I turn 27 this week and I’m handling it about as well as…
Okay. You got me. I’m fucking terrified.
6 years ago, I was 21. 9 years ago, I graduated high school. The thing about perspective is that it humbles the shit out of you.
Post-everything, life doesn’t feel as infinite as it once did— rather like it’s slipping. Like if I don’t reach out or savor the moment, I’ll be doomed and then I’ll turn 28. I got out of college 4 years ago. I imagined I’d be somewhere by now. That I’d have published a book, a job as a magazine editor, my own house. Instead, on the eve of my 27th birthday, I find myself in the same place since commencement: I don’t know where I’m going and I have no clue how I got here. That’s a feeling.
I’ve been listening to Paramore’s “26” on repeat this past month. Not because I’m holding onto my last days of relevancy. (But heyyy, if the shoe fits 🤷♂️) The song’s lyrics and melody, like all of Paramore’s lyrics and melodies, are a mainstay in my heart. I’ve been needing “26” more than usual because it’s such a poignant song about our generation. (It also sounds like it belongs on the La La Land soundtrack, but that’s a post for another day.)
Hold onto hope if you got it
Don’t let it go for nobody
I dare any millennial to not feel this chorus in your marrow. Hope, as a concept, feels like a plummeting stock, like we’re in an emotional recession. In case you haven’t heard, us millennials are ruining everything. On top of that, everything’s in ruin.
We’re the most college-educated generation, but we can’t outsmart our way out of debt. Most of us have moved back in with our parents or rely on them in some way (bills, down payments, loans). Independence is a pipe dream. We work longer hours, but wages have stagnated and there’s no way we can afford a living without at least 2 jobs. So many of us strive to pull our families out of the lower-class rung, but find ourselves in the same or lower income bracket. And the cycle self-sustains.
We’re the most physically active generation, but we can’t keep up; we’re overachievers, but we’re never satisfied. We grew up on the internet’s promise of widespread social connectivity, but we’re suffering from crippling anxiety and depression. We are a walking punchline, and there’s no studio laugh track to break the tension.
Man, you really bring me down
Shockingly, it’s hard to keep your spirits up when everyone’s laying the blame on your generation. On top of never quite reaching your own standards, you fail to match those of the previous generation. After a certain point, you don’t know whose is whose.
I live with my parents and I’m on their phone plan. I’m a freelancer (and a freeloader) living in Hawaii— a lethal combination, I assure you. Finding a “cheap place” to rent here is an oxymoron. Allow me to squash those living-in-paradise dreams for you: it COSTS to live in Hawaii.
Writing opportunities are scarce so freelancing is the only way I can put my education and skillset to use. So scarce that I’ve put my career on hold 3 times now working customer service jobs to pick up the slack. The money I make goes headfirst into my student loans, then bills and gas. Whatever’s left usually allows me to splurge on my daughter.
When the planets truly align (say, a client pays me in advance, or, my goodness, on time 🙌) I treat myself to some high-end scotch. Otherwise, it’s back to my usual programming of happy hours and Bud Light. (Dilly Dilly 🍻)
Save for spoiling my daughter, it feels like I’m in a rut I’ll never climb out of. The money’s gone from my bank account so soon that it’s imaginary at this point. They’re just numbers that never work in my favor. Most of the time, I avoid checking my balance for fear of the heartache that I’m not doing enough, that I’m worth those sad numbers on the screen.
When I took my daughter to see Lego Movie 2, I cried. Not because of the movie (although it was sweet) but because I wasn’t sure if I had enough money for tickets AND our usual theater expenses on popcorn, mochi crunch, and a strawberry slushy. I held my breath as the usher swiped my card.
I nearly fell to the floor when the tickets came out. When my daughter asked if we could get popcorn, it took everything in me to keep a straight face and tell her we’ll eat when we get home. I don’t get to see my daughter every day, so when I do, I can’t help but spoil her. It’s a special kind of grief to be unable to buy your daughter a slushy.
The family in front of us had hot dogs, nachos, and sweets on their seat trays, while my daughter and I sat hands in laps. I have no idea how the movie started. I stared at the empty seat next to me, sobbing as quietly as I could, and wondered what the hell was I doing with my life? Where did it all go wrong?
Reality will break your heart
It’s that feeling that I can’t shake. That I should’ve been a doctor or a lawyer, or I was born too early or too late.
My friends, despite being college-educated, are all working jobs that don’t require a degree. Three of them work at the hotel. Another works at a department store, a bookstore, at the airport. So many of us believed in the blinding light that was higher education like a starry-eyed Gatsby, unaware we’d be saddled with debt and would enter a job market with bleak prospects for benefits and overall security. We’ve wound up in the same spot when we graduated high school asking the same exact question: where do we go from here?
Some of us, I gather, aren’t living here on Maui by choice, but because we can’t afford to leave. That existentialism is compounded when you can’t afford to move down the road from your parent’s house. We either can’t start a family or can’t support the ones we have. To call this a crisis doesn’t do it justice. It’s a quarter-life epidemic.
Survival will not be the hardest part
It’s keeping all your hopes alive
This is the part of the song that wrecks me completely. It’s what I feel at the start of every month, what I imagine all of us feel when the bill cycles hit and the money has evaporated and we have to start all over knowing we’re likely to end up here again.
But if there’s one thing that I find reassuring about us as a generation on the ropes, it’s that none of us have thrown in the towel.
For some insane reason, we keep going.
One of my friends just got hitched and has been steadfast in her pursuit to find a starter home. Another has maintained plans to move to L.A., another, to give up the hotel hustle and start a business. A cousin of mine gave up a career in automotive and re-enrolled in school as a computer science major. Another is expecting, and, despite living in a crammed space with her family, aspires to make the best of it, appearances and judgements be damned. She’s also pursuing an associate’s degree.
That, for me, is what defines millennials. That despite rock bottom falling out from under us, we still aspire towards some sort of meaning in our lives. Here, now, in an age of pervading cynicism. We try. We often fail. But my god, we try. I’d rather keep trying than resign to my socio-economic fate and sit on my fat-ass in the garage and begin every conversation with “kids these days…”
My 2nd year of full-time freelancing is underway. I was petrified when the new year came along, but then a funny thing happened. For a long time, I thought the gigs I had done over the past year weren’t doing me any good. Various proofreading & spellcheck jobs, stints writing “About Me” pages, drafting company newsletters and email blurbs that were probably only read by the HR— nothing more than a means for an income. But as I updated my resume, I realized these gigs I had accrued were, in fact, experience, and it made me way more competitive than when I first started. It enabled me to list a higher hourly rate— to actually value myself at what I’m worth.
Age comes with its quirks, like hypertension and back problems, but most of all, perspective.
I turn 27 this week. As a gift to myself, I’m replacing “you’re not doing enough” with “I’m doing the best I can.” I’m trying to cut myself some slack. I’m learning to not abide by societal expectations of where I should be. I’m telling myself it’s okay to fail— as long as I get back up.