I must confess to any and all of my readers; I’m a little bit obsessed, a little bit over thinking, pretty much everything in my life right now. And it wears at me. Why can’t you just be happy? I chastise myself. What’s wrong with you that you can’t just relax?
There are brief moments were the weight of reality lifts from me; when I’m listening to music, taking a long walk in nature, or sipping a beer while talking with friends. But society tells me that these things are useless to my long-term development as a person. I’m not creating a small business, earning my doctoral degree, researching cure’s for a medical condition, or volunteering with worthy causes. My enjoyments are selfish, a waste of time, and make me an unproductive member of society. Perhaps if I was more outgoing and proactive, I would be in a better mental place.
Thankfully, there are little reminders out there which keep me from going bat-shit bonkers. The first of these is an inspiring article by Richard Sauerman of the Firebrand blog, entitled “Are you living your resume or your eulogy?” The article rehashes a common mantra – are you living for your job, or are you living to create meaning in your own life and the lives of those around you? Richard then ponders:
“…The question is: Why do we spend so much time on what our eulogy is not going to be? Or, worded another way, ‘Why do we spend so much time living our résumé, and so little time living our eulogy?'” (Sauerman, Firebrand).
I found the article to be a comforting reminder that sometimes, the unrecorded things we do in life are the most important. This will be a key concept for all Millanials to remember as they proceed through our challenging and complex world. Millenials are called the “Lost Generation” because they’re struggling to find work, leave home, and start a family (Thompson, September 22, 2011). With education struggling to match job seekers to jobs in this world of rapid technological growth and intense globalization, it’s harder than ever for a young person to build up a solid financial head-start in life (Thompson, September 22, 2011).
This is a particularly scary proposition for me, in my worldly naivete and intense introspection. I, like so many other Millenials, was brought up to believe that the world was my oyster. I attended programs like Shad Valley and Waterloo Unlimited in high school, both of which have an intense discourse around the power of the individual to achieve entrepreneurial/academic success through intelligence. I soon came to believe in the power of intelligence to cure all of the world’s ills. I thought that if only I could be smart enough, I’d survive and perhaps even thrive in this world.
However, intelligence is only one faucet of a functioning human being. Psychologist Dr. Eric Maisel writes in his landmark book, “Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, the Creative“, that intelligent people are also cursed with anxiety, over-thinking, mania, sadness, and despair. It is their desperate search for a bigger meaning, as well as their critical approach to the world, that drives them to such emotionally uncomfortable states (Maisel, 2013). Millenials, one of the most highly-educated (and entitled) generations in our history, are at great risk of becoming chronically depressed as they move into a world with intense competition, significant power inequalities, and nagging environmental problems (Thompson, September 22, 2011).
In this doctoral graduation address, Tim Minchin provides some hope by reminding his listeners (with a rather tongue-in-cheek approach) that we should not pursue meaning, as it may not be there, nor should we give our lives over to one big goal or the pursuit of happiness. He cleverly uses analogy to remind us that we should devote ourselves completely to little tasks along the way, keeping our eyes out on the periphery for the exciting opportunities that appear along life’s twisted route (Minchin, Upworthy).
Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s “Enlightenment engineer” and “Jolly Good Fellow“, adds that people need to cultivate emotional intelligence through mindfulness training – formally called Meng’s “Search Inside Yourself (SIY) Program” (Gregoire, September 29, 2013). According to the Huff Post article this program focuses on:
“…building up the five emotional intelligence domains of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills, primarily through meditation and mindfulness training, which aims to improve one’s focus and attention on the present moment” (Gregoire, September 29, 2013).
Given the program’s success for engineers (who are incredibly smart people) it would seem that this program has something to offer to everyone, especially Millenials.
I would like to conclude this post with a call to all depressed and/or deeply introspective Millenials; it is important for us to live out our eulogies (rather than our resumes), and to not worry overly much about the letters after our name, the prestige of any particular job, or the careers we eventually stumble into. We need to focus on the rich opportunities available to us in the present moment, and learn like crazy as emotionally and cognitively resilient thinkers. Most importantly, we need to shut out those negative voices in our head that badger us with criticisms in our spare moments.