Excuse the pretentious title, but I’m trying to do one of those “thinkpieces” that’ll get me into “reputable publications.” So just be cool ok? Don’t blow my cover. Here we go:
Millennials are a weird group. Supposedly self-obsessed, yet the center of endless analyzation from outside sources that are mostly old white guys. Within this broad, diverse, and not at all well defined group itself, the competitiveness about how non-competitive we all are can get pretty intense, and is abated only when we all laugh and slap each other’s backs while having a beer and plotting our next move.
There’s hardly anything that can describe everyone in this group, myself included, except one strange thing. And not the similarly-named Netflix series, although it comes close. It’s the fact that nearly all of us simultaneously think that we’re garbage but still better than everyone else, that the world is both ending and on it’s way to a brighter future. I describe this generational double-think with the phrase “negative optimism”. As in, we see things both as they are (negative), but also as they could be (optimism).
You might think this is an oxymoron, or just moronic, sans oxy. Or you might be like “positive vibes only dude bro squadgoals, keep it 100, my generation’s too chill to be negative!” And you’re not totally wrong. But we’ve even turned the desire to chill into a competition, because what’s the point of relaxing if you can’t brag about it on Instagram? We’re all type A candies in Type B wrappers, we all try too hard while feigning that coveted je ne sais quoi cool stolen from a thousand different cultures but not appropriative of any of them.
The millennial psyche is one that swings wildly between schadenfreude and sincere compassion, depending on what’s trending. It’s comprised of the heartbreaks of our ancestors, as portrayed on film and in song, while struggling to build real relationships and dreaming of Pinterest-perfect weddings. It’s attacked daily in a world of terror, consumerism, poverty, thirst, and anime. It is space, the internet, and crippling student loan debt.
It’s all so terrifyingly intense that to even peel back one layer in one thinkpiece reveals a flood of human emotion, too long suppressed and now finally shouting on every social media channel their personal manifesto, to no one and everyone, forever. “The proletariat of the world have nothing to lose but their chains, if they’re willing to save up enough to modify their van into a tiny home and git gud at freelancing!” our saviors screech, “Join my e-course now!” We’d let them show us the way, but we’re a little too jaded and a lot too broke.
And yet in all this horror, all this noise, and all these reasons not to believe in the world, other people, or ourselves, we still find hope. We find people we adore and feel our hearts swell and our eyes burn with happy tears while we “like” their photos on Facebook despite never having met in person.
We crave the most high-stakes situations, because “win or die” just means you’ll never be a loser. We almost want things to go to hell in a handbasket of deplorables, because at least we’ll go out in a blaze of glory instead of having to deal with the customers at work tomorrow. We’re obsessed with fitness and health but too lazy to get off the couch. We hold our very lives in near total disregard, but we’ll fight tooth and nail to improve things for others. We might not be able to hand over a dollar to the bum on the corner, but it’s only because we don’t carry cash. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves, while still feeling guilty and helpless.
We’re petty but accepting, we’re unprofessional and innovative, we’re anywhere between the ages of 11 and 35. We’re desperately seeking approval while pretending we really don’t care at all and even rebelling to stand out, but everyone has tattoos and ear gages now so what’s the point? We’re the product of broken homes, strong women, kind men, and helicopter parents of every gender. We’re too excited to be pessimists and too realistic to join the cult of positivity.
We are the generation that gazes into the abyss and finds it full of stars. Not due to some endless well of optimism or otherworldly wisdom, but due to a constant swinging between extremes since the day we were born that has molded us to be comfortable with the chaos of the Universe. Our hope is bitter, our self-esteem is sarcastic, and our prospects are dim, but we’re determined to change the world anyways. And if anything, our negative optimism will be the thing to show us how.