On a recent press tour for my new book in New York City, I spent time telling dozens of media outlets the story of what the millennial generation is going through.
Some media members totally understood the challenges facing millennials, have seen it firsthand themselves and wanted to get to the bottom of these issues with me.
But then there was a slight majority of media members who shot back with the same old tired stereotypes about our generation: “Entitled.” “Lazy.” “Millennials were given trophies for just existing,” and so on.
Yet, the millennial generation is experiencing real challenges. And they’re a little more weighty and substantial than the fact that some of us won an “honorable mention” ribbon for coming in last place sometime in fourth grade.
Some of the statistics about these challenges might shock you. Or they may bring waves of clarity for all the twentysomethings out there who feel lost, frustrated and like they’re fighting an uphill battle.
Right when it was millennials’ turn to grab hold of the American Dream, it exploded in our face, with the Great Recession happily pulling the pin.
I’m not here to whine about these challenges, I’m here to open up a real conversation about them so that we can figure out how we overcome and thrive.
Millennials are the Largest, Most Educated Generation in History
There are over 85-90 million millennials in the U.S., and 61 percent have attended college (as opposed to 46 percent of Baby Boomers).
This sounds exciting, but with the supply of educated workers much higher than the demand for them in the workforce, it has created a perfect storm for unemployment, underemployment, and a flat-out frustrating beginning to our career.
As a result, according to U.S. Census Data, 40 percent of unemployed workers are millennials.
As I write in All Groan Up, “The job hunt has become the millennial version of the Hunger Games—without the cameras or any interaction with Jennifer Lawrence.”
The college diploma feels worth as much as your high school degree now, with the new tension of feeling like you have to now get a master’s or Ph.D. to even be allowed into the game.
A degree still feels like a must, but it is no longer the automatic door opener.
Most Millennials are Deep in Debt
Today, average college debt for a millennial is around $33,000.
With college tuition seeing a 1,140 percent increase since the late ’70s, coupled with the longest stretch of income stagnation in the modern era, no wonder why the highest percentage of twentysomethings ever recorded (around 26 percent) are living back with their parents.
The college debt in the United States is more than credit card and auto loan debt combined. As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wrote in “The Coming Meltdown of College Education,” “We freak out about the Trillions of dollars in debt our country faces. What about the TRILLION DOLLARs plus in debt college kids are facing?”
Millennials Have Higher Levels of Anxiety and Depression than Previous Generations
A Psychology Today study showed that millennials are reporting the highest levels of clinical anxiety, stress and depression of any other generation at the same age.
With some of the stats mentioned above, no wonder so many twentysomethings feel like they’re going through a quarter-life crisis.
Many want to blame millennials’ problems on the fact that we’re entitled and lazy. Sure, we have things we need to improve upon as we re-set our expectations and timeline for how long and hard it’s going to be to find our way.
But when I look at Millennials I don’t see a generation entitled to success. We fight hard to succeed, and we don’t really know how to fail.
Couple that with the new disorder I call The new OCD—Obsessive Comparison Disorder, and you have a whirling destructive force of anxiety and depression.
We’re all struggling, yet we’re all struggling to make it appear like we’re not struggling!
Here are a few things that really helped me overcome these challenges in my life.
Asking Hard, Intentional Questions
Many of us don’t want to have difficult conversations with the person we’re avoiding the most: ourselves.
Yet, there’s something incredibly important and profound in asking yourself intentional questions, and then actually taking the time to write down your answers.
Many of us think we’ve defined things in our lives, or that we know who we are and how we’re called to live out our faith, yet we’ve actually been distracting ourselves from the truth.
Giving Grace and Space to Fail
(without calling ourselves failures)
For so many years in my 20s, I felt like a failure, when really I was experiencing many small successes that were leading to failed end results.
I kept focusing on the final outcome without giving credit to the amazing wins and all the new skills I was learning along the way.
As I write in 101 Secrets For Your Twenties, “Failing is simply finding a more profound way to be successful, if you’re willing to keep trying and giving yourself the real possibility of failing again. The biggest failure of our twenties would be if we never had any.”
After all, if God gives us grace when we fail, we need to learn to do the same.
Finding Our ‘Signature Sauce’
I believe we each have our own Signature Sauce, a unique, God-given flavor we bring to the world that no one else can.
It’s going to take time, effort, and a couple failed experiments and scars to figure out your Signature Sauce.
As Seth Godin writes in Linchpin, “The future belongs to chefs, not cooks or bottle washers. It’s easy to buy a cookbook (filled with instructions to follow) but really hard to find a chef book.”
Being Purposeful in the Process
Maybe the Great Recession will be the best thing that ever happened to millennials because it forced us to learn patience, perseverance and grit.
Many of us were slammed by the Great Recession like a Pinata being smacked at a birthday party, and hopefully that will help us reap some sweet candy in the future.
Being successful in our 20s is about being purposeful in the process.
Becoming an adult is not a one-time thing. You grow into growing up, each season bringing with it things you’re going to have to secretly Google to figure out how to do.
We have this yearning to “arrive.” To make it, but maybe not making it is a gift. If you’ve arrived, why bother still exploring? When you’ve made it, why put in the extra time? Why battle the hard questions? Why push yourself?
Maybe every person who “made it” was simply stopping short. Maybe those of us who feel very “unmade” were simply meant to create more.
An earlier version of this article was published on allgroanup.com. Used here with permission