If the headline writers at the Harvard Business Review are hip to the concept of trolling, I’d think that was exactly what they were doing with a recent piece on “generational issues” that claims, “The Problem with Millennials? They’re Way Too Hard on Themselves.”
The report draws on hundreds of interviews with twenty-somethings living in the UK, and concludes that, “false representations of achievement on social networking platforms, the sharing of stories of hyper successful Millennials, and the rise in choices and options that Millennials have in building their careers” all contribute to creating a generation that, according to one of the interviewees, “is ruthlessly comparing ourselves with those around us and our role models at the same time.”
None of these “causes” are revolutionary—each has been written about in individual depth before—and I’m not going to pass judgement on that conclusion. It’s the sort of thing ripe for lampooning with personal biases as a foil that ignores any broader merit, and if there’s one thing the Internet loves to hate, it’s the seemingly self-indulgent ways modern young people complain about what is a comparatively easy existence, all things considered. It’s not hard to see hand-ringing over lapsed personal potential and great expectations as the humble-braggy result of too many participation trophies. And it’s clear our culture is still grappling with how hard we should take hits sustained on social media to heart. But if you can avoid the temptation to quibble over the merits generational generalizations, there’s a nugget of unequivocal wisdom in the HBR piece.
The researcher, Emerson Csorba, pairs the three reasons mentioned above with three “tactics for reducing ruthless comparison.” All of these are mental tricks that can be summarized by simply endorsing healthy self possession and internal peace, but as far as specifics to help you reach that higher state, there’s one that stands out in particular.
Adopt a “long view” of vocation. Successful careers are built over lifetimes, a reality that was often lost on the Millennials I interviewed.
The speech, entitled “Older people are happier,” is worth watching for the staggering stats and optimistic take on what is often seen as a depressing side effect of living—namely aging. That old age is not just something to dread but a stage of life to be actively anticipated is already pretty uplifting in the face of our youth-obsessed culture but—bizarrely hidden in an otherwise puff-piece interview with an investment management company—even more impactful is the idea that this should effect how we live all the stages of our lives.
When we talk about longer lives, the discussion tacitly assumes that the only part of life that got longer is old age. But given that we have 30 more years, we can live our lives differently all the way through. People typically say that they don’t have enough time. We do. For the first time in human history, we’ve got more time. So we could make young adulthood longer. We could enter the workforce more gradually and exit more gradually. We could reach the peak of our careers in our 60s and 70s instead of our 40s and 50s.
Planning to peak in their 60s or 70s gives twenty-somethings as much as half a century to find and perfect their professional selves, which makes the rat race against peers or societal pressure seem a lot less desperate.
Look, maybe you’ve already reached a place of such wisdom and perspective that this strikes you as painfully obvious. Maybe the intractable progression of time does not fill you with paralyzing self-doubt. But it’s not actually embarrassing to worry about whether you’re on the right path or progressing along it quickly enough. Whether or not social media is worth stressing about or if finding your passion is valid professional advice, at least feel comforted by the thought that you don’t have to appear on any Under 30 lists to ultimately find success.
Longer lives don’t guarantee any particular level of achievement, but rest assured—you’ve got plenty of time.