Today I'm 30 years old. I'm an early millennial. We grew up in the dying days of the way things used to be - and everyone's exasperated with us for it.
People develop theories about how the world should work. They don't like randomness, especially when it comes to failure. They want explanations and to be able to point to something that "went wrong." There was, therefore, a formula for a successful life:
- study hard
- get into good school
- go to good school
- study useful topic
- get good, stable job
- ??? (inserted as the futility became more obvious)
- grown up!
Millennials attended elementary and high school under the long and fading shadow of what success used to look like, then saw it pass over us completely. We're the generation whose lives ended all illusions that the old model might pull through. Without it nobody seems to know what success should look, but they don't seem happy that they can't recognize what we're doing. We don't conform to old expectations: we don't get married early; we don't buy cars; we don't buy homes. We don't do the things that people think we ought to do when they think we ought to do them to make things the way they think they ought to be because that's they way they've always been! (It's not, but nevermind.)
Those aren't the only expectations we don't fulfill. Governments and banks do not deal well with change, and we're changing things. The forms for the lives we're choosing aren't standard. When you need to provide a permanent address, what do you do if it's on the road, or in a van? Gay marriage has extended legal equality to another type of committed, long-term relationship, but it's not like everyone's covered. Like the flexibility of contract work? (I do!) Get ready to learn about the obscure side of a tax system that's designed to handle one employer with matching employee tax forms using pre-calculated, automatic deductions.
Millennials are figuring out how to set our own course, but it feels like the world is trying harder than ever to entrench standardized systems for interchangeable pieces into which we just. don't. fit. The longer we try to achieve a version of success designed by people who think they know what's best for us better than we do, the longer we'll flounder.
We have different ideas of what life ought to look like - we want things to be the way we think they should be. And, by the way, that's not demanding and obnoxious. That's awesome. It's an attitude that can drive change and make things more responsive. It rejects stagnation. It can make things better. Let's want that. Let's not settle out of fear of seeming spoiled.
Let's stop looking backward and choose to move forward. Let's define success at the individual level. The old convention of a stable, lifelong job is over for nearly everyone. Maybe the key lesson for a generation at which so much negativity has been directed is to worry less about what other people think our success ought to be. Life isn't about control. You don't need all the answers to live it. Life is about figuring them out. The longer you work toward it, the further you'll get.
So I guess it's a good thing I'm 30. Happy birthday to me.