Most millennials, myself included, seem to possess reckless optimism. We all appear pretty convinced that every person we know has a path in life that will lead to wealth, happiness, and maybe even fame. This mentality was instilled in us from the moments we could comprehend words.
Our parents told us we could do anything we set our minds to. Barbie told little girls they could be anything they want to be when they grow up (Even now the Barbie website has a game in which you can upload a picture of yourself and add in a police hat, director’s chair, microphone, etc). Our current, youth-oriented culture follows celebrities around that are famous for “nothing” (read: sex tapes, inherited money, and reality television).
It’s no wonder that millennials have been pegged as a generation of entitled narcissists. We’ve all been conditioned to believe that we’re special snowflakes on a certain path to success. All of this optimism works as a wonderful driving force in most situations — we believe in ourselves so we’re willing to take risks, we don’t like to settle, and we are confident in our personal brands. Yet at the same time, I call this optimism reckless because millennials have cultivated an unhealthy relationship with perfection.
Narcissism, entitlement, and perfectionism all go hand in hand. When someone has an inflated sense of self-importance and operates with the assumption that they are destined to win at life, they also assume they must be perfect all the time in order to fulfill the prophecy. You can easily see the results of this phenomenon in the carefully curated Instagram feeds of teenagers, the college students falling asleep at the wheel after pulling too many all-nighters to preserve their 3.95 GPA, and the countless number of startups run by people who just graduated college.
This perfection phenomenon has two negative results:
1.) Mistakes and failures leave millennials with a sense of crippling disillusionment. Because millennials are so optimistic about their futures and themselves, failures seem incongruent with the conception of the self. This incongruency often manifests in anxiety or depression as they grow older because the reality they live in doesn’t match the ideals they were given.
2.) Other generations have started buying into the millennial perfection hype. While many members of older generations look at millennials with disdain because we’re oh so narcissistic, a large portion of the older generations expect more from millennials than ever. Once upon a time, a recent college graduate was expected to be only somewhat knowledgeable about their field of choice. It was acceptable to learn on the job and make mistakes here and there. Now, the job market is far more competitive. The generation that hires millennials expects the applicants to have completed several internships, produced an award winning project, and written for an industry periodical.
Some millennials really are able to pull it all off, but they are an extremely select pool (probably like 5 people?). The rest of us are just trying to fake our way through it all. We don our hats of self-importance every day because we think we have to. Otherwise, we assume that we’ll be forgotten. After all, we think, if you don’t believe in yourself, who will? Then, we put on our masks of entitlement and head out the door. We spend our days carefully editing our tweets to make sure there’s never a typo and begging professors to bump grades from an A to an A+ because how else will we make it into the right grad school and become a space doctor unicorn like we always dreamed?
Personally, I’ve given up. Not on optimism, but reckless optimism. I’ve realized that I’m not remotely perfect and I shouldn’t try to be. Instead, I’d rather be authentic. I make mistakes all the time and I’m not going to bother hiding that. In fact, people have always received me better when I’m honest about my imperfections. It allows me to under-promise and over-deliver.
I still have big (millennial-sized) dreams, but I also recognize that achieving those dreams isn’t a certainty or something I just deserve. I have to work towards them humbly, get comfortable with my failures along the way, and let people know that my dreams are big but my steps are small.