Recently I’ve started to cringe any time I see multiple people post the same article about 20-somethings.
I’m 22, (born in 1991 for those of you who struggle with the math). I’m solidly a Millennial. And I’m starting to think there’s something wrong with me, because I. Am. So. HAPPY.
And I’m single.
And I have an entry-level job making about half of the average salary in Ohio (I am in journalism, after all).
And I’m extremely ambitious and driven.
And apparently, according to the articles floating around, like this one, this combination should make me UNHAPPY and frustrated with my life because, as a Millennial, or Generation Y’er, or a GYPSY or whatever they’re calling us now, I can’t possibly have achieved happiness at 22.
I feel like I have some ‘splaining to do, because I definitely don’t identify as a GYPSY, which if you haven’t read the article, stands for Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies, and I wouldn’t classify any of my friends as one either. But to avoid writing another post over-generalizing about Millennials, let me make the disclaimer that this is my experience, and my observation of the experience of the vast majority of my closest friends in Dayton and from UNC.
The main premise of this article follows an equation my favorite high school literature teacher introduced me to when I was 16: Happiness = expectations – reality.
To sum up the article, it basically says Millennials are unhappy because previous generations put so much pressure on them to have great careers and be happy that they had GREAT EXPECTATIONS for their 20s, and they're also inherently self-absorbed and think the world revolves around giving them a great life. And then when a tough economy made finding the most amazing job ever right out of college a little tough, REALITY smacked them in the face and made them UNHAPPY.
So let’s break this down.
I was raised with a strong work ethic, meaning I knew that anything valuable in life would take work. I’ve never felt entitled to anything. I was responsible for paying for 100 percent of my college expenses, so I picked the college that was cheapest and closest to home, but offered a major I was reasonably interested in. My EXPECTATION for life after college was that I would get some kind of 9ish to 5ish job in the field I majored in, find hobbies and interests to fill my free time, and make friends who would help me enjoy every minute of life. I knew it would take hard work and relentless networking, on both the professional and friendship sides, but I knew it would pay off sooner or later.
A few months into college, I realized just how competitive the job market is in journalism, and that it takes multiple top-quality internships to land a solid journalism job. So, with the help of excellent professors and mentors, I made sure that happened. I accepted the first job I was offered, even though it meant moving 500 miles away from home to a city where I knew no one, because as a recent grad in a tough job market, I wasn’t about to be picky when offered a job in my chosen career field.
So guess what, the REALITY is, I have an entry-level 9-to-5 job that pays the bills and buys the beer, and I discovered a love for Ultimate Frisbee, through which I made awesome friends.
End result? I’ve never been HAPPIER.
But it’s not because I set low expectations for myself, and neither is it because I live a charmed life.
I have high standards for myself, and I am highly competitive. So no, I have not achieved everything I want in life. I certainly want to work my way up within my company, but I understand that takes time developing a solid track record. Unlike this article implies about me as a 20-something, I already understand that it takes several years to master a job, and that unless you’re absolutely miserable, you should stick a job out for a few years at a minimum. I’ve been at my job just over a year and I am still learning so much each month, because my ego, even though it is in the healthy to slightly overweight range, is not big enough to think I could master a centuries-old profession in just a year.
Another article that riled me up recently was this one about questions I should ask myself in my 20s, and while some of them could be valid points for some people, I could barely keep reading after the first one: "Do the people I’m surrounded by bring me life?", which went on to ask … “Are your friends taking steps forward or are they still playing beer pong in the basement??"
And my answer to the author is heck yes! My friends bring me so much life it blows my mind, and after spending a weekend with them, I have to go run laps around a track to sort out all the fun and file it away for future grins and giggles. My friends, many of whom I’ve met in the last year through Ultimate Frisbee, have great careers or are headed for great careers – engineers, teachers, nurses, wedding photographers, social workers,… you name it. And yet we still get together and play beer pong in my basement, or any number of Frisbee games, and go to trivia nights, and go dancing on the weekends and generally live life with so much gusto and passion and care for each other that we don’t need to constantly abuse the phrase ‘I love you’ because it’s so already patently obvious that we do.
