“You are all a ‘génération perdue!’” the garage owner shouted at the young mechanic, who couldn’t fix Gertrude Stein’s car fast enough.
“That is what you are. That’s what you all are... all of you young people who served in the war. You are a lost generation.”
Stein later told the story to her dear friend, Ernest Hemingway, who’s largely responsible when historians today refer to those born between 1883 and 1900 by said name.
What Hemingway alluded to in The Sun Also Rises isn’t lost in the sense of gone, missing or forsaken, but “disoriented, wandering, directionless — a recognition that there was great confusion and aimlessness among the war’s survivors in the early post-war years,” as Samuel Hynes points out in A War Imagined.
When I look at my generation of fellow millennials, I can’t help but feel as if history is about to repeat itself.
Hence, this open letter.
The war is over. It wasn’t a war waged with weapons, but with wires, pixels and bytes. The dot-com bubble has swelled, stretched and burst. Risen from the ashes of reckless investments and failed IPOs have we.
We are the first generation of digital natives.
What we’re left with after this revolution of both technology and attention, is a world that’s changing faster than we can comprehend.
A world full of questions, full of uncertainty and scary decisions. Life feels like an endless game of poker.
But we’ve been dealt the best hand to deal with it. We’ve got so much going for ourselves.
- We’re safer than we’ve ever been.
- We value cooperation above competition.
- We’re the most tolerant generation ever when it comes to race, religion, sex and culture.
- We’re liberal, social and politically correct.
- We care more about access to experiences than excess of belongings.
- We take responsibility for our planet’s body as much as we do for our own.
- We’re the most educated generation in history.
So why do we stand paralyzed as we’re facing a world of abundance?
Looking at the scorecard of wealth, work, health and heart, it’s only in the health department that we’re collectively winning.
We’re YOLO-ing away our financial future.
We know there won’t be any social security system money left for us to retire with, yet we remain blindly optimistic wealth will somehow work its way toward us.
We’re not backing up the optimism about our financial future with the actions that are needed to make sure it won’t remain just optimism.
We’re too fancy at work.
Currently, the way we go about our pecuniary and professional careers is… by demanding more work life balance in exchange for our insanely expensive, debt-financed college degrees.
We’re not rolling up our sleeves and asking ‘What can I do to help here?’ because we feel entitled to something we’re not yet ready to deserve.
We’re immature with our relationships.
Alas, the coping mechanism we’re deploying to deal with the disappointments of work might be our biggest shortcoming of all. We curl up in the safe bubble inside our parents’ homes, deferring commitments left and right.
We’re delegating our sense of belonging to funny baby commercials, hitting a like button and meaningless Tinder dates, running away from the real thing full-time.
We’re called the Peter Pans, the Snowflakes, the Generation Confused of the new millennium. These calls echo from our parents and our grandparents and the worst thing about them is they’re right.
We’re too childish with our money. We’re too soft with our work. And we’re scared stiff with our relationships.
I can’t help but wonder. What happened to patience? To responsibility? To commitment?
What happened to vision, to trust, to gratitude? To work ethic, to maturity, to self-awareness and acceptance?
We’re told we can have everything, be everything and do everything we want. And we want to believe it so badly we’ve stopped questioning it.
The truth we share with our ancestors is an uncomfortable one: we can’t.
Even we — can’t.
We have more opportunities than our parents, grandparents or any generation ever before us. Yet we linger in a state of paralysis by analysis, squandering those gifts, ending up months later, having done, been, and owning nothing at all.
But who to turn to, in times of frustration, depression and sadness? I think I know.
“All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien
Above all, one thing is carried forward to us in the comforting words of the man who’s created one of our favorite books and movies: hope.
So I say today let’s not fret. Let’s briefly avert our overly optimistic gaze from a bleak future to an admonitory past, for in the words of another mentor of the ages:
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~Benjamin Graham
As their strong, old words haven’t withered, so shan’t the lessons of history. I implore you:
If you’re a wanderer, if you feel disoriented, directionless ― pause.
Pause to reflect on history. Look to where your steps have taken you. Seek the path of those, who have come before you. See where it has taken them.
For only if we honor the past can we build the future we aspire to. So…
Let’s do away with the impatience.
Let’s do away with the fanciness.
Let’s do away with the immaturity.
But most of all, let’s do away with the distant, dying dreams. It’s our turn now.
Let’s make those dreams a reality by finally committing to our visions in the clouds and sticking our hands into the dirt.
Like Hemingway, born in 1899. Like Graham, born 1894. Like Tolkien, who was born in 1892.
All members of a lost generation.
I think we’re going to be okay.
A Fellow Millennial (*1991)
This post first appeared on niklasgoeke.com.