Dear Millennial, there’s a decent chance you won’t read this because you ditched Facebook when you’re parents set up an account and you don’t check your email, but in the event you somehow get this message, I have something important I want to tell you.
There’s a Chinese proverb about an old man with a small farm many years ago. He had one son, who did most of the work on the farm, and a neighbor also with an old son. One day the old man’s horse ran off, and the neighbor, seeing this, said, “how terrible, your horse has run off, now work on your farm will be so difficult.” To this the old man replied, “maybe good, maybe bad, we’ll see.”
The next day the old man’s horse returned leading a group of wild horses, and the neighbor, seeing this, said, “how wonderful! You have many horses, now you have great wealth and may live easily.” To this the old man replied, “maybe good, maybe bad, we’ll see.”
The next day the old man’s son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg, and the neighbor, seeing this, said, “how terrible, your son has broken his leg, now your work will be doubled as nurse and farmer.” To this the old man replied, “maybe good, maybe bad, we’ll see.”
The next day the king’s men came to the farms seeking all able men to fight a distant battle, and the neighbor, sobbing as his son marched off, said, “how fortunate you are for having an injured son, mine will surely perish.” To this, the old man replied, “maybe good, maybe bad, we’ll see.”
I was talking to a friend recently, he’s in his early 20’s, recently out of college, and unsure of his future. He’s not sure what his passion is or what he wants to do with his life, a textbook “drifting millennial”, his words not mine. He’s certain of a few things: he wants a career in an area of passion, and he would like to make enough money to live comfortably.
My friend recently lost his job, his first attempt at a career, and now he’s wondering if there is a place in the world for a wandering soul being chased by student-loan debt. Unemployed and unsure of his future, demons keep telling him he is falling behind the rest of his peers, he’s sure of it because he just saw their Instagram post. He feels like he is losing, but worse, he feels like he will never win. I’m paraphrasing, but he feels like if he hasn’t figured it out by now, he never will. He came to me hoping I would tell him it’s not true and success is right around the corner, but I couldn’t tell him that, instead I had to confess to him, I feel the same way. Let me explain.
Every movie, book, song, and teacher lied to you. Intentionally or not they made you believe if you worked hard and waited long enough, at some point you would strike gold and be happy. Everything wouldn’t be perfect, but you would have a career you loved making enough money to never have to worry about money. You would have a marriage filled with romance and bliss, and your peers would like and respect you. I thought the same thing when I was your age, so did my dad and his dad, the difference between you though and us is they thought they would achieve that status by the age of 45 or 55. I think I assumed I would achieve it by 35 or 40, but you think you will attain it by 25. So now you’re 23, and you’re freaking out because not only do you not feel close to the millennial dream, but you’re sure if miss it now you’ll never have it.
After hundreds, maybe thousands of interactions with your generation, I would describe you as confidently insecure. On the one hand, you’re so sure of yourself- fearless, innovative, and breaking barriers- but on the other hand, you’re incredibly insecure. Like a puppy looking up at it’s owner begging to be petted, you’re desperate for someone to affirm your importance, that you matter—that you will be great. On your best days, you’re convinced you’re unstoppable, but those days are starting to be fewer and far between the days of self-doubt, which brings me back to my friend. We talked for a few hours, but he really was just looking for an answer to one question: Do I have what it takes or will I spend the rest of my life feeling like an underachiever?
Here’s the dirty little secret, you never outgrow that feeling. I’m serious. You will ask yourself if you have it takes for the rest of your life, and unfortunately, the voices will probably only get louder. I’m more insecure now than I’ve ever been. I have a career, a family, money in the bank, a great house, and wonderful friends, but I’m constantly asking myself if I have what it takes?
My daughter is asking questions about sex now, am I going to be able to handle that? Am I a good enough husband and dad? My father-in-law bought me an expensive tool chest drawer for Christmas, and I didn’t even have enough tools to fill the top drawer. I’m pretty sure a man needs more tools; I’m pretty sure I’m not manly enough. I made my wife cry the other night because I came home late from work 4 nights in a row; she wanted to know if I was cheating on her. I wasn’t; I was just working hard to try and be more successful because it feels like my peers are outpacing me right now. I don’t know if I have what it takes to be a great pastor and great husband at the same time. I wrote my first book last year; it sold 950 copies. Am I a good enough writer? Will anyone want to read my next book?
This isn’t about me, but I could keep going because self-doubt and insecurity are invited to your birthday party every year.
But now let me give you some good news. You do have what it takes. You’re not a failure. You don’t have to worry you’re going to miss greatness. I know everyone says life flies by, and I guess it does in some ways, but honestly the 10 years between ages 25 and 35 feels like 100 years. Marriage, having kids, switching jobs, buying houses, a million things are going to happen to you- some good, some bad. You’re only a failure if you decide to stop caring or trying.
Life is not great because circumstances always are, life is great because it’s a worthy opponent. If you got what you wanted by 25 you would be so bored, you would have to up your Xanax prescription. Spend the rest of your life finding the right friends and accomplishing the right things, but the only way you will ever know what’s right is to experience what’s wrong. You will fail, a lot, but you’re not a failure, you’re a human. Welcome to the club.
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