Generation Y isn’t Unhappy, we’re just really Stressed
A Familiar Tale
An article that is spreading on Facebook has my ire up. There are some good points in that article and it’s worth a read, however…we have heard this all before. Generation Y is a bunch of narcissistic delusional overachievers. I get it. Thank you. And thanks for the advice too. I’m sure this is going to solve all my existential problems: stay ambitious, don’t feel special, and ignore everyone else. That actually won’t help a damn. Staying ambitious and working hard just feed into the real problem Generation Y is facing.
Two quick comments on the article, then another perspective…
I’m particularly tired of outsiders trying to explain the generation and I’d wager anything that the author of the linked article is not part of Generation Y. Someone within the Generation Y cohort would understand that we aren’t all inexperienced young people. Some of us have been around for awhile and can barely remember the days of being a wide-eyed recent college graduate. Maybe the author was born in the late 70s, but I’ve yet to meet someone who was born before me (very early 1981) that really fits the Gen Y mold. We need insiders to spend time unraveling what the real issues are and share them in some cross-generational dialog.
And maybe, just maybe the happiness = reality – expectations equation would still work but for a particular event in 2001 and I don’t know…what’s been happening between 2008-2013. I’m not saying those are excuses, but for a generation raised in the sunshine and roses of the 1990s to become adults between 2001 and 2011 is perhaps a bigger psychological disruptor than we acknowledge. The experiences of myself and many of my Gen Y friends and coworkers definitely support that reading of recent history. Time will tell, I’m sure. But I’m not going to discuss that today.
Freedom and no concept of prioritization. That’s the problem.
I married the right person. We celebrated our tenth anniversary just a few months ago (and by celebrated I mean sold our house and prepared to move from Minnesota to Massachusetts for a new job). We have two amazing daughters. My wife went back to school to get an MBA. She now has an awesome job that will provide us with the resources for a great life, no matter what I do in my career. Meanwhile I run my own business. I’m taking risks to chase my dreams. On the surface I’m one of those assholes who can make you feel depressed by selectively posting only the amazing parts of my life on Facebook.
HOWEVER… my wife and I are stressed, tired, and not as happy as we want to be. Maybe the answer is simple: our daughters are 2 1/2 and 4 1/2. Little kids are exhausting to live with. But maybe it’s more complex than that. Our generation believes we can be great active parents and productive workers at the same time. We also expect to find time to have a strong marriage and even carve out a little personal time. Some of us want to be famous and change the world, but the failure to be renowned and wealthy by 25 is not keeping most of the generation up at 2 am, unable to sleep.
Being raised in an environment where we are told we can do anything isn’t the problem; it’s that no one properly explained to us that we can’t do EVERYTHING.
We are trying to do too much. We want to be successful. And happy. And well off financially. Or not care about wealth (which is equally stressful and complex to achieve). We want to have a family and a soul mate. Though perhaps we don’t care about marriage (I do. I love being married and I want everyone, gay or straight to have what I have…though for those comparing themselves to me right now, my wife and I definitely have our too frequent moments of anger and disagreement, thanks stress). Many of us want kids. And those of us with kids want to be super parents (defined differently by each super parent). We want to eat well. And exercise. And have our kids eat well. And set them up for a good life. The list of things we must do is long, probably endless. My hunch is that this plight is similar to the tribulations of previous generations, just on overdrive.
The Manic Storm
Time / Cost / Quality
We’ve all seen this triangle. We understand it. If you want something faster, you have to sacrifice quality or spend more. If you want it cheaper, you need more time or lower quality. If you want better quality you need more time or more money… You can’t have all three without trade offs and sacrifices. Resources are limited.
Pick Two. Yeah right. I’ll just work harder and have all three. I’ll just sleep less. I’ll multi-task. I’ll be the dad I want to be. I’ll… fail. My wife and I have this discussion all the time. I tell her the answer to our problems is for me to put her and the girls first. If there is time and energy I’ll then see what I can accomplish with Shoegnome. I know that’s the answer. If I can just focus on being a good father and husband, we will have a good family system. We’ll be more rested and eat better. Our home environment will be better. We might achieve happiness. Or contentment. Or at least a lower level of baseline stress. If there’s time left once that’s achieved then I can do some writing and architect-ing. But if I try to do all three, I will crash. I will always be tired. I won’t excel at family, career, or companionship. I will be struggling and stressed like I have been for years. I will be unhappy.
It’s not about being special, better than everyone else, or narcissistic. It’s just about wanting everything. It’s about being wildly ambitious and burning out because trying to do everything is the problem. Because doing everything is impossible. Previous generations fought to give Generation Y more opportunities than ever before. We see them as examples and want to correct where they failed (mothers who gave up a career, fathers who focused too much on careers, parents who did both but had their marriage fall apart…). But that doesn’t work. Not without some scary behind the scenes shit going on that none of us want to share publicly. Try as we might, there isn’t some magic that makes the diagram work for us in ways that it never worked before.
It’s our job to teach ourselves and the next generation how to choose. We have to figure out both what we will do and also what we won’t do. We have to actually let go of things that hurt to let go. Things we always told ourselves we’d achieve or have or give to others. And then not secretly hope to accomplish those things anyways.
You have to accept that you can do anything, just not everything.
What do you think? Are you an outsider looking in, someone who’s reading this and thinking “yeah we dealt with that shit too, get over yourself”, or are you experiencing the struggles of Generation Y first hand? Leave a comment. If people enjoyed this post. I’ll write more. I’ve got a ton more to say.
I have written about Generation Y before and I hope to do so more in the future. Here’s an article I wrote for DesignIntelligence that focuses on Generation Y’s impact on architecture that is probably just as valid for other industries. If you aren’t into ArchiCAD, BIM, or the practice of architecture you might want to think twice before subscribing to the blog. However if you want to learn more about the tricky world of being an Architect in the 21st century: follow Shoegnome on Facebook, Twitter, and RSS feed. And now you can join the LinkedIN group too!