
We live in a time of YOLO and FOMO, glued to our smartphones, existing in virtual reality- sometimes by choice- but mostly because everyone else our age is living in that world as well.
We have never been more sure and paradoxically unsure of who we are at a given moment.
The simultaneous beauty and tragedy of my job is that I hear, explore, and then hold the deepest and darkest secrets on an hourly basis. I see what society doesn’t- what lies underneath the polished exteriors and Instagram feeds, what exists beyond the surface I’m fine responses and #blessed captions.
I get to see the grimy truth- the authenticity, the fears, and the speculation.
And with that, I have concluded my own largely unscientific claim: nobody in our generation actually has a clue. In fact, I’ll even argue this: nobody in any generation had or has a clue, either.
Everyone is figuring this adulthood thing– this life thing- out. 18 or 88, we are all still developing and growing. We are all prone to the same feelings of fear and anger and sadness. We are all prone to the experiences of inferiority, incompetence, and incapability.
Adulthood, unlike childhood, is up to each of us to define. Sounds exciting, and it is. But, on the darker side of things, we have to wrestle with the strange acceptance and insidious transition that there really aren’t any rules. Nobody is really responsible or obligated to take care of us. We are no longer at the mercy of our parents and their dynamics.
We have choice; we have agency, and, for the first time, we may have freedom.
I tell my clients that freedom is a double-edged sword, because it is. We want it desperately, spend most of our youths chasing and experimenting with it, and once we have it, we have no idea how to handle it! Freedom is just as terrifying as it is tantalizing. Even if we detest rules and structure, it can feel so much easier to just follow someone else’s path or rules.
Of course, when channeled appropriately, freedom allows us to grow into the people we strive to be and take the action we desire to take. Yet, when we feel stunted in our ability to manage freedom or “adulting,” life has the perception of running us instead of the other way around. We start feeling incompetent and incapable. We feel overrun by our environments, our unconscious patterns, our established rules, no matter how toxic or childish they feel.
As Millenials, we experience freedom in intoxicating qualities. We can look up any fact via Google, watch any tutorial via Youtube, connect with anyone in the world via Facebook- and We can do this all in the comfort of a few screen taps. We can find our next dinner date on Tinder and our next job on LinkedIn. We don’t even have to start a business with a dream and investment- we can start it with a smartphone and willing Instagram followers.
Choices are exciting, but they can also be paralyzing. Change is constant; the world continues to evolve, and it continues to inundate us with pressure to upgrade everything from our hair color to our phone to our entire existence.
It’s no wonder we’re anxious and depressed. It’s no wonder we feel lost and directionless. It’s no wonder we have trouble with decision-making and commitment.
Here’s the thing about our generation: we’re faking it, and we’re also making it, and we have no idea how much everyone else around is really struggling. We have our childish traits, we have our professional identities, we have our online personas, and, if we’re lucky, we have begun to cultivate the identities of our authentic selves. We are a jumbled mess of sorts, and sometimes the lines look so blurred that we do not know which is which.
And you know what? It’s okay. This is our learning challenge. It’s what defines us. We are unique, and we are intelligent, and we have a freedom no other generation has ever had before us. Everyday, we are challenging what a “good life” and “success” and “family” look like. Everyday, we are carving out where our own values and passions lie. And everyday, ideally, we get a little more comfortable with the idea that nobody really knows what this adulting thing is about, anyway.