During my early twenties, I spent a lot of time searching books and websites for The Answer. I don’t know what I really expected, but I had this idea that if I looked long and hard enough, I’d somehow, somewhere, discover a factoid, one-liner, or bit of reasoning that connected the dots and made sense of the world around me. I wanted the “correct” perspective–a foolproof, unassailable position on everything.
I was also in the midst of a severe quarter-life crisis. I was confused, angry, and felt like I’d suddenly woken up to a world that I no longer recognized.
So I was elated when I discovered a subreddit called /r/lostgeneration. As the site’s description reads:
This subreddit was forged about the same time the economy went to hell, lamenting the sorry state of the economy, the problems of an educated (and sometimes over-educated) young workforce having troubles finding employment despite “doing everything right”, and just what this generation is supposed to do when the usual markers of adulthood (kids, house, marriage) have been pushed back in the name of higher education/income potential, along with the collective reorganization of a new set of values.
Finally, here was the validation I’d searched for. An entire community of people who “got it”.
I was tired of folks dismissing my struggles as if they were nothing. I was tired of people ignoring the fact that I graduated into a shitty economy. And I was downright pissed off about the fact that, through no fault of my own, law school was no longer a path to a solid and stable future, but rather a debt trap with poor job prospects.
I’d done what I was supposed to do. I worked hard in college, got a great job after graduation, and I even earned acceptance to law school. During my junior year, I’d risked my finances and moved to Washington, DC to help start a political non-profit. And I did this while many friends and former classmates partied hard, failed classes, and dropped out. But the economy collapsed around the time of graduation, Teach For America led to nothing, law school was a joke, and suddenly I was unemployed and broke. It was like none of those things mattered.
So I began reading the posts on /r/lostgeneration. They linked to statistics about low wages, lamented the state of the economy, and openly admitted that millennials aren’t buying homes and having kids because of different values, but because they can’t afford it. People discussed their situations in the comments, and I discovered that I wasn’t alone. To find an entire community of folks who felt the same way…well, don’t underestimate how cathartic it was.
But I was wrong.
Years later, once I’d moved on and forgotten about that community, I stumbled upon it one day and was struck by how different it seemed. It wasn’t that anything had really changed though. Time had passed, but the articles were the same, people still complained about the unfairness of their situations, and the opinion pieces continued to criticize capitalism and call for universal basic income.
What changed was me. I was different. I’d moved on with my life, and those folks were still stuck in a rut.
It’s not that anything they say is technically wrong. The economy does suck for a lot of people. There is growing income inequality. Many folks work long hours for low pay at jobs that not only have nothing to do with what they went to school for, but leave them utterly disengaged and unfulfilled. I even saw an article recently where the author suggested that housing has become a luxury item. Sadly, I’m inclined to agree.
So everything sucks, right? Well, not necessarily.
The problem with communities like /r/lostgeneration is that once you start down that path, it’s almost impossible to move forward. It makes you angry, depressed, and fearful. It anchors you to your past actions through regret and anger, and it makes you fearful of a future that doesn’t exist. It prevents you from living in the present moment. You’re lost, right? Well, that’s just it: lost people don’t know where they are.
But life doesn’t have to be viewed through that lens.
So things didn’t work out. So what? Are you incapable of living a great life because you rent a cheap apartment or live with your parents? Is that really what’s holding you back? Are you unable to enjoy each day because you don’t have the kind of job that you can brag about on Facebook?
Of course not.
And let’s face it: the grass is not always greener on the other side. Those folks who seem to have a perfect life on social media? A lot of that is just for show. It’s a carefully curated, deliberately-chosen highlight reel. Many of them work long, arduous hours and stress about the same things as you and me. Many are drowning in debt. Some are a few paychecks away from defaulting on the “good life”. And even if everything is going great in their day-to-day experience, that doesn’t prevent us from enjoying ours. It has nothing to do with us.
In fact, I argue that shitty situations can be a blessing in disguise. They force us to take a hard look at ourselves–to consider who we are and what we’re about. It gives us the opportunity to chart a course from a stronger, more well-reasoned starting point. Most people who go straight from college to a successful career are moving along a path that began with the best thinking available to their eighteen-year-old selves. For some, that won’t end well. I didn’t know a damn thing when I was eighteen, and I doubt you did either.
I get it though. I really do. I understand the anger, the frustration, and the feeling of having done everything you were supposed to do only to find out that 1) nobody cares, and 2) the same people who told you what to do now blame you for doing it. A lot of folks did get screwed. A lot of people will see a diminished financial future through no fault of their own. This is not in dispute.
But this is why perspective is everything.
You can choose to see yourself as a victim. You can blame the world, dwell on injustices, and complain about having held up your end of the bargain. And you know what? You’re right. You are a victim now.
Or you can move on. You can leave all of that in the past and focus on what you’re doing right now at this very moment. The past is in the past; it’s over and done. Chart a new course and refuse to be defined by what happened. That isn’t you, and you’re not it. It’s just a particular arrangement of cells in your brain–wisp, a shadow of something that once was.
Both perspectives are valid; neither one is objectively right or wrong. Only you can decide how to interpret events.
As for me? I moved on from the past. I got tired of being sick and tired, and I decided to live a different life–a better one. Has that completely freed me from trials and tribulations? Of course not. There are still things plenty of things that I’d like to change. I still have bad days occasionally.
But I live my life and enjoy it. I do the things that I want to do: write fiction, run, cycle, swim, work on GoEndurance.org, share my time with someone I love, and enjoy the opportunity to travel for work. Instead of dwelling on the past, I focus on what I want to do right here, right now, at this moment.
I suppose I can go back to /r/lostgeneration and read about how miserable I should be, but what’s the point?