PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) urged students within the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers annual guide, to ‘Be the one who never stands still’. A source of inspiration, and naturally something I’m sure we will see underneath countless Instagram images, including some of my own… However, is it wise to be advocating such intense pressures on millennials, who are already on the brink of burn out – myself included?
I had a conversation with my right hand, my go-to the other day. As always when things get a little too much, I word vomit all over him, so he’s effectively swimming in my crazy, and has to then make sense of it. At this point in time, he didn’t offer much advice, but something better, an ear, and a metaphorical shoulder – we had the conversation through the phone, which effectively went something like this: Me: Do you ever feel like you aren’t good enough? Like you haven’t succeeded, and aren’t getting anywhere? Him: Yep, all the time. Me: Me too… But do you ever feel like you are going to burn out? Him: No, Which is why ‘Me-time’ is so important. Chill out man, it’s so important.
So my go-to has a point. However, what I am typically seeing is that more often than not, millennials or the generation y-ers are faced with such intense pressures within every aspect of our lives, that we run a very serious and troubling risk of burning out incredibly early, far earlier than our parents and generations before us. For this, I think there are a multitude of reasons, not solely that of social media either, although for me it has some affect.
So where does this all stem from? We were the generation that were told that we could to anything we wanted to, and be anything we dreamed of being. We’ve all heard the quote ‘shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars’, and with S Club 7 also firmly reminding us to ‘Reach for the stars’ when the world leaves you feeling blue, we were given a rather false impression of reality. I think we were also a generation to be incredibly molly-coddled, it now being worse I fear, with the generation Z-ers too. This falsified sense of reality, I think may have been the beginning. Ergo the quarter-life (ish) crisis.
We then grow up with seeing people our age making massive contributions to society, or making millions. We’ve seen Taylor Swift at the age of 24 grace the cover of Time Magazine, sourcing her to be an influential power, Desiigner, 19, Elle Fanning, 18, and Kylie Jenner, 19 all gracing Forbes’s 30 under 30 list for 2017, and Malala Yousafzai, 20 – a female rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, it is no surprise to see that we have this intense social pressure to achieve so much more that almost humanly possible.
Social media pressures us to have a fulfilling and complete life, filled with adventures around the world, fun and exciting family gatherings, mindfulness and meditation, rest days, gym days, nights out, brunch, sunsets, and not to mention your latest hobby. This increased pressure on the idea of perfection and the ‘perfect life’, only intensifies where we are lacking if we don’t have this. Social media is great, make no mistake of that, but with its ever-increasing influence on society, we are allowing it to fuel our comparison, further enhancing the ever-lurking reality of a likely quarter-life crisis.
So we self-medicate. Now this doesn’t necessarily involve drink and drugs, although for some people it inevitably does. It could be varying degrees of things. Self-harm, binge-eating, purging, not eating at all, sex – lots of it – partying, hours in the gym. We will find ways, both good and bad, where we can feel, in essence, in control of our lives and decisions. So I self-medicate. I spend hours in the gym. I’m constantly working on pushing my body to limits, trying new things, tearing down muscle and building it back up, because it clears my brain. It stops me thinking about anything other than what I am doing in that exact moment. It numbs all else – stress, tiredness, the list of errands outstanding in my brain, financial worries, body image issues I battle – it’s just not frowned upon in the way excessive drinking, drug abuse, binge eating and partying is. It is still too much when you are going to extremes or aren’t finding a suitable balance.
I know personally for me, I almost always have a sense of not being good enough. Not doing enough to succeed. That I should be so much further along in my career than I am. That my blog should be better, and I should have a higher following by now. That I shouldn’t go on holiday and switch off, but should be available to work at all times, just in case. That I should be fitter, thinner, with longer hair and a prettier face. That I’ve not worked hard for what I have, rather I’ve just been lucky. I question if I am there enough for my friends and family, and when at times I lash out, or have a mad five minutes, I don’t care about them any less than I did before. At twenty-seven I should have my life planned with my husband, and be popping out a couple of kids. That I should be owning my own home by now and paying the bills that go with it – not that I want to pay bills, cause erm, that’s not normal, but you get where I’m going with this.
That no matter how hard I try, nothing seems to be working out the way I want it to, or the way I had it planned out in my head. That no matter how much ‘me’ time I want or need, I can’t get it, because if I take some time for myself and am not available if someone really needs me, then I’m letting them down. I think the saddest part, is that I am almost expecting a breakdown by the time I am 30. As I said, my way to counteract this feeling is exercise, only finding that while I feel good straight after, the high is only temporary, and the down is increasingly becoming worse every time.
Yet, life shouldn’t be like this. It’s too short for all this stress that ultimately, we are putting on ourselves. You see, I see the problem, and am willing to try and improve my situation, I’m just – like many of you too – unaware of how to do so.
The response from those of the generation before us, is typically one of ‘get over yourself, and stress less’. One which I think a lot of us millennials have taken on board and are heeding the advice, unfortunately to no avail. Thus begins the vicious and turbulent cycle once more. So, what in essence do we do? Can we change the societal pressures faced? Can we encourage others to talk about this more so that our mental health isn’t so affected, and we don’t simply begin to self-medicate, far worse than we already do?
Or contrastingly, can we – while being submerged in the realities of the pressures that will inevitably stay within society – find ways to be more mindful, to change our way of thinking, and to perhaps realise what we have and be more grateful? I recently read an article on Net Doctor, which referenced some research from psychologist Vanessa King at Action for Happiness, who works with people in their early twenties and thirties on burning out and mental health. She recommends taking a step back from everything and looking at their lives, find and appreciate the good within it – which is often more than we think. She also mentioned that our lives are ultimately all about balance. That means taking care of our mind, body, relationships, career, lifestyle, and all the things in between, equally. Each area of your life feeds another, and ultimately as ‘hippie’ as it is, remember that ‘happiness is a journey, not a destination’.