Always Reaching For That Brass Ring

A lot has been written about Gen-Y and Millenials and the culture of entitlement and self-esteem padding with which many of us were raised. For a long time I had a pretty distant relationship with this whole idea. I had a comfortable upbringing, but I was raised by overachievers and don’t recall ever having the “oh honey, you did your best” platitudes tossed at me when I didn’t deserve them and, frankly, I succeeded at nearly everything when I was young. If I got praised, it was because I legitimately did well at something, but I never got the kind of rampant fawning and pandering that some of my friends did. I never once got paid a cent for my grades, even though this was something of a common practice in the community where I grew up, nor do I recall getting more than a “good job” and maybe dinner out or something for any other achievement. That said, I sat through plenty of “let’s all love each other, ‘kay guys?” seminars in school, especially in middle school, and, just as an example, I vividly remember a girl who was so incensed at not being invited to take a special honors enrichment class during early period in the seventh grade that her parents paid for an outside assessment company to do an IQ test and petitioned the school to let her into the class. A couple weeks into school she was let into the class and, while everyone was perfectly nice about it, I remember thinking even then that her parents had done her a disservice by encouraging the idea that she deserved to get whatever she wanted and that throwing a hissy to the school administration over a slight that was, in the grand scheme of things, pretty minor was ridiculous and out of proportion. I was lucky enough, I suppose, to be pretty outgoing when I was younger and had a lot of varied interests that I was eager to explore, so I never had to be bribed or weedled into doing things the way many of my friends were forced or paid off to continue with softball or band or church groups or whatever other extracurricular activity their parents deemed important that my friends were no longer (or maybe never were) interested in.

The point of all of this is that up until pretty recently I was convinced that I had escaped most of the pitfalls of my generation. Which, yeah, is fairly laughable in retrospect. I guess I thought I was as special a snowflake as everyone else my age. I mean, really? I’m a white, cisgendered, can-pass-for-completely-straight, middle class, college-educated chick. I’m a couple of traits shy of being the textbook example of privilege (if you take away being female, overweight, and blessed with some tweaky brain chemistry). So, needless to say, I have discovered in recent months that I am, at least to a degree, every bit as fucked up as the rest of my contemporaries. See, here’s the real problem. I, along with the rest of my peers, spent my entire formative years being told over and over that if I worked hard enough, if I focused and applied myself and made good decisions and controlled my future in some vague, hand-wavey sort of way that seemed completely reasonable at the time, things would work out. The world would provide. But, in retrospect, that idea is like a carousel’s brass ring, designed to keep you riding the ride and propped up on the reality that most of us won’t ever get our fingers on that metal, and if we do we may tumble off in the process. I don’t think, ten years ago minimum when I was not yet an adult, that any adult that encouraged this belief did so with any malice. I was, and still am, blessed with family and other mentor figures who were kind and supportive and truly believed I could take the world by storm. So what, then, do I think, now? Very nearly twenty-nine years old (and already mentally preparing to start celebrating anniversaries of this birthday because holy god, how can I be almost thirty and have not done anything yet?), recently returned to the family home, mostly-unemployed and mostly-single, and pretty much categorically having failed to achieve any of the goals I set out for myself when I stepped out into the big wide world as a grown-up?

I think that, as we go through some significant cultural changes, as the economy tanks deeper and deeper, as we grow more and more discontent as a society and realize how based on falsehoods and misinformation our perceptions are, my generation in particular is facing a shift and, honestly, I hope it’ll be for the better. I think it will be. At least for me, I’m focusing now, as I look for a new job and a new apartment once I have the job squared away and a new partner, on balance. Work-life balance is something that, even as a young professional in my first “real” job, I struggled with. Always more hours and more dedication and more responsibilities (that I wasn’t being paid for) and more obligations (that, again, I wasn’t being compensated for) all in the endless pursuit of… what? More. More money. A more impressive title. A better office. Always more. When in reality, I was neglecting myself, living in a super dysfunctional relationship, and ignoring the things in the great, wide world that truly made me happy. So now, well, I have my family. I have writing of all sorts. I have baseball and the analytics and business behind it, that fascinates me. I have music, that is still probably my ultimate and deepest love and that I continue to want to make my career. Fortune 500 companies, well, they can be great, and I worked for probably the best one out there, but job security and great benefits are, frankly, not enough to make me happy. I’ve learned this. So uncertainty it is. There’s no guarantee I’ll get and/or keep the job of my dreams. But the alternative is to keep driving myself into the ground in pursuit of something that may not really exist all because I’m “supposed to”. And that’s not anything to wish for when I blow out the birthday candles this weekend.

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