Millennials Struggle to Find Their Identity in a Chaotic World

ByAnnaLee Rice

Are millennials the generation of insecurity and deep-set cravings for affirmation? 

This topic has no greater prevalence than on college campuses and in classrooms. Our generation has been raised to accrue accolades and praise from counselors and teachers in order to gain prominence and a college recommendation letter. And we do it again in the college classrooms in search of mentors for medical school and potential employers for internships. As David Brooks argues in the New York Times, we smile at career fairs and wave and hand off resumes. We work for free in unpaid internships, a concept that appears absurd in a capitalistic society. We rarely voice our concerns and if we do, it is uncontestably disorganized (I’m looking at you, Occupy Wall Street). 

Some of you might clamor and think that the purpose of higher education is to become progressive, intellectual, clear thinking citizens of the world in a tolerant 21st century world. But think back to your campuses. Those committed to fighting the man are labeled as hippies, scoffed at by other students as being unrealistic and unemployable. Additionally, think back to freshman orientation, when we were bright-faced and eager to explore majors. How many of your friends are now in finance related fields for job security because their dreams of writing or starting an NGO seem daunting and fiscally irresponsible?

I concede that it is not shameful to major in an economical field. Generation Y is painfully aware of certain unalienable truths: college is expensive; students loans are frightening; college graduates should strive to be financially independent upon graduation. Or should they? An article in New York Times Magazine, What Is It About 20-Somethings?, highlights that Generation Y’s anxiety about entering adulthood is encouraged by the far-reaching financial nets supplied by the average parent. Our generation does not fear moving back in with parents because of the appealing free rent but because young adults are still set on finding themselves or distinguishing themselves with postgraduate unpaid internships. Predictably, young adults are entering the workforce, marrying, and producing children a full decade later on average than in 1968. This is an indication of the imbedded insecurity of our generation? Should we indict our generation on these grounds?

I argue no. While it is true that we are seemingly pre-programmed to seek approval that result in connections and recommendations, it seems more reasonable to describe the behavior of Generation Y not as collective personal flaws but as a response to our environment. Young people are eager to take on service projects like Teach For America because it makes them more competitive in a brutal economy. We move back home because we are able to – our parents presumably spent their peak earning years in the lucrative decade of the 1980s.

Furthermore, Brooks’ claim that we are largely deferential and hierarchical is true. But that is because human beings are hierarchal; adding the impetus of recommendations is not the sole cause of such behavior. In light of these allegations against our generation we should not forget that we are the generation of Mark Zuckerberg and social media. We are innovative. But it might just take a few years on mom’s couch to get there.

Photo Credit: Idhren