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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.

family-career-companionshipFamily / Career / Companionship

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 FacebookTwitter, and RSS feed. And now you can join the LinkedIN group too!


  • September 16, 2013

    A beautifully written piece, totally on point.

    It makes me think of a quote from Lily Tomlin from her one-woman show in the 80’s.
    After talking about how she was brought up to “want it all”:

    “If I’d known what it was like to have it all, I’d have settled for less…”


    P.S. You do know who Lily Tomlin is…or is this amazing comedienne someone who only baby boomers like myself recall with fondness? I just saw her in a great supporting role in the recent Tina Fey and Paul Rudd film “Admissions”.

  • September 16, 2013


    Exactly and thank you for putting into words, Jared.

  • September 17, 2013


    The phrase my SO uses is “impossible tasks”… and how happiness is not putting those in front of you. Very much agree with everything here.

  • September 17, 2013

    Marcel van Bavel

    Hi Jared,

    You put my daily struggelings into words very well. Thanks!
    bring on the next blog on this item!

  • September 20, 2013


    The big struggle of this social, political and economic system/society. I grew up in a different social order (communism / socialism) but eventually capitalism got here as well. I am thankful I had the chance to experience both different systems. This is why I think I can look at both from an outside position.

    I could write a very long explanation about how one can or could master the triangle. But I think we all know how it should be done. I’ll try the short version. Try to picture your triangle as a three-legged stool, where your life sits on top. If you do any of the three listed categories more than the other two, you will not sit comfortable, because one leg is going to be longer, the other two will get shorter. If you go into extremes, you will probably fall. Even if you go on steroids, don’t sleep at all and spend all that excess energy and time for your career, you will brake the balance.

    I think I belong to the generation you would call “Generation X”. I also have two kids in that age (2&5), work as a solo architect and want to do all the the things… I figure this triangle starts when you start having your own family. Before that there is no triangle. But now it’s here, and it’s your triangle. The main goal of my life, since I have put up my triangle, is keeping it together. And I do that with balancing it. True, life is not easy at all with children of that age. One could brake the triangle, but for me this would be the real failure.

    How to do it? I try do do all the things as good as I can to the level, where I can say that I am satisfied. This works for me. I am happy. Even in a lot worse conditions than the ones you have on your side of the Pond. I am sure though that each one must find his/her own way to find the balance. But balance is the key.

    Reading what I just wrote sounds like I am a yoga guru. I am not. I am the average one man architect who doesn’t like birdshit architecture.

  • January 9, 2016


    Why would this be generational?

    As Miha rightly says, life is a three legged stool, and becomes so when you start a family. In the beginning, there is only you. In geometry term, a point, defining an infinite number of the possible event horizon planes. When you do find your significant other, two points define a line, infinite in two dimensions, and free to move anywhere, depending on where the points are. But, the three points define a single event horizon plane. Or the life stool.

    I was born in 1961 in Yugoslavia, a regretfully deceased, but a rather special country, balanced between the hardline communist East and the capitalist West, open to both, multicultural and multinational. The 60s were the times of growth, hope, and looking into the future. It was getting better and better. 70s were OKish, 80s meant university, personal losses and growing up to a earning adult. Then the 90s hit. No, Jared, no 2001-2011 can compare with that. Not that I think your challenges are less hard, but maybe you can actually influence them, to a point, and not be at the mercy of the politicians that decide whether you live or die, or can earn or have a job at all. The triangle becomes a bit different then.

    We have been taught in the school that Lenin had proposed an ideal formula of 8 hours’ work, 8 hours’ rest and 8 hours’ culture/leisure in a day. Every time I remember that I can only smile and say “I wish…” In the early to late 90s, my days consisted of at least 12-14 hours of work and intermittent sleep. I also remember some food, but mostly monitors.

    Bottom line: you are right. We all need balance in life. The only way to achieve any resemblance of a balance is not to yearn always for more of anything. Someone said that if you expect unlimited growth in a finite system means that you are either mad or an economist. One should learn how to recognize when is it enough, and to apply the Peter’s principle (everyone will reach the level of his/hers incompetency) to life. At the moment when you feel that you are drowning in any aspect of your life, it is time to release the accelerator, downshift (you of course drive manual), and maybe park, get out and breathe some air. Then, either continue the drive at a more sedate pace, or choose a new road.

    Nothing is worth the stool toppling over.

      • January 11, 2016


        Djordje, I see we share one former State and a similar world view. But I don’t think our shared history makes the difference to what Jared is talking about. Your perfect mathematical and logical representation of triangle development theory is resembling each and every generations problems in every world order and religion, which emerges at some point in a persons life. Us being architects gives us a possible similar “professional” view on this subject, but since we all work in completely different social, cultural, economical and political environments that “professional” approach on viewing things puts us all into different perspectives. I guess the only thing we do share is an analytic approach of understanding the problem, which probably is a consequence of our profession. It is funny though that this professional anomaly makes us all think and express ourselves in geometrical figures! And once again yes, balance is the keyword. As for yearning for things I believe Djordje did share my experience from the not so recent past – we had so much less things, but had much more balance back then… I truly believe this two terms, “wealth of things” and “life balance” are connected more than one can imagine. Here our shared cultural background gives Djordje and me us a slight advantage. We didn’t have a lot, we actually couldn’t have more because there was no more…, but it was just enough for a decent and balanced life. Then things started to change and my today is different. It’s harder to keep balance, because the new perspective, the political and social environment puts us in a different position now. We are part of the global community, we could have just about everything Jared could have from his position, and no, we are not all driving VW’s. It’s harder because we have to work more and harder to keep the same level of a decent life and balance. But it’s still up to us which road we’re on and how fast we want to drive. In a world of things you could even choose not to drive a car. Maybe a bicycle could be enough.

      • January 11, 2016


        Non necessarily VWs (pre-1968, of course :)), Subaru WRX STI with six speed manual is more appropriate for your generation. 🙂

        That – driving – is another great metaphor for life. Actually, you DON’T need more than a 1960s Beetle to get from A to B to C or just enjoy the ride. Yes, it is more comfortable, less hot or cold, you have to know more and – THIS IS THE POINT – it all depends on you. No ABS, no air bags, some kind of seat belts, no crush zones, no surplus engine power, drum brakes, lights that can’t compete with xenons and stuff … and still. You are doing and enjoying it, as it is something that you are managing, not your car’s computer or robotized gearbox.

        Every generation has or has had similar issues, and we all have to keep the stool from toppling. In the words of the immortal David Bowie, who left us today in body, but never will in spirit, we could be heroes, just for one day.

        When you boil it down to the profession, geometry, and getting upset about 80% the ARCHICAD way, it does not matter where we are, where are we from, or what do we actually do. COming back to the profession, less IS actually more, while the world today runs on the “more is more” idea. Not possible.

        Get back to the stool out of your Aeron, sit on it, and realize that, although Aeron is the best chair I have ever had, the stool works, too.

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