The “It's complicated” column is Ben Sharp’s uninhibited (and English-language) approach to subjects that deserve attention but perhaps shouldn’t always require academic research or too much intellect. Discourse over doctrine or coded commentaries. Ben – a British-born, Berlin-based, gay 20-something with passions for fashion, fried chicken and overthinking – looks to pose questions that are answered differently, in intrinsic relation to our individual experiences and identities.
Presumably as a result of sins committed in a previous life, I’m a millennial. Which has its ups and downs. Having had the great fortune to have been born in the 1990s, I – like other millennials of Western Europe – have been privy to much more social and technological development than my parents were in their youth, for example. And oh, how I’ve reaped the benefits. Nonetheless life as a millennial arguably also comes with certain emotional strife that (perhaps due to a lack of such said developments having taken place previously) is scarcely fully understood by older generations. And by society at large.
I will never forget a brilliant meme I once read that suggested my generation was the first to have grown up with a taste for caviar, yet only succeeded in securing jobs that could afford them pesto pasta for dinner. While there is an awful lot – both positive and negative – to unpack in this assertion, there is some fairness. The analogy teases this notion that millennials are experiencing different, more frequent changes to those who came before them. And this I would confirm.
There are various reasons for why this is. Ultimately, we’re talking about a journey through life that – as a rule – is likely to be more turbulent than it might have been, had we been born, say, just 30 years earlier.
Turbulent doesn’t necessarily mean bad, of course. I can only speak for myself, but my own transient tale has so far encompassed multiple new jobs, moving from city to city, even country to country, accompanied by increasingly common reflections on career and life hashtag goals. I’m under no illusion that so much change, to which I’ve adjusted time and time again, is fairly average for somebody of my age and ilk. We’re somewhat freer and have more (materialistically speaking or not) at our disposal than our elders, so we try more out. We embrace the new on a more regular basis.
It’s all very good fun too, and I don’t want to appear to be bemoaning such a privileged situation. However, in many cases a lot of change – encouraged by mere opportunity – can lead to a feeling of instability. Cut to most millennials you know grappling with a sense of instability and insecurity.
It’s a bit like puberty. Confusion, concerns, emotional extremities and unanswerable questions all over again. So along with the digital age and social media, do millennials get to claim puberty 2.0 as generation-defining too? Maybe. Maybe even puberty 3.0 and 4.0 as well. At least a certain uncertainty and often stress. I’m sure I’m not the only one to know of individuals who, as an indirect result of this stress, have suffered from anxiety, depression and overall compromised mental health.
I wouldn’t want to pretend to be capable of diagnosing an epidemic of sorts, whereby all aged between X and Y are suffering from Z. I do, however, think it’s important to recognise the correlation between the enormous opportunities that millennials are fortunate enough to be granted, and the stress and hardship that the subsequent constant change seems to bring about. I think it’s important because I think we would do well to embrace the challenging alongside the exciting.
Sometimes humorously referred to as quarter-life crisis, the common pattern of freaking the fuck out at some point is, in my opinion, an expression – albeit beyond one’s own control – of growing pains. We’re the generation that was always told, “you can be whatever and whoever you want”. With such mammoth choice at play, it was always going to take us a little longer to work out what and who we want to be. And perhaps the truth is that these growing pains so many of us are feeling, whether chronically, sporadically or even seldom, are part of us becoming who we will become. Even if later we question that again. And again. For if you don’t acknowledge and embrace the pain, how else should you grow from and with it?
Easier said than done but maybe it’s time to take stock of the growing pains. To flourish from the enriching variety of experiences, bad as well as good, instead of becoming a self-berating victim of one’s own chaotic attempt at being all grown up. To think back to the confusion of teenage years and how post-pubescent perspective could have informed a different, more patient way of living them. That would be my entirely non-medical (and unrequested) advice for anybody, millennial or not, who might be floundering as the world asks them to mature. Grow consciously and at your own pace. Puberty was tough but look where it got you.