Confessions of a millennial: ‘We were told we were special and could achieve anything’

We are a generational buzzword – the ‘millennial’, the ‘snowflake’ – as opposed to a collective of human beings

When you graduate, you should have completed at least three internships, have glowing academic recommendations and a list the length of your arm of extracurricular activities. Hello, I’m that perky model graduate. I have a first class honours degree and I just survived a quarter-life crisis. However, they may have edited that out of my college prospectus profile.

When the person discussing your performance opens with the positives, you know their pockets are filled with grenades. They are ready to pluck the needle as you reach for the exit. For me this was – “The quality of your work varies”.The pain swelled inside of me ready to implode. It was a drab office with a drab, dull office colour scheme. Perhaps my blush-tainted internal organs would add some life to the room?

“The quality of your work varies”. The tight, breathless acidic pain which sits in your throat. That feeling that almost pulsates, strangling you. I smile, nod and maintain military level eye contact with the experienced editor taking a hacksaw to my future with as much kindness as possible. After years in a strict, high achieving Catholic girls’ school you master the art of suppressing emotion until you can confine yourself to a bathroom cubicle.

A past pupil once asked if the bathrooms still smelled of vomit.Thankfully they did not, although maybe they just used stronger bleach.

After this incident, I resolved the only solution was to work harder. I completed another internship at an internationally renowned publication. Finishing this, I applied for a job which would put my skill-set to work. After three months and five interviews, I was offered the job. I took out an apartment lease.

Days after the keys were handed over, the company decided the role was no longer a priority and rescinded the offer. Apparently, the modern “flexi-work” ethos extends to flexi-job offers and, for this politically active Irish tech company, flexi-ethics.

‘Hustle culture’

I’m sure the sensation I felt, a nauseating combination of future fears and financial anxiety is universal. To anyone unemployed, the words “what are you doing today?” are the equivalent of a slow clap at the end of a Ryanair flight – pathetic, unwanted, and wholly unnecessary. How do you respond? Do you list the mundane tasks you completed? Went for a walk, ate, showered, took a nap, slept until 6pm, or do you change the subject?

Do you confess that despite the authentic joy for the successes of those you love, you hate that you are standing still. You hate that you begin to battle against whispers of resentment that creep in because we are bred to believe like many generations before that your work is your worth.

For me, the thought of meeting friends or talking to relatives about being unemployed evoked a state of panic. You avoid social outings, phone calls, society. There is the inevitable cycle of sleeping too much, then developing the inability to sleep, eating too much – then nothing at all, searching for jobs 24/7, reaching a point where the sight of the Indeed job hunting website begins to send waves of nausea through you.

In my final year of college, I would study on average for eight to 10 hours each day. I completed seven months’ worth of internships by the time of my graduation. I spoke at alumni events. I was the stock image plastered across my university’s prospectus. To an extent, I wore my anxiety as a badge of honour. My “diligence”, my drive, made me physically unwell. I had sleep deprivation, loss of appetite, heart palpitations, hot sweats, cold sweats, the shakes, nausea, all to prove I was doing enough.

My story is unique, yet this narrative is familiar. We live in a “hustle culture”, a world which applauds those with unnatural work ethics and uncurbed ambition. I conceded early on in my career that weakness does not correlate with success. I was proud that I could work 12 hours a day without stopping, that I arrived early and left late. That I hadn’t taken more than four days off in four years. You can’t discuss a trip to Ibiza in a job interview. I was proud of neglecting myself. Moreover, I was rewarded for it.

Like all good girls, I did everything right.

When I was a child, parents would pinpoint over-achieving children and use them as a comparison to berate their offspring. I was frequently told I was this comparison. Ironically, now most of those friends have jobs, and I have a “stellar CV”.

Children of the crash

A question was put to me during a job interview: “What do you think is the biggest misconception surrounding your generation?” Entitlement. I’m not disputing entitlement exists, but for many young people born in the mid-1990s our views were shaped by being children who were entitled, privileged, coddled; but also products of a gutting economic crash.

In 2008, many of my generation were starting senior school or just finishing it. We are an economically shocked generation filled with disillusionment and disappointment. We watched as parents’ and guardians’ incomes plummeted and the definition of “future” rapidly redefined.

We are not merely millennials; we are children of the crash, recession babies who went from free-flowing cash to experts in budgeting for the modern world. My generation has more competition in the workforce than any other, and most people are acutely aware that they are replaceable, despite what the middle-age rumour mill chooses to dictate.

We were told we were special and could achieve anything. However, society and the world around us dictated that we could have these things but one mistake, failed investment, hasty decision and your foundation could collapse. This insecurity combined with privilege equates to a soured perfectionism among many, or a fear of commitment and responsibility in others.

It is true that failure is not packaged as an inevitability for this generation, but rather it is a weakness. You’ve had every opportunity, yet you still can’t get a handle on life? A large reason why this generation feels like we are failing is due to this pressure to excel. We have greater access to education, loans, knowledge. We also have greater access to insecurity, self-comparison and student debt.

I can confirm social media was invented exclusively to make you feel like you messed up every major life decision. A LinkedIn alert is like a micro-aggression used to lower everyone’s self-esteem and Twitter is a hellscape invented to overshare and over exaggerate achievements.

We are a generational buzzword – the “millennial”, the “snowflake” – as opposed to a collective of human beings. In a workplace, they consider how they can capitalise on your “insight” into your peers, and then, for the most part, ignore it, as it contradicts what they wish to believe.

When you release a college graduate into the world it is like you release a tame animal back into the wild - it has no concept of what to do. You can have as many internships, extracurricular activities, GPA points you like, but worthlessness and failure are like mice; they can bend and wiggle their way through the tiniest of cracks.

What I learned from my experience is we need to re-evaluate how we calculate human worth. It is perfectly reasonable to have a vague, loose idea about your future. However, both this generation and those who preceded us appear to think the curation of your Instagram account and political opinions must translate into a five-year plan.

A top tip for making conversation with a new graduate - don’t ask what is next.