I don’t think there’s a one-size fits all definition of what your 20s should be like. I think they should be fun, but I’m planning on having fun in my 30s, and 40s, and 50s, and 60s and so on until I have a heart attack in the middle of doing something awesome. I think you should set realistic goals for yourself and try to achieve them, but again, goal setting is a great idea for any time in life. I think you should expect to fail at a good 50 percent of the things you try, but you should never give up on yourself.
I’m writing this mostly because I think the articles floating around about 20-somethings do more harm than good. They mischaracterize my generation, add extra anxiety to college seniors and new grads, and give people an excuse to stay unhappy. They can make life after college sound depressing, which, as I approached graduation, I had some concerns about as well. But let me tell you something: I have the #firstworldproblem of often wondering, as the breath catches in my throat in panic, if life is only going to be downhill from here because I can’t imagine how it could get any better than this. Sometimes this feeling strikes when I’m in the shower, with You Make My Dreams by Hall and Oates blasting out of my iPhone speakers, or I’m celebrating an amazing play on the Frisbee field, or I’m helping mount a dart board in my friend’s apartment, or making new friends at a concert, or getting to know my teammates at a tournament. And sometimes it’s literally standing on a mountain top, but the point is, life is as fun as you make it. To any college seniors wondering what post-college life is like, here’s an example of the average day in the life of Olivia:
Yesterday, I got picked up from work by a friend who’s a senior at UD, and in true college-budget fashion we hit up a downtown restaurant that is celebrating its 30 year anniversary by offering free pizza (with the purchase of a drink). After I stole all the corner pieces from all the pizzas – they’re so tiny and crunchy! – we met another 20-something friend at our favorite thrift and had a heyday with 25-percent-off-Mondays. We followed it up with $1.25 milkshakes from my favorite ghetto ice cream shop, where the solo staffer already knows my order – a kids’ size peanut butter shake – after my two trips there in the last five days. Then I came home and attempted to pack two weeks’ worth of supplies for my upcoming two week backpacking trip to the British Isles into a bag weighing less than 20 pounds.
And this isn’t even the highlight reel of my life. That’s just an average night. Today I went kayaking with my Little Sister at a free city parks event, followed by boxing in the grungiest, but most hardcore downtown gym with awesome people who keep me laughing and inspire me constantly, even while the sweat pouring off my body forms a mini lake on the concrete floor. On Wednesday, I’m going to meet with an ambitious group of young professionals who are passionate about downtown to discuss our plan to create more awareness of healthy, fresh food options near downtown Dayton, and I might throw in some intramural volleyball afterward, or some $2 wine tastings.
I realize that I am incredibly blessed. And I’m so thankful.
But also, I’m so tired of being told why I should be unhappy with my life. One of my biggest beefs with Christianity right now is how it trains you to be disappointed in yourself, by constantly reminding you of your shortcomings. Instead of inspiring you to go out and make more laughs and smiles, super ‘convicting’ sermons point out yet another area of your life where you’re messing it all up. And yes, sometimes you need to be called out for stuff, but that’s what good friends, on a one-on-one basis, are for, because more often than not those talks create unnecessary worry and anxiety in hearts that are already just trying to bring as much joy to the world as possible.
So to those 20-somethings out there who aren’t enjoying the wonderful gift that is your twenties and everything that comes with that, whether it’s the flexibility of not having dependents, the strength and agility of youth, the excitement of new responsibilities and learning as much as you can in a new job, the freedom from homework for the first time in 16 years, or what have you, please stop reading these articles that are just encouraging you to stay stuck in a rut of unhappiness.
Because your happiness isn’t based on your circumstances, or other people’s expectations for you. It’s not based on how your reality shapes up to someone else’s reality, or how it shapes up to what you expected. It’s based on what you make of your REALITY.
So please, go out and make as many people smile and laugh as you possibly can, and remind yourself that life only gets better from here.