Today All Groan Up is honored to have a guest-post from Jonathan Merritt, the author of A Faith of Our Own and the critically-acclaimed Green Like God. His columns have appeared in outlets such as USA Today, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. Follow him: @jonathanmerritt.
I imagine riding in the plane of adolescence with sweaty palms, each passenger staring at the floor. Finally, the word is given and one by one we jump. The fall is not so bad, maybe it is the rush we experience as we see the earth become more defined and inviting. Then our feet hit the ground and we realize we had no idea what we were getting into. Where are the road signs? What earthly resources do we have to instruct us, to lead us?
In transition, one day you know where you are heading, the next you feel lost. One day you are God’s gift with every door wide open, the next you are a complete failure. You are lost in transition and you are not alone.
Photo Credit: Valleygirl_tka
The State of the Union
In America, the average young adult will graduate college with between $13,000 and $18,000 in debt. He will likely not have a clear idea of what he wants to do, but will end up in an entry level job that will pay a little more than $30,000 per year. (This can be disturbing when surveys show that most of us expect to be millionaires by the time we are 40!) Add soaring housing costs and weep-inducing insurance premiums, and it is no wonder over half us move back in with our parents for some period of time.
If all this doesn’t maim our pride enough, those of us who do want to marry can’t seem to do so until years after our parents did. Looking for an anchor, we may describe ourselves as “spiritual” but it rarely translates into our practical life. And so, we morph into a tech-savvy, well-educated, debt-ridden, job-hopping, spiritually-confused bunch of people who feel immense pressure to figure things out.
It has been noted that the twenties are now the most common ages to begin to experience psychological troubles like depression and anxiety disorder. [i] In order to cope, we try out different employment opportunities, cities, churches and relationships. If one scenario doesn’t work for us, we try something else. We suck on life like a cigarette trying to catch a buzz.
I Too Was Lost
I graduated college with honors, only to realize that honors didn’t mean a whole lot to potential employers. I became a consultant with a large company, spending my days in a corporate mid-rise. Sound like a dream? Try a nightmare. My boss’ name was Mrs. Slaughter and her “take no prisoners” management style was true to her last name. Meaningless work piled high on my desk which sat in a cubicle that thankfully faced a window. My desk sat on the fourth floor, and I was miserable.
I had no idea what to do with my life, but I knew that what I was doing currently was not it. In some ways, I envied the family man who had a career and knew where life was leading him every morning when his feet hit the floor. My head swam. I felt like I stepped out of bed every morning and plunged into a spiraling free-fall. It was like I fell out of life’s tree house called childhood only to crash through limbs of confusion and doubt on my way to the dusty, barren and boring ground of adulthood. My feeling of uncertainty began to turn into panic.
I felt like I had aged 20 years in the matter of a week, now feeling eons older than every young person I met. Day-to-day problems that were merely a bump in the road for the average person had become mentally and emotionally taxing for me. I considered moving to various cities and quitting my job, but I was too afraid to move, fearing I would make another mistake. It often became hard to breathe as the pressure to succeed pressed down on my chest with the force of a small car. I wondered what happened to the person who once pursued dreams with complete disregard to how difficult it would be or how many obstacles stood in the way.
Within six months of graduation, my equally depressed roommate broke our lease, moved out of our city apartment and returned to his home state of Delaware. Perhaps it was his disdain for city traffic, perhaps he just longed for poultry farms and wide open stretches of nothingness. Either way, I had no option but to move back in with my parents.
As I dragged my feet into the house I promised myself I would never move back to, I had reached the point of no return. Living with my parents was “temporary.” So temporary it lasted nearly two years. It was during this time that I decided to begin living, rather than existing.
T’is the Season
Walking into my room, I sat down on my bed and picked up my Bible. The pages flopped open to Ecclesiastes, and I began to read. Soon I reached a most apropos verse: “For everything there is a season and a time and for every matter under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, ESV) I wasn’t sure what season of life I was in, much less what the heck you should do in the mean time. But, I knew that God had allowed me to be in this particular season for a particular reason. And this was enough. It gave me permission to exhale.
In a couple of months, I’ll wave goodbye to my twenties and embrace the dawn of my life’s fourth decade. Take it from me. You will figure it out. The lights will eventually come back on. The road signs will materialize. And when they do, you’ll find yourself wishing you had enjoyed this season more than you did.
[i] As quoted in The Quarterlifer’s Companion, p.3
But I do think a majority of us Millennials have a weakness. And we must it address it now. I mean NOW! Whyhaven’twefixedityet?!
Which leads me to…
The Millennial Generation’s Greatest Weakness
Patience isn’t sexy.
Patience isn’t something our culture exactly celebrates. Gen Y included.
Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Millennials are not exactly experts at waiting. Who can blame us? Millennials day-to-day reality is built around the concept that waiting is no longer relevant.
We are the proud members of the Nextflix, iPad, iTunes, Facebook, streaming, instant-everything, give-it-to-me-NOW generation. I thought success in my 20′s would be the same way – instant, downloadable, and fully customizable at the touch of a screen.
The time, effort, and art of making a mixed tape is over.
