The Lost Generation

We’re the orphaned generation of shame. Children of parents that wanted to give us everything, wanted us to be the future doctors, lawyers, and leaders of the country, but the same children that chose a different path – and we are forced to face the disappointment of those before us who expected ‘better’ from us. We’re the first generation in a long time to see that money might not be the answer (though certainly it is a perk) to personal happiness.

That isn’t everybody. There will still be doctors, lawyers, and leaders – but a lot of us realized somewhere along the lines that there isn’t enough room for all of us to be those things. Some of us have even seen that a lot of times there aren’t already existing paths to walk down – we have to blaze our own trails instead. People are starting small businesses and many are finding ways to work from home. Freelance writing is on the upswing. Graphic design, consumable media, and the digital age are on our doorstep. There are college graduates that can’t find a purpose for their degree and are still floating retail and fast food jobs. The economy hasn’t been too kind to us in regards to opportunity.

To our families, these aren’t glorious successes. These aren’t the kind of jobs you work to raise a family, to bring money to the table, to live whatever dream they dreamed. Those dreams – dreams of security, comfort, and genetic succession – they’re not-so-shockingly bland. What defines us? Is it the dollar value of our bank account? Is it the number of children we (will eventually) have? Can abstract concepts like success and happiness actually be defined in the material world?

I think what has orphaned us as a generation is that we’re the first in a long while (since the baby boomers) to answer that question with a resounding ‘No’. Psychology is catching up with that mentality – studies have been showing that monetary success has almost no correlation with happiness in first-world countries. We build, we tinker, we create, we learn, but we can’t answer what life is – or more importantly what life should be.

Consider the spikes in depression, the increase in people breaking down and doing irrational, heinous acts. Consider that in highly developed countries like Japan there are entire subgroups named and studied that are complete shut-ins (and they’re young!). People that have lost so much touch with people and existence that they close the doors and isolate themselves from existence. We all wonder why. My thought? We’re getting smarter, but that increase in overall intelligence hasn’t answered what our lives are supposed to be – so some of us shut down.

I’ve been very careful never to define what success looks like in a clinical or visual manner. Success is in it of itself an abstraction – merely a concept that we personally place a label on. Success isn’t something you can look at and instantly recognize. My mom has had some business failures in her life, some horrible bumps and bruises from the people around her along the way – but she’s successful in her mind. She did the things she wanted to. She’s lived the life she wanted to. On the converse, my dad has always had a secure, well-paying job. But he’s always been haunted by the ‘what-if’ questions of the high-risk, high-reward opportunities he abandoned for an easier one. He always has a sullen tone in his voice, the kind that hints at a great deal of regret. In his mind, he was not a success.

We’re starting to see these patterns though as a culture. Our generation, finally old enough to enter the job force and start the chain again – we look at the world in a lens wildly different from those prior to us. Jobs are just jobs. Money is just money. We understand their necessity, but don’t feel their benefit like people tell us we should. As we grow more abstract and philosophical as a unit, we ask ourselves harder questions than our parents ever had to. “Why do I exist?”, “What will truly make us happy?”, “What purpose will my life serve outside of merely continuing humanity?” These questions I lack the answers for. I think some of us bury them deep down enough that we never consider them on the surface. They just echo gently within in our subconscious, always right beneath our thoughts. Many of us look at religious values – some of us look at love. Whatever the answer is, we’re starting to see that if happiness itself is not tangible, perhaps what makes us happy isn’t either.

I’ve seen it termed “the millennial generation”. To me, we’re the lost generation. We’re stuck searching for ourselves in a culture where jobs aren’t exactly easy to find and where those older than us have “mainstream” expectations of the work we should do. We dress funny, we have weird jobs, we talk about things like death, the nature of existence, whether morality is subjective or objective, or anything that’s on our minds – we ask the hard questions. We live in the age of the internet where millions can instantly see our thoughts through the click of a button. We put more pressure on ourselves mentally than anybody before us. I see it each and every day. I see faces that are uncertain of their future, I see faces that look helpless and lost. Most of us still manage to persevere.

It might be sad in a way, but it’s necessary. It’s time that the status quo changes. We need to challenge ourselves; we need to have a willingness to start thinking about what we want. We’ve been challenged with the realization that success and happiness aren’t what our parents thought they were – at least for us. And we can only answer that question on an individual level. Figure out where your interests and passions lie. Do the things that you believe you want to do. Be passionate about what you are passionate about. Exist by your own standard, and be the person you want to be. Don’t let the shame and expectations from others keep you from taking the chances on finding your own slice of the happiness pie.