Are Millennials the Hero Generation?

This guy is my hero
This woman is too.

My sister and I were talking over the phone last night about finding meaning, “integrating work,” as Ms. White mentions above, with life, relationships, health, etc. in a purposeful and sustainable way.

White mentions the boomers vs. millennial sentiments we see floating around the internet. You know the ones: that the boomers are always making fun of millennials because we are the entitled generation, boomers worked hard, walked to school both ways in the snow, ate spam and made clothes out of flour sacks for soldiers and sold cigarettes to pregnant women. They did a lot of crazy shit. And millennials are just lazy, entitled, full of complaints about how they feel about things and what’s the point of it all?

But if Boomers’ kids, and their kids’ kids are concerned about things like meaning, are having to redefine success as something that incorporates meaning and health and sustainability, that is a sign that we have progressed. We aren’t entitled. Boomers have laid down the foundation of a world in which we can concern ourselves beyond the basics of security to such an extent that we have evolved to understand basic security is not all we need.

Putting down the younger generations for actually evolving is a little like laughing in the face of progress.

And putting down the older generations for not having evolved is a little counter intuitive and, yes, can look ungrateful. Did you know we are the most educated generation ever? Literally of all time? Our parents and grandparents hammered that shit home. Get an education.

I’m not going to say that being educated makes a person smarter. You can sit through as many classes as you want and pay for that piece of paper, but if you aren’t engaged and you’re not learning that paper is basically just a pass to access an inundated job market. That being said, really engaging in an education is priceless and I think it’s great that our parents and grandparents were so successful in getting us educated that education is no longer a guaranteed ticket to success.

My mom still thinks that having a master’s degree is a guaranteed ticket to employment. It is not if I rely on the linear models of success of which Ms. White speaks. The market is inundated with so many educated people we cannot pay educated people enough to compensate for the incredible school debts such people have accrued. But if I hustle, as Smiley suggests, my education has provided me with the tools, the creativity, and the discipline to create success for myself.

What that required first was this understanding of who I am, where I come from, what I’m working with, what my limitations are and which limitations I want to grow beyond. A quarter-midlife crisis. What I like about both of the above videos is that they emphasize turning this “Crisis” state into a search for meaning where meaning was lacking.

Now we get to be creative y’all.

One thing both videos touch on, as well, is the importance of emotional intelligence and taking responsibility for who we surround ourselves with (Smiley mentions “believers” or people who hold you accountable and Ms. White mentions taking responsibility for how we feel when we engage with social media). Both videos mention, too, that this emotional intelligence and responsibility lead to authenticity or, as they put it, alignment.

We’re the generation responsible for laying down the emotional groundwork for a society that values meaningful work–meaningful as in risking instability to work at a job that doesn’t require a person to mentally check out for eight hours of the day, doesn’t require misery, and doesn’t brutally degrade the body. Meaningful as in we have quality time with ourselves, each other, and find purpose in our existences.

This call for alignment rings bells in my mind associated with yoga, with Tao, with balance, meditation. Align your chakras. Align your heart with your body with your mind.

There are many who believe this alignment looks like present moment awareness which is what this desire to not “check out” at work looks like to me.

We want presence.

We want to stop living as faceless formless avatars and start living as human beings with purpose and intention.

We are seeking to become more aware of ourselves, our intentions, our actions, their consequences, and to become responsible for taking the first steps onto the risky plateau’s of valuing the emotional and physical well being of human beings OVER progress for the sake of progress or success for the promise of a stability that isn’t on the way.

The linear model of success is not only unsustainable for the individual, it’s unsustainable for our people and our planet.

Spending eight hours a day in a place you don’t want to be is, of course, going to make you unhappy.

Millennials, as mentioned above, are the “Purpose Generation,” the “Yes,” generation. Both of the above speakers mention that the first signs that they were not in the right career, despite being extremely successful, was the body shutting down or breaking down in an alarming manner.

Smiley, in the first video, woke up every day with shooting pains in his back that went from his leg all the way up his spine and persisted all day despite being only 28 at the time. Sally White, in the second video, was having seizures, couldn’t eat, couldn’t walk, couldn’t function and had to move home despite being extremely successful. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her except that she showed symptoms of chronic stress. She was in her mid twenties.

Both of them decided to pursue meaningful work, work that resonated with their personal values, and the physical symptoms went away.

A statistic I quite enjoyed from Smiley’s video is that “50% of millennials[…]would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values,”(Refusing to Settle).

Aw y’all. I’m touched.

