A curse that has beset the millennial generation more than any other thus far is that we’ve all been told to follow our hearts. Well, most of us. It’s part of the same package of lies that “money can’t buy happiness” came in.
Our parents and teachers were so good to us, so well-meaning. They loved us so much. They just wanted us to be happy. They saw the world opening up for their children and students, and wanted us to explore all those options they never had. All those opportunities. It isn’t their fault.
My great grandma was a switchboard operator. My grandma was a nurse. My other grandma was a nurse. My aunt is a teacher. My mom is a secretary. These were pretty much the handful of careers that women went into when I was a toddler. But as I started growing up, more and more women were becoming journalists and doctors and lawyers and engineers. Straight women were joining the Army. It was a brave new world out there.
My parents and grandparents saved frugally for 17 years so that I could go to college. The American Dream! No student loans. They told me I could go to any college in the world. And study anything my heart desired. Well, I was 17. Obviously my heart desired to party and meet cute boys.
At such a young age, that I should be entrusted with the rest of my life, is tragic.
It’s the tragic story of all of us who have bumbled our way through college, changed majors 12 times, and graduated still having no clue what the fuck we were doing.
I don’t think it’s fair. I don’t think it’s fair that my parents had to sacrifice for 17 years so that I could squander their savings in 4. I don’t think it’s fair that I have to live the rest of my life regretting that I still can’t make a living for myself even though they selflessly gave me such an advantageous start.
It’s actually hilarious that I feel so bad. Most other millennials are probably reading this with their lips curled in disgust. I didn’t even have to pay for my mistake. It’s not like I have crippling student loan debt, like the rest of the country.
A decade since my college years, I’m finally starting to see the moment when it all went wrong.
The moment when I first started following my heart.
I’m not saying I should have picked architecture or something totally random that I hated. I’m saying that I should have thought practically about my future, and considered training for a career that would actually pay the bills. I didn’t have the sliver of a thought about what kind of job I was actually going to do after college. I should have known that an internship at a publishing company was my next logical move. Or I could have gone on to law school after getting my English degree. But I didn’t know. The grownups couldn’t