I mentioned recently that — according to all the statistical data, research and facts — I am what society considers a “millennial.” Even as I typed the words into the status box of my Facebook page, I envisioned all the readers and followers I would instantly lose because of this regrettable truth. (I was secretly hoping you had never bothered to look at my profile picture.) Unfortunately, my cover has been blown. The jig is up. I am, in every sense of the word, a “young person.” More specifically, I’m a 32-year-old “young adult” and a member of “Generation Y,” which means that I’m supposedly familiar with all the current digital technology and social media trends. (Yeah, right.)
While I do own a few Apple gadgets and might be considered “young” by societal standards, the truth is that I spend most days just trying to survive life. I have medical problems. I have a neurological condition. I have church responsibilities and family activities. I have bills and other miscellaneous expenses. My legs and arms get sore after pushing a lawnmower for an entire afternoon. I confess that I don’t always feel like a “young” person. I’m certainly not the spry, active, energetic, carefree and immature teenager I once was.
Anyway, it’s no secret that today’s millennials receive their fair share of unfavorable press coverage and negative stereotypes. We’re easily-offended. We live to our feelings. We fall for financial scams more than any other age demographic. We’re afraid to move out of the house, get married, make new friends and find a career. You’ve probably heard them all.
This is what you’ve been told about my generation. Of course, not all of us fit this mold. Not every millennial living with their parents is a lazy bum or jobless derelict. Some of them may have legitimate reasons and excuses. Regardless, I believe that many young adults — myself included — often lack a grasp on some basic principles about reality and how the world works.
So, if I were to directly address my fellow young adults, this is what I would say: There are five brutal realities that we need to recognize and embrace if we ever want to have any hope of surviving, succeeding and maturing.
1) Sometimes life sucks and — when it does — we shouldn’t just give up.
By “life,” I’m referring to everyone and everything you are directly involved in and affected by: your job, family, relatives, marriage, church, friends, academics, all of it. At any point in time, something can — and most likely will — go completely wrong within any of these categories. This should not surprise you.
A friend will let you down. A spouse will disappoint you in some way or another. A church body or pastor will frustrate you. A boss will reprimand or fire you. These people are human beings just like you. And — just like you — they are imperfect. They will make mistakes. And it’s not just people that will complicate things. Cars will break down. Finances will be a mess. College exams will be challenging.
Don’t throw in the towel. Don’t walk away from your responsibilities. Don’t be a child. Instead, take these times of frustration and use them as motivation to overcome the obstacles and to push yourself toward success, growth, maturity, moral living and excellence.
2) Our feelings do not always equal reality, nor do they dictate the actions of those around us.
Emotions are often reactionary and occur quickly, particularly in young adults. It’s easy to take what we feel in the moment — the anger or disgust or shock or happiness or sadness or fear — and believe that it must be “the truth” simply because we felt it so powerfully and passionately. We make hasty decisions based on hasty emotions. But, just because you “feel” something, does not mean that it is true. You may “feel” offended or upset by a particular thing or person, but that does not necessarily mean that thing or person is or was offensive. You may “feel” that your job is too demanding when it may actually be just as normal as any other job.
You also might be thinking, “But I can’t control how I feel.” That may be true from a psychological standpoint. We could sit here all day and argue whether or not emotions are a choice. But, you can control how you respond to your emotions. You and you alone have the final say in how you behave as an adult human being.
Moreover, your feelings are not control mechanisms that magically cause everyone in your little world to revolve around you. This may come as a shock: But you are not that important or special. Yes, you might be special to your family or significant other. However, most of the world is utterly oblivious to your existence. Most of the world couldn’t care less if you died tomorrow. In fact, they wouldn’t even know. The bottom line here is that you can’t live to your emotions. If you do, you will have a very miserable existence.
3) We’re not entitled to anything.
Absolutely NOTHING. That’s what the world owes us: A whole ‘lotta nothing. And then even more nothing. And some more nothing piled on top of that. I believe this point has been lectured so often that many millennials often fail to grasp the true reality of it. Take a minute to meditate on it. Soak it in. Absorb it.
Let me be crystal clear: You don’t deserve to have or own a damned thing in this life. If you’ve been blessed with parents who helped you get a car; or who pay for your cell phone plan; or who allow you to live in their home; or who allow you to eat the food in the refrigerator, then you should consider yourself incredibly fortunate. You should be eternally grateful and thank them regularly. They could’ve tossed you out on the streets when you turned 18 and said, “Good luck!” It is literally because of their hard work and sacrifices that you don’t go hungry every day.
Speaking of sacrifice, we have no room or reason to complain when we’re asked to sacrifice in return. That’s just part of adulthood. Welcome to life beyond adolescence.
4) If we’re unable to handle criticism — be it positive, negative, constructive, sarcastic or erroneous — then we will never survive in this life. Period.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but people are going to find things about you that they don’t like. They’re going to point out your mistakes and screw-ups. They might even say those things out loud to your face or to a mutual friend or coworker. They might leave a comment somewhere on social media. Be prepared for it. The criticism might be warranted. It might not. It may be sarcastic, positive, constructive, negative or even utterly false and inaccurate in every way.
But, no matter how valid or invalid it is, you must be able to accept it, process it, learn from it and then respond accordingly with maturity. If you can’t do this, then you really have no business trying to function in society as an adult.
5) If we want to be successful, we will have to work.
In today’s job market, there’s really no reason for a young person to not be employed or earning money in some way, shape or form. Sadly, there’s a reason that millennials are often stereotyped as lethargic slobs who just lay around the house all day playing video games and munching on potato chips. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are plenty of hard-working millennials out there who don’t get nearly enough credit or recognition.
Those who aren’t working need to realize that if they wish to have any sort of success — financially, relationally, socially — it will require work and effort. You can’t just sit around waiting on the dream job of a lifetime to appear out of thin air while simultaneously claiming that there aren’t any good jobs available. That’s a lie. Go run the cash register at McDonald’s. Mow lawns throughout your city. Mop the floors at your local grocery store. Make burritos at Taco Bell.
Do whatever you have to do as you work towards future successes.
As millennials, we have loads of amazing, untapped potential. If we are willing to adhere to ambition, courage, dedication, hard work and character — rather than remaining stagnant in a world of computer games and superhero movies — we can be an incredible force for good. In the end, that’s what will matter. That’s what history will remember. We can change our culture for the better, but it all begins with embracing reality and truth.
Surely that's not too much to ask.