I had no idea that at least half the people in my generation feel more motivated by the search for meaning than the search for material success. This makes me damned proud of my people.

It occurs to me that this whole process of being diagnosed, told to do this, that I’m susceptible to that, that I function this way and need to do things just so has been immensely taxing on my sense of autonomy. I was so terrified of my brain’s potential to betray me, I needed people who understood what was going on in there from a clinical perspective to tell me it was going to be alright. You’re not getting worse. You’re just wired differently. Not broken, just different. But putting down my defenses enough to let other people’s understanding of me define me felt violating.

I was one of those kids who did all the things she was supposed to do right up through grad school and into teaching. Those things I was supposed to do were bestowed on me by others who believed that such a model of success would guarantee well being, but it turns out that meaning must be found within and I could not find meaning in that model of success which aligned when it was handed to me.

Funny, I see all kinds of ways teaching is meaningful and loved that part of the job. But it felt wrong to be teaching people about meaning, about discovering their intentions for going to school, about understanding that it doesn’t guarantee success or intelligence, about how to craft meaning and engage in critical thinking and build their dreams through education, when I had not yet pursued that search for meaning for myself. Sometimes I would come into class feeling jaded about my future and the futures of my hopeful students and the discussion would lean dark and heavy. It felt irresponsible.

Equipped with that information and set free from the promise of further therapy, it behooves me to move forward from what has essentially been a quarter-midlife crisis (Who am I? What does all of this shit mean? Why do people do work they hate? Why do I? Take the risk. Make the leap.) into what these crises lead to–a shift in consciousness that allows for meaningful action to be taken.

What does this look like?

Both of the above videos also mention taking risks, not comparing one’s self to others, and “shifting away from a linear model of success,” by following one’s calling even as that calling progresses and shifts. We might not have just that one thing that defines us. But awareness of this inner calling and it’s shifts require emotional intelligence.

Both videos also talk about the influence of social media in creating incredibly high expectations for who we think we are supposed to be or where we believe we are supposed to be in life. Ms. White mentions that failing to be authentic on social media has created an expectation of perfectionism that isn’t achievable from any realistically human standpoint, while Smiley mentions that comparing ourselves to those inauthentic representations of successful people further distracts from understanding that success is defined by the individual if we are imbuing it with meaning. Meaning is subjective. Therefore one must look within to find it.

I believe Millennials, in this regard, are the Hero Generation.

Check this out.

In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes the purpose of the hero as follows:

“The hero, therefore, is the man or woman who has been able to battle past his personal and local historical limitations to the generally valid, normally human forms. Such a one’s visions, ideas, and inspirations come pristine from the primary springs of human life and thought. Hence they are eloquent, not of the present, disintegrating society and psyche, but of the unquenched source through which society is reborn.The hero has died as a modern man; but as eternal man–perfected, unspecific, universal man–he has been reborn. His second solemn task and deed therefore (as Toynbee declares and as all the mythologies of mankind indicate) is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed.”

(p. 14-15, Campbell, 2008)

There is another Ted Talk called “Life Crisis? Start a Business,” by Bailey Richert, in which she describes the kinds of decision-making necessary in entrepreneurship as the kind of decision-making which allowed her to define those “visions, ideas, and inspirations come pristine from the primary springs of human life and thought.”

She wasn’t just asking herself what she wanted, how she was going to get it and what that would look like. She was asking herself all of those questions after understanding that her “personal and local historical limitations,” (i.e. the linear model of modern success) were not representative of “more normally human forms.”

Each of the above Ted speakers finds themselves in positions of success according to the socially accepted model of success only to discover that such was formed by “a disintegrating society and psyche.” Each decides to “die as a modern [wo]man,” in the metaphorical sense by reaching that modern model of success and foregoing it’s promise of stability because of an inner call to find purpose and meaning. We might identify this as the Call to Adventure, the first step in the journey of the hero.

So maybe millennials look like the lazy generation because we are doing things a little bit differently than our bare-knuckle boomer forebears who muscled their way through life and buried those emotional scars done unto their psyches by the basic drive of any species to find stability.

They paved the way physically. They laid down the infrastructure. Gen Xers killed it with breakthroughs in technology, science, math, physics, psychology, medicine, etc. Now Millennials are seeing the social, individual, psychological, medical, and environmental impacts of such astounding progress, finding the paved paths to success end in material wealth while forgoing the “normally human forms” of wealth in relationships and self-actualization, and are trying to establish meaning, now, around what the astonishing progress is all in the name of if money and security are not the end game we thought they were.

We are the Hero Generation. We are dying to the modern ideas of man and woman, delving into the deep dark of the psyche, and bringing back boons like:

Ignoring one’s emotional state for too long leads to physical, mental, and spiritual degradation (demonstrated in the three videos mentioned above, in many of the videos I’ve shared on this blog, and in our country’s healthcare crisis, which may be linked to this crisis of meaning).

One thing to note is that Smiley talks about one successful entrepreneur friend of his who came to San Francisco from Spain with no job lined up, asked Smiley on the street (a perfect stranger at the time) if he needed a designer, and through that ask ended up becoming the head designer for a startup team of four or five people who were “bought out by Yahoo for 80 million dollars.”

That stranger heeded his call to adventure by moving across the world, to a city he didn’t know, without a job lined up, and asking complete strangers on the street if they needed a designer and the payout was enormous, not only monetarily, but because he’d followed his dream and become successful at it.

A lot of people are afraid to heed the call to adventure by taking risks. What if you invest in that business and you lose everything? What if you quit your job to get another and find there are none available to you? What if you pursue your dream and it never comes true? Is that worse than never pursuing it?

Those risks look different for everyone. Sometimes that risk is simply talking to another person. Sometimes that risk is turning to something other than self-destruction. Sometimes that risk is speaking your truth or letting someone down who you had hoped to hold up. The call to adventure comes from within.

“The first step,” Campbell wrote, “detachment or withdrawal, consists in a radical transfer of emphasis from the external to the internal world[…]to the peace of that everlasting realm that is within. But this realm, as we know from psychoanalysis, is precisely the infantile unconscious. It is the realm we enter in sleep. We carry it in ourselves forever[…]all the life potentialities that we never managed to bring to adult realization, those other portions of ourself, are there; for such golden seeds do not die. If only a portion of that lost totality could be dredged up into the light of day, we should experience a marvelous expansion of our powers, a vivid renewal of life.”

p. 12, Campbell, 2008

This process of withdrawal and going within to seek meaning is present in each of the above stories and Campbell describes this process as visiting the lost pieces of the self in the unconscious, those pieces left behind or forgotten or never realized, and bringing even one into the light of day.

Self-actualization.

Even more interesting, I think, is that he describes this process of individually hearkening to this call on a cultural scale.

“Moreover,” he wrote, “if we could dredge up something forgotten not only by ourselves but by our whole generation or our entire civilization, we should indeed become the boon-bringer, the culture hero of the day…”

p. 12, Campbell, 2008

Millennials are not lazy. We’re culture heroes. We are trying to face ourselves, go within to find meaning, reach beyond the stereotypes and limitations of modern culture to find the innocent self, the human self, and dredge up from those forgotten pieces of humanity into the light of day what it is we’ve been missing.

Alignment.

Presence.

Purpose.

Meaning.

Health.

Those are some pretty big forgotten pieces of culture. So I guess if you feel the need to withdrawal, if you are feeling like something is missing, wondering what it’s all for, maybe you’re hearing the call to adventure. Maybe it’s time to withdrawal, ask yourself what you want, take the risk. Probably your whole generation is feeling it. You’re not alone. We are all looking for meaning here. It’s alright. We are an entire generation of culture heroes.

For my own part, this attempt to appear completely transparent on an online platform has opened me up to a lot realizations about who I thought I was, who I actually am, and where to go from here. It was scary. That dive into the self is…well its uncomfortable. And every Hero’s journey is met with obstacles to be overcome, many from within. This journey through the self is a way to find the self that exists outside of the boundaries of the present and the culture. Strangely, presence is a great way to discover that self.

Practical Action Step: Meditate, exercise, dream.

Practical Action Step 2: Step outside your comfort zone into the direction of your dreams.

My Practical Action Step today was a morning meditation. This afternoon I’m going to record the first video in a vlog series. It’s a risk I’m not super stoked about taking if only because it feels uncomfortable, but it’s been in the works as an idea for the next step on this site for a while.

So here we go.

Starting in on that Practical Action.

Joining my fellow Culture Heroes.

Thanks all.

Be well.

References:

Campbell, J. (2008). The hero with a thousand faces. 17. New World Library.

Life Crisis? Start a Business | Bailey Richert | TEDxHarrisburg. (2016). [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybZp0Fi-Hws

Quarter Life Crisis: Defining Millennial Success | Sally White | TEDxRoyalCentralSchool. (2017). [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgf0OUsQJuA

Refusing to Settle: The Quarter-Life Crisis | Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky | TEDxYouth@MileHigh. (2015). [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddek3gQVt9Y

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