More than ever, I see my peers excelling in television, film, music and beyond.
Lena Dunham created, writes, produces and stars in the HBO series, Girls.
Jennifer Lawrence has won a Best Actress Oscar for her incredible performance in Silver Linings Playbook and headlines the immensely popular Hunger Games series.
Chris Colfer has published two bestselling novels, including one based on the movie Struck by Lightning which he also wrote, produced and starred in, all while filming his breakthrough role of Kurt Hummel on Glee.
And those are just a few examples – not even covering all those mentioned in Mug for Thought, not to mention the world beyond.
It’s no secret that Millennials in particular, but maybe all of us really, come from a generation of overachievers. Throughout our upbringing, we’re encouraged to try every sport, instrument and extra-curricular activity we can fit into our schedule, each one promising a chance for us to reach a higher level of success than we could have imagined.
This continues through college into our first jobs, and then a stark reality hits:
Have I peaked?
Were all those efforts really always just building toward a lifetime inside office walls?
At least, I’ve gone through this. And I hear, it is a journey we all experience.
When I first realized I was an adult, and this was my life, it definitely felt like a promised, metaphorical red carpet had been pulled away from me before I had even stepped onto it and I spent a good part of my first few years out of college wondering if it really does get better. Looking back, I see that I was exactly where I needed to be, and that it was as positive as it was negative (if not more so), but at the time, I felt alone, directionless and disappointed.
I spent a lot of time on the Internet – which probably contributed to my discouragement – but, it also led me to discover the voices of countless others who were struggling with the same (rude) awakening.
People like Therese Schwenkler, Paul Angone and Sarah Goshman, who had been in my shoes and were figuring out how to make their own way through. People who assured me that success and happiness come in all shapes and sizes.
So I started reading their posts. Trying out their strategies. And somehow, I am coming to terms with my life as it unfolds.
I’m still looking for more fulfillment creatively, socially, internally. But I’m learning to focus that energy more productively, into my conversations, my experiences, my writing.
I do think we need to make some changes in how we raise our young people. I highly agree with this advice from Cal Newport:
We need a more nuanced conversation surrounding the quest for a compelling career, a good phrase for describing those tough first years on a job where you grind away at building up skills while being shoveled less-than-inspiring entry-level work. This tough skill-building phase can provide the foundation for a wonderful career, but in this common scenario the “follow your passion” dogma would tell you that this work is not immediately enjoyable and therefore is not your passion. We need a deeper way to discuss the value of this early period in a long working life.
Until we reach that point, though, 20-somethings will have to adjust our perspectives on our own. And, if I can do it, I know you can, too.
So if you’re feeling like your past illusions are shattered, allow yourself some time to wallow. Listen to Radiohead’s “Creep” twenty-five times. Reread Catcher in the Rye; you’ll find it resonate in new ways since high school. Society discourages us from feeling sorry for ourselves, but I think it’s okay, and vital, to take a few private moments to deal with what I’m told are emotions we naturally experience over the course of our lives.
Then pick yourself up. Look to these smart, compassionate mentors. Learn to see the humor in your self-doubt. Channel that emotion into your work.
As for our über-successful counterparts – keep excelling. You inspire us, and that’s great. But at the same time, we can learn to appreciate our own victories as well.