It starts around 15 or 16. Guidance counselors, teachers, parents... a wave of sound telling you to figure out the rest of your life then and there. Each generation perpetuates it, and it no longer applies. Millennials and Gen Z face greater uncertainty in higher education and employment than the generations before us. Yet we are still asked “Which university do you plan to attend?” “What do you plan to study?” “What career do you plan to pursue?”
‘Plan’ is the key word in each of those questions. You’re asked to build a roadmap of your entire adult life while many people are still in the throes of puberty, teen angst, burgeoning mental health issues and overall confusion. But that plan is supposed to be inflexible. An impenetrable wall around the uncertainty every single human on this planet deals with. It becomes a shield to quiet the external voices clamoring for a reason to doubt you. Some are blessed with supportive families and educators. But many of us aren’t. And even those who support us still ask the same questions over and over again.
So then you go to university. Or you stay close to home and work. Maybe you enter a training program designed to place you right into a job. But you’re expected to stick with whatever job you land for as long as possible. If you complain about the stress that job causes you, the response is “Just be grateful you have one.” You’re still going to have to deal with that stress, which often leads to trauma. Prior generations hardly considered workplace trauma. I’ve had numerous jobs where I’ve cried or hid in a toilet stall because I was afraid to face a coworker or supervisor. I’ve been yelled at, received homophobic comments, and been forced to take on extra duties without any changes in my pay rate.
All the while, the people you grew up with, the people you attended university with... they begin to find careers, not jobs. A distinction is made to separate someone who went to university and is working in retail or as a barista, and someone who went to university and is in a management role at a major company at 25 or 26. The former is used as a cautionary tale, the latter as a success story. Additional distinctions are made when it comes to what marginalizes a person… their gender, their sexuality, their race, their socioeconomic standing. You see it on social media and hear it when speaking to someone from your hometown.
They’re just ‘more successful’. They have it all together.
Well, the former is extremely subjective. And the latter is false.
No one truly has it together. It’s a myth perpetuated by the capitalist, white cishet male-dominated world we inhabit. A mold to shape people into what society expects them to be. ‘Having it together’ usually means having an arbitrarily respectable job, being straight, married with kids, and the owner of a nice house. So many variables exclude the majority of millennials and Gen Z from that description. Owning a house isn’t an option for a lot of us. Work can be hard to find and often we are asked to sacrifice our passions and hobbies in order to make it all work. Just put your passions on hold and make money. Or monetize your passions and slowly stop loving them. There’s no way to win. For the LGBTQ+ community, access to that false category of society is limited to white cis gay men with impressive resumes and a palatable relationship. And even those individuals suffer in that any move away from the arbitrary norm makes them a target.
‘Having it together’ is what a patriarchal, white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ+ society created in order to maintain unfettered capitalism and keep power in the hands of those deemed worthy of joining their ranks. Some of those among them are lying to everyone else about their own realities. And those lies are just as bad as the system itself. All of this only heightens how detrimental being told to ‘have it all together’ is to young people, who begin to feel less than or worthless because they don’t meet that ideal.
I’m 25 with a bachelor’s degree in writing and I work in retail. Right now I am living with my mom, her second husband and my youngest sibling, in my hometown of 7,000 people. I don’t need to contemplate my entire work history to know that I will never have a ‘career’. I won’t ever own a home. If I get married at some point, it won’t be until I’m in my thirties. I’m never going to be what the people around me want me to be. But I’m trying to remind myself that the burden of impressing and appeasing others doesn’t fall on me.
It’s okay to just work at a ‘job’ of any kind simply to provide yourself a means to live. You go to work, do what you have to do, and then go home. When you’re not at work, set aside whatever time you can for yourself. If you have a passion, don’t make it about money. I’ve learned that the hard way. Don’t do it to achieve perfection or outshine someone else. Do it because you like it. Because it brings you joy. And if it stops bringing you joy, that’s okay too. Find something else. Take a break if/when you need to be reminded that with the world we live in, with everything each of us faces each day, you can only do the best you can. If that means just surviving, then do that. If you need to put something off, don’t judge yourself for it. Whatever it is, do it when you feel up to it.
‘Having it together’ is overrated. Being a compassionate and loving person who does things not because it makes them money, but because they find joy in them is something worth working towards. It can be hard to unlearn things drilled into one’s head for years. So try to unlearn them one at a time. And then try a little bit more the next day. Because that’s truly all anyone can do.
I hope whoever is reading this gets something out of it. Take care of yourselves and each other.