In a recent email between my close friend and me, *Jen wrote: "I miss that feeling of -- I am awesome at this and I want to get better -- but as an adult I can't think of anything that can recreate that drive or experience. It's just such a depressing realization. Am I destined to be mediocre? Am I not as special as I'd like to think I am?"
The comment took me by surprise, mostly because she had managed to put what I was feeling into words. Based on her (and, seemingly, everyone else's) appearance on Facebook, I would have never guessed that she was feeling dull and ordinary. Up until college graduation, I rarely ever felt that possibilities were out of reach or that dreams couldn't be attained. After all, I've been told since birth that I could be anything I wanted. So then why, three years post graduation, was I feeling more like the miserable and mediocre kids in Lori Gottlieb's article "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy" and less like the idealistic novelist I had always perceived?
I recognize that my generation has been criticized for being lazy, unmotivated, narcissistic, and coddled. Although the older generations are vocalizing most of the criticisms, they are also quick to defend their parenting skills for those very same defects they accuse us of possessing.
Growing up, I had my fair share of adults praising my uniqueness and "specialness." I was given trophies just for showing up to games, not actually winning them. My fifth grade teacher made every student write down one nice thing about everyone in the classroom as an exercise in building self-esteem, because God forbid any of us thought we were less than perfect.
And even though I knew I wouldn't be the next Steve Jobs, I did hold on to the notion that I would do something different with my life, that I would make my imprint on the world for all to remember. Like Jen, I was feeling disappointed that I wasn't doing amazing things with my life. Why? Because I thought I was special!
The older I get, the more reality sets in. I'm not special. I am fairly average, just like most of my friends and the rest of young adults my age. We will grow up to live in modest houses, raising "normal" families, holding average jobs, driving average cars. We will wake up, go to work, come home and go to bed. We will do what most adults have been doing for decades. We won't be special or unique; we will be plain and predictable. Just like everyone else.
Being "just like everyone else" is one of the biggest ego blows we could receive. It makes us feel insecure, uncomfortable and average, and we don't like it. Being mediocre erases the praise we received as children. It obliterates the trophies that littered our bedrooms and deflates the fantasy that possibilities are endless.
I've grown up in a world where a funny YouTube video can get you 20 seconds on Tosh.0, where TV shows glorify guidos from the Jersey Shore and fanatical pageant moms. My generation's self-esteem hinges on whether enough people "like" our Facebook status, comment on our pictures or "favorite" our tweets. The 24/7 technical smog we're surrounded by gives us the unrealistic expectation that we actually matter.
Being a good person or having the "American Dream" isn't enough anymore. We need to be the best, have the most and be showing the world every step of the way. We have grown up without expectation of mediocrity, but with the belief that we would all be influential pieces on a larger scale. Success, we were taught, is a right, not a privilege.
But as we inevitably realize that we aren't special, that our lives are walking down a well-worn path, it feels like we have failed ourselves. Instead of being happy to live a decently average life, we are disappointed for not living up to our own expectations and those of our parents and teachers. We will never be as great as we were told we were.
My advice to Jen, my fellow Gen-Y comrades and even myself: start building a life with realistic expectations as soon as possible. Whether our nonsensical expectations are the fault of our parents or ourselves is irrelevant. With any luck, we can walk into our 30s and beyond being satisfied with our lives instead of berating ourselves for that which we will never attain. Are we all destined to be mediocre? No. But most of us will be, and the sooner we accept this, the sooner we'll learn what a reasonable definition of success is.