And I myself, don’t exactly excel at patience. I’m the five year old whose crying on the floor because I didn’t get my cookie. After college, I thought I’d just pull up to the Destiny Drive-Thru and place my order, “Yes, I’d like a medium fry, burger with no onions, chocolate shake, and the exact purpose and plans for the next sixty years of my life. Thanks.”
“What? Did you say that would take ten minutes? What kind of operation you guys running here?”
I felt entitled to so much and expected so little time and struggle to get there.
After years of frustration and feeling like somehow culture, my teachers, and God had let me down, I understand now that God in his infinite grace did not allow the big to happen when I demanded it. If I would’ve received the glamorous, big life I dreamed of — it would’ve been like putting a semi-truck on my shoulders. I would’ve been crushed. My legs weren’t ready.
If I’d have received all the cookies I demanded, I’d weigh 350 pounds.
Because the time, effort, struggle, frustration — these are not punishments or failures.
No, struggle is a key part of the preparation. Just like an Olympic athlete puts in years of training to be ready when their time comes.
Without the hard work there will be no accomplishment.
We can’t be strengthened if there is no resistance.
Heck, I’d say SETTLING is GenYs and Millennials GREATEST FEAR – the thought of settling giving us nightmares. Like the time we watched Stephen King’s IT and slept with the nightlight until we were fourteen. (Yep, still can’t look a clown in the eye).
The FEAR OF SETTLING
We’re the, I Can Do Anything, Get the Freak Out of My Way, Generation. We are the, I’ll-work-how-I-want, when-I-want, where-I-want, Generation.
Our generation must not confuse setbacks for settling.
Sure many in our GenY, MIllennial Generation are not acting out our greatest dreams right now. But we can settle for a season without settling. Settling, is simply, giving up. It’s letting your dreams be suffocated by your current reality.
However, if I know our generation, I don’t see us throwing in the towel.
Sure maybe we’ve joined forces with a not-so-glamorous life. Maybe we’re not going to be a feature article in our alumni magazine anytime soon.
But I think our generation’s most important characteristic is that we have the ability to stay optimistic, even when the world turns quite depressing.
Because we’re not settling. We’re visiting. This is a season, a stage, the perfect place in time to help us take a step to the next.
There is magnificence in the mundane, if we choose to look for it.
To settle or not to settle? Is this the right question?
“…Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world”
Just a take a moment and let that statement marinate. Is it even shocking? Or have I already lost you to a Youtube video of a dancing cat?
And can you believe the quote above was not even written in 2011, but in 1985 – before Netflix, TIVO, iPhones, streaming Internet (or really any internet), no Facebook, no Twitter, no newscast about a Bedroom Intruder watched a shade over 33 million times (with it’s Auto-tuned rendition gaining a few additional views – like around 81 million).
1985 was Branson, Missouri compared to our 2011 Las Vegas on streaming steroids. So what did Neil Postman write in his prophetic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, that might be truer now than ever for Millennials, Gen Y, and Emerging Adults – making it number 18 on my 20 for 20somethings book countdown.
AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH?!
First, let me admit that I read part of Amusing Ourselves to Death while flying from Boston to LA on Virgin Airlines with their new on-board computer screen embedded in the chair in front of me. As I turned to page fifty, I had to add a few songs to my tailored onboard playlist, which led me to message seat 15F through the Plane Chatroom, which then persuaded me to watch a TED talk for a little break.
I didn’t make it back to the book that day.
The irony wasn’t lost.
I write about millennials and Gen Y amusing ourselves to death because I feel myself slipping into an entertainment-coma.
TWO KEYS POINTS ABOUT AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH FOR YOU TO TWEET AND FACEBOOK
1. We are the Most Informed, Uninformed People in the History of the World.
We possess unfathomable amounts of information at our fingertips. Millions of links, messages, “this video is Hi-larious” dance across our eyes every day. We can know real time that the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic is having Macadamia Nut Ice Cream for dessert, while at the same time not know where the Czech Republic is on a map or that the Czech Republic is even a country (I had to Wikipedia it myself just to make sure).
Postman worried that television was providing us with rapid and ramped disinformation – “misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented, or superficial information — information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing” (Postman, 107). Wow, and he wrote this before Facebook?!
Do you know how many blogs there are currently on the Internet? Take a guess. One million? Five? Ten million? You’re colder than a naked man jumping in Lake Michigan in November.
There are 162,021,094 blogs as of today, May 17 2011. With 69,214 blogs started in the last 24 hours! (http://www.blogpulse.com/). That’s similar to an entire stadium full of people at a college football game creating a WordPress account all at the same time. (Note to Self: Buy stock in WordPress)
There are 110,000,000 tweets per day. (http://blogs.forbes.com/). That’s 110 million shouts for your attention from 109 million “Social Media Experts” trained at yelling the loudest and the most persuasively.
That roughly comes out to every person on Earth spending 100 minutes a month on Facebook. And since we know billions of people don’t even have Internet access, the rest of us are making up for it with millions of LOL’s and You Got to See This! And just writing the word “Facebook” prompted me (how well conditioned does Mark Zuckerberg have me?) to go and check my Facebook …
….and 14 minutes later…
2. Most Our Information Does Not Lead to Action
Let’s say you heard Paul Revere yell “the British are coming!” You would have jumped and grabbed your gun.
