When you’re young, you have this feeling like you’re always on the cusp of something. Greatness is yours, you just have to grasp at it.
Unfortunately, as you head out into the wide world, it becomes abundantly clear that the world is not your oyster. The world is an oyster hidden under a rock that you will have to dive for, over and over again, until you’re gasping for breath and worn out from trying to shift that damn rock. You’ll move it a little more each time, until you can begin to wedge the oyster from the rock.
And eventually, after resting a while on the beach or the pier, you’ll find that resolve building and building until… You plunge back into the icy water, and this time — it budges.
Getting where you want to go in life rarely happens easily — I want to say it never does, but there are always also those who chance upon the opportunity or mistake of a lifetime; or who walk into a situation so perfectly timed that the universe could only have been divined for them.
Of course, once you get where you thought you wanted to go, there is the risk that it won’t be all that you imagined. Or if you were lucky enough to pick the right oyster, you’ll realise there are many other oysters hidden under many other rocks that you now want to take on.
Our generation cops a lot of flack for wanting it all, now. A quick predictive search in Google tells me that people are searching for why Gen Y are: unhappy, so stupid, and so lazy. If Google is anything to go by, most of the world isn’t giving us much of a chance.
A Huffington Post article that has constantly been doing the rounds since it was published in September 2013 (and still dominates the search results for my queries) promises to answer that very question: Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy.
As you’ve most likely read this (if not, take the time to click the link and read), I won’t bore you with the details. In short, our generation is unhappy because we expect everything, and reality does not align with our expectations. Thus, we are unhappy. Having placed ourselves on a pedestal our entire lives, we imagine that we are unique and remarkable. Our parents think so too — they were most likely the ones who put us up on that lonely pedestal to start with. But when we get out into the real world (that real world that was supposed to be our oyster), we find that there are at least another ten thousand people just like us: remarkable, unique and fantastically talented. Most of this article is wildly depressing and pessimistic.
The writer’s prescription for this epidemic? Stay ambitious, stop thinking you’re special and ignore everyone else.
But I don’t think it has to be as lonely as that.
I read another article on Elite Daily recently that made me feel a little better. Lydia Teffera listed five mistakes you should never apologise for in your twenties — and they were all things I dream of doing, or do far too often and for which I feel guilty.
“During our 20s, it is completely normal — even expected — never to be satisfied,” says Teffera. “We are a generation that never settles for less than our desires.” While in the aforementioned HuffPo writer’s opinion this was the reason our generation is unhappy, I think there’s a lot more too it.
1. Believe in your power to change how things are done.
If there’s one thing I’m beginning to realise, it’s that there’s an accepted way of doing things, and often our whole world thinks that’s the only way of doing things.
HuffPo writer believes in this one way of doing things: “The fact is, right now, you’re not special. You’re another completely inexperienced young person who doesn’t have all that much to offer yet. You can become special by working really hard for a long time.”
Really? Just because this is how it’s been for decades does not mean this is how it should stay. Teffera would certainly agree with me. As she sums up (perhaps in a manner that’s a tad too shallow): “This motivation provides our generation with the power to succeed faster than any generation before.”
HuffPo writer doesn’t understand that age and experience don’t make up for everything. Often the younger generation has a fresher way of viewing outdated practices and processes. We’ll see a way around what’s been done a million times. We’ll make a lot of mistakes, but we’ll also save time, make things easier, and better. The only reason it didn’t happen earlier is because we just kept saying over and over: “but that’s how we do it. That’s how it works.”
The problem is, when you run at that ambition head on, you’ll get a lot of haters. There’s a lot of people who don’t get that the “that’s how it works” model doesn’t — ironically — work.
2. Be humble enough to learn from others.
This being said, showing due deference is important. Listen to what influential, experienced people have to say: nine times out of ten they’ll be a lot wiser than you. But don’t be afraid to challenge the accepted notion of age equating to perfect knowledge. The most impressive influential and experienced people I’ve ever met are the ones who are humble enough to know you never stop learning — and that sometimes you can learn from someone much younger than you.
3. Don’t forget to be realistic.
I agree that sometimes we need to be more realistic. Success does indeed require hard work — it means digging for a lot of those oysters; it means failing over and over again, until one day you get it right. I see a lot of university students — still going, or just finished — who think it will require minimal effort for them to succeed in a very competitive field. That’s foolish. You don’t get what you want unless you try. Really, really hard.
4. If you’re worried about how your dreams appear to someone else — stop.
Do what makes you feel like the best version of yourself. Chances are, at least a third of the people you know won’t get it, and will never make the effort to understand. Don’t sweat what you can’t change. Do it anyway.
In response to said HuffPo writer’s other consternations, don’t forget that you do in fact have the power to change part of the world, to make your mark, and build a meaningful life.
5. The big one: surround yourself with people who believe in you.
It sounds like a cliché, but the biggest stepping stone to success is a strong support circle.
One mistake that can be made here is to only surround yourself with people who will always tell you what you want to hear. Find people who are like you, but also unlike you. They’ll change your perspective in ways you could never imagine, and most importantly, they’ll be pragmatic. You need encouragement, but you also need people to call you out on your shit. And you need this even more if you’re as stubborn as me…
Make sure they share that one important thing: a belief in ambition, and a belief in you. You’ll find these two things in the most unlikely places. And without them, the rest of it is near impossible.