If you have a conversation with a dozen millennials, it’s likely that more than one of them will tell you that they don’t know what they want to do with their lives. Some of them work dead-end jobs in service industries. Others are barely above the poverty level while working toward fulfilling a dream. Still more are drifting through life, unsure of their desires or ultimate career goals.
In many ways, this is not much different than the struggles that earlier generations felt. Our woes are just more public. With the arrival of social media, we can all feel each other’s uncertainty and angst. It brings about a sense of solidarity and communion, and we can know that we are not ultimately lost.
But why do so many of us feel so purposeless? Why do we have so much trouble figuring out what we want to do and who we want to become? We have access to more options and opportunities than almost any generation before us. We have the added benefit of information on demand, and a world’s education situated conveniently in our pockets.
The difference is that the paths that our forefathers forged have turned into bridges that have been traversed to the point of collapse. The stable careers and promising pensions that were once considered safeguards for our parents and grandparents have become all but a distant pipe dream for millennials. Even if we are lucky enough to find a job that promises these benefits, we saw enough in the Great Recession to know that these gigs are all but permanent. They can end at any time, and take with them our visions of economic stability and white picket fences.
In short, we feel stuck precisely because we have to blaze our own trails. Our survival is up to us rather than the whims of a system we did not help to create. This is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. We don’t have the job security that our parents did. But we have the opportunity to make something much greater of our lives than our parents were told they ever could. For those of us who realize this and can step up to the challenges, the rewards are bountiful. Look at the billion-dollar companies that began as bootstrapped start-ups run by young people who had a dream.
But we have to recognize that history has dealt us a unique hand. We can no longer put our heads down and work for 30 years, then retire with a pension to take care of us for the rest of our lives. We have to consider things that are entirely new in the grand scheme of things. These include concepts such as “branding yourself”, “search engine optimization”, and “networking events”. These have quickly become part of our lexicon, but they sound entirely foreign to previous generations.
In short, it’s easy for us to feel lost when we are fumbling our way through the dark while having to adapt to these new circumstances. It’s easy to feel stuck.