As a therapist, one of the things I often hear is, “I’m stuck, and I don’t know how to get unstuck.” If this is you, the first thing you should know is that you are not alone. The second thing you should know is, this is not new to Millennials.
How do we get “stuck”?
From the time we are old enough to take instruction, we are told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. The law states we must stay in school until at least the age of 16 with an expectation to finish high school. Our parents, teachers, coaches—pretty much anyone older—make our decisions for us. Our path is pre-planned without much input from or decision-making by us for the first 18 years of our lives. After high school, we get to make a few choices about which direction we are headed, but not as many as one might think. For the most part, these choices consist of college, the military, or the workforce.
After this point, seemingly in the blink of an eye, we go from making very few significant decisions to a life filled with the need to make monumental choices: what to major in, whether or not to attend graduate school, which job to take, where to live, to pursue marriage and children right away or hold off. These choices are piled on top of our already increasing responsibilities, such as paying bills, learning how to make friends as an adult, and how to successfully navigate this huge world.
The inability or lack of confidence to make these decisions leads to paralysis or feeling stuck. When choosing a college or a major, you may ask yourself, what if I don’t like it when I get there? If you are deciding to settle into a monogamous, long-term relationship, you may wonder, what if I’m missing out on “the right one”? In pursuing a specific career, you may think, what if I can’t pay the bills, or what if it makes me miserable?
Is this a Millennial Thing?
Millennials are being raised in a time when, from their first steps, they are told they can do or be anything they want. Then the proverbial rug is pulled out from under their feet when they are suddenly expected to pick one school, one career path, one life partner, etc. It is no wonder this is a terrifying time of life for them.
However, in the book Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?, this mother-daughter author team observes that many of the same obstacles and barriers faced by today’s twentysomethings are the same as those their Baby-Boomer parents faced in their 20s. Books and articles written about the Baby Boomers during the ’70s read almost the same as those written about Millennials today. Both generations are judged by the generations that bore them on their lack of motivation to take on responsibilities and dive headfirst into adulthood.
But while there is a major commonality between twentysomethings of yesterday and today—namely, this is the age when one transitions from adolescence to adulthood—there are also differences between these generations. Today, we live in a world in which, intentionally or unintentionally, we measure ourselves, our choices, and our progress against others on a daily basis through social media. We see one of our peers getting married and feel upset by this, wondering, Why not me? We note another graduating with a job ready and waiting as they cross the stage and feel defeated that we haven’t received any job offers yet. We watch friends moving into their own homes while we still live with our parents and sink into shame or despair. In a time of life when we are already unsure, scared, and lacking confidence, social media magnifies just how “off course” or “behind” we think we are.
What can we do about it?
First, please know that this will pass, and everything will be okay. Whether you date the wrong person and go through many, jump into a career field that just isn’t satisfying and then change direction, or choose the wrong school and switch halfway through, it will all be okay. This confusing time in your life is transitory, temporary. In the meantime, here are some tips to help you through:
● Have a little patience with yourself. Acknowledge that you are not alone and this is not abnormal.
● Remember, social media is someone’s highlight reel, and comparing your life to someone else’s highlight is a direct trip to depression.
● Find trusted mentors or a therapist who can help you navigate what feels like life-changing decisions.
● Take the power out of the “what ifs.” Stand confident that if you make a decision right now that winds up not being your forever path, that’s okay.
● Challenge your thoughts; examine what you are thinking about. Are you catastrophizing situations, focusing on the worst possible outcomes? Are you living a “shouldy life,” where your thoughts center around the things you feel you should be doing but aren’t?
● Make a list of pros and cons or a decision chart so you can see on paper all the thoughts swirling around in your head. This is a way to be proactive and sort out the chaos. You may recognize while there is some risk in the decision, it is worth the risk.
● Don’t get paralyzed by fear. Make moves, even if they are small. For example, add working out back into your schedule, better manage your budget or sleep hygiene, make more time for family or volunteering. The point is DO SOMETHING! Fear that leads to stagnation can lead to depression, but both can be fought by establishing a routine and accomplishing small successes.
Again, getting stuck is not a Millennial thing, a Baby Boomer thing, or any other generational curse. It is the threshold between adolescence and adulthood, and it’s frightening, no matter what year it is. It is a season in life—as are the terrible twos, awkward teens, the sandwich generation, and more—that we survive.
People are resilient. You are resilient. As a therapist, I am reminded every day that people can survive no matter what they have been through. And remember, success is not a straight path but rather a series of steps. Just keep moving.
Henig, S. & Marantz Henig, R. (2013). Twentysomething: why do young adults seem stuck? New York: Plume.