Millennials: Walking Contradictions

With the economy in a downward spiral and three (and counting) graduating classes now on the job hunt, Gen Y kids’ personalities are becoming the focal point of discussion and analysis. We’re stock full of both anxiety and self-confidence, but how do we balance those two opposite and overwhelming feelings to parlay them into success?

Harvard’s Institute of Politics recently released the 2009 edition of their annual Survey of Young Americans, which began in 2000.

The statistics are alarming.

“Sixty-percent of Millennials are concerned about their ability to meet their current bills and financial obligations and 59 percent are worried about being able to afford a place to live. Almost half of those who are currently in the workplace are afraid that they’ll lose their job, and this fear is echoed in college students’ anxiety about their future after graduation – 84 percent indicated that finding a job will be ‘very difficult.’ Students are also worried about their ability to keep paying for college, with 45 percent of four-year college students and 64 percent of community colleges expressing concern about staying in school.”

What this means is that we’re constantly racked with anxiety about what we’re doing, how we’re doing, and when the other shoe will drop.

It’s true. I am often anxious, worried about not having something done on time, or feeling that really, really bad feeling in my stomach that leads me to believe that I have forgotten something. And I know I’m not alone.

Oddly, however, one of the most consistent qualities that are associated with Millennials is self-confidence.

Also known by some as the Trophy Kids because we grew up in an age when everyone in Little League won a trophy for participating, we feel like we can do anything well and we’ll be rewarded for it.

We were told that we could do whatever we wanted to do and be whatever we wanted to be and we still feel that way. We are multifaceted experts, living in a world where an accountant can have a successful YouTube show or a cubicle-dweller can make more money from a blog about anime than making Excel spreadsheets. And we’re positive that we too will arrive some day.

But if it’s true that Millennials have unprecedented confidence in themselves and the world around them, why has the rate of college students being diagnosed with depression increased 56 percent in the last six years? What are we so upset about, if we have so much confidence in our abilities?

A recent New York Times Magazine article said that the gross over-confidence exhibited by Millennials was “a result, as some longtime observers of this generation have suggested, of growing up in an era of almost unremitting ambient anxiety: school years spent in the shadow of Columbine, 9/11 and, lately, widespread parental job losses.”

Truly, it doesn’t matter why we’re stressed, uncertain, and weirdly sure of ourselves all at the same time.

We are a generation of multi-taskers. We can talk, type, text and watch all at once and it’s about time our emotions kept up.

It is possible for me to be completely confident in my beliefs, as I wage a verbal war at Fox News, yelling at the TV at the same time that I feel very, very anxious about my job, how I’m going feed myself this week, or if my parents think I’m doing a good job.

What we need to focus on is making sure that the crippling anxiety and the over-confidence are balanced and equal – just to the point that while we’re sure we can finish that project and get an A, or do well on an assignment, we have a healthy dose of fear to push us into honestly doing our best work.

That way, when we do get rewarded for doing well, we know we earned it.

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