What was our reaction when we first heard of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers? Did most of us jump to action? No, we glued ourselves to the TV. Then what did most of us do after the news took us through all the cliff-hangers? We ate dinner in our college cafeteria. Or maybe we met a small group of people to pray. Or maybe we just turned on a re-run of Friends to forget about it all for a while.
For most Americans, the worst event of this generations’ history required most of us to do… absolutely nothing. Maybe a class or two was cancelled and we had longer lines at the airport. But we collectively did not act upon the events of 9/11. No, we consumed 9/11. Just like we eat up Jersey Shore, the Royal Wedding, Osama’s death, or American Idol. We watch not to act upon — but ultimately to be entertained under the guise of staying “informed”. As Postman wrote way back in 1985, we have a glut of information about “a sea of facts from unknown places about strangers with unknown faces.”
Yes, we have a huge obesity problem in this country and it’s not just from ice cream and fried Twinkies. No we are morbidly obese on information – useless facts that are high in fat and sugar, that require us to do absolutely nothing. We lay on the couch and consume – Anderson Cooper and John Stewart our potato chips and M & M’s.
AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH IN 2011
If 1985 felt like we were on the “verge” of amusing ourselves to death, where are we in 2011? Do we have our hind parts planted squarely in graves — accompanied of course with our iPhone, True Blood series and 1,239 Twitter followers clamoring for a seat next to us? And do we even care? I can almost hear us now.
Go ahead. Bring the shovel and cover me with dirt. I don’t care. I have Snooki!
(And the fact that most of us know who Snooki actually is, and we actually care, well that is why we are in such deep freaking Snooki!)
So what? This is just more information, on just another blog, sandwiched in between the 162 million others. What does it matter?
Am I telling you to delete your Facebook account? Maybe – but honestly I probably won’t. But it does beg the question – do we have Facebook or does Facebook have us?
Or maybe you should not watch TV for a week or a month to see what happens to your entertainment appetite away from your electronic teet? All of us who swear we don’t have enough time in the day might magically discover hours just waiting to be used with purpose.
Maybe we should pick up a book this week – and no, nothing in the Harry Potter/Twilight Young Adult category – the most popular books amongst 25-33 year olds, and of course, 13-15 year olds too. Amusing Ourselves to Deathmight be a good place to start.
Maybe just schedule into your day ten minutes of silence with no other message warring for your thoughts. When’s the last time you gave yourself permission to think?
Our Founding Fathers spent their lives to give us the freedom and right to read, to think, to form an opinion and voice it. So it is a profound turn of events that we have voluntarily chosen to lock ourselves back up without little protest. “America was founded by intellectuals, from which it has taken us two centuries and a communications revolution to recover” (Postman, p. 41).
But if you don’t choose to change anything, I understand.
And to thank you for reading this far, I give you a fat dancing cat exercising in front of a TV. Be entertained! Amusing Ourselves to Death? Agree or Disagree? Let me know what you think in the comments below.
I know we were all beginning to have our doubts if this week, Friday would forget who it was and be a no show. But gee golly great, it remembered and has blessed us with it’s presence once again. Don’t scare us like that AGAIN Friday or we’ll sick Monday and Wednesday on you…
So here’s a recap of some of the top things this week from around the World Wide Web Connection Online Thing, pertinent for Groan Ups — those of us in between growing and grown.
An interesting look at the way the Millennial Generation views the importance of parenthood and marriage.
First, for those of us confused with, who or what, the Millennial Generation even is, The Millennial Generation aka Gen Y aka Gen Next aka Net Generation aka Echo Boomers aka We’re So Cool and Ambiguous We Need Five Different Generational Titles (I wonder why this is confusing?) was born somewhere between the mid-70′s or early 80′s (again depending on what scholar you read) all the way until 2000.
The article linked above is an interesting look into how the I-Can-Do-It Myself-So-Back-the-Frick-Off Generation views the importance of marriage.
“More than half the members of this so-called Millennial Generation believe being a good parent is “one of the most important things” in life, but only 30 percent say the same about having a successful marriage….”
Many Generations have tried before to make marriage irrelevant. But will we finally succeed?
My virtual friend, Matt from The Church of No People, enlightens us with a hilarious look at the perils of using game-changing phrases just to appear relevant so that you can cast a vision to go ahead and change the world!
My strategy was to name every person in my wagon, except me of course, a name of a girl I liked or liked me in school. That way, by the end, when invariably it would be down to me and one surviving girl because the others had drowned or been kidnapped by Indians (did I just make that up?), I would know who I should be with.
I’m not sure how that applies to real life now. I do wish I had planned ahead better though, in retrospect. Coulda saved a lot of drownings potentially. Oh well, live and learn, and Lacey Mast, welcome to Oregon.
TOP GROAN UP VIDEO: MARCEL THE SHELL
A big thank you to my friend Trisha for introducing me to Marcel the Shell. Definitely TOPS of the tops video for Groan Ups this week, but dare I ask,”compared to what?!“