First came dinner. Then came New Girl reruns. Then came my panic attack.
It started with rapid, shallow breaths and ended with me curled up in the fetal position on my bed contemplating through a migraine my ever-expanding "To Do" list. I'm totally stressed out, and it turns out that I'm not alone. In fact according to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, my fellow Millennial brethren and I are the most stressed out generation of all. While all other generations reported that their stress was on the decline, Millennials reported an average stress level of 5.4 out of 10, which may sound like a nice medium number except that anything over 3.6 is considered an unhealthy amount of stress. Even scarier is that when asked, most Millennials said that they thought their stress level was on the rise. We'll have a round of Xanax for everyone!
So why are Millennials so stressed out? Our biggest fear (and source of stress) is that we are somehow misusing our youth. Ever since the recession, a sentiment that there are no clear paths to success has taken hold of Millennials' psyche. For us one job isn't enough, we are building a "personal brand," monetizing our hobbies, and collecting a closet full of degrees. Feminism has either already succeeded, died a shallow death with the return of the housewife, or is still learning to lean in. And nobody knows how to turn those boys they love into full-grown men anymore. No one knows how we are supposed to be spending our youth, and because of this most are nervous that we are missing out on the "right" way to grow up. Confusion abounds.
Sure, we as a society have always liked a bright young thing, but this all-out, hair-pulling, hyperventilating obsession with youth is fundamentally different now than it ever was before. According to a recent report by Havas Worldwide, 63 percent of global consumers believe that our society's obsession with youth has gotten out of hand. Additionally, the allure of youth has culturally shifted from being about innocence to being about achievement. Many a Millennial I know has spent a long night pondering their misspent youth after reading the horrible torture tool that is the "30 Under 30" article. This deep panic is different from what Boomers experienced in their 20s, as many were capable of acquiring the trappings of adulthood early on -- thankfully for them the economy made the dream of a house with a white picket fence a reality. And it's different from Gen Xers who were so busy rebelling against society by listening to Nirvana and drinking beers in 7-Eleven parking lots that they forgot to be freaked out about underachieving.
Amid this confusion is today's hyper-youth-obsessed culture where younger almost always equals "better" -- at least in terms of getting some press coverage. It seems like every other day I hear about a new remarkable tween who is already more successful than I could ever dream of being. There are tween bloggers, musicians, food critics, fashion designers -- and that's not even talking about the modeling industry, where the feminine ideal is pre-pubescent. A teenager in the UK recently sold an application called Summly for millions of dollars to Yahoo. No icon is sacred either. In fact recently Carrie Bradshaw was reinvented by the CW in The Carrie Dairies as a prodigal Tavi Gevison type who at 16 years old writes for Interview magazine. It used to be that directors told stars that they needed to lose a few pounds, now it's that characters need to lose a few decades.
It wasn't like we needed a reinvented Carrie to tell us that everyone is out-achieving us, social media does a fine job of that on its own. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram serve as a constant feed of other people's achievements that we can't help measuring ourselves by. "I always find someone doing more than me or out-shining me," says college student, Maddie Burg. "I went to Stanford for a summer program before my senior year of high school, and four years later I see some of those kids now are doing crazy neuroscience research or living for a year in some rural third-world country. Or they already have an amazing job that lets them travel around the world and pays six figures."
Something as simple as Instagram has made even those typically-considered-successful Millennials question whether spending their days slaving away at a desktop is the "right" way to spend their youth. They look at the photos of friends hiking, surfing and making art and wonder if they are supposed to also be living under the YOLO mantra. " Millennials wanting to make a living doing something we love is an idea that damns our generation," says writer Dan Morgridge.
It's not just the jobs that they don't have now that are stressing Millennials out. It's the jobs that they won't have in the future. "We live in uncertain times where major paradigm shifts happen at ever increasing frequency, jobs are being made redundant by information technology, and where we are headed as a species is increasingly uncertain," says photographer Nathan Bush.
As our president loves to remind us, "The jobs of tomorrow don't yet exist today." So you have a work force building up skills that they are being told will soon be obsolete. Additionally, many Millennials are hired because of their youth, which is diminishing as you read this -- a vital asset disappearing into yesterday that no luxury cream can bring back. No, it's not just the recession that is stressing out Millennials. It's also the over-hyped youth culture that has everyone thinking "If I don't get what I need now, I might never have it" and the hard fact that just because photos of you drinking can live forever on Facebook, there is still no such thing as a fountain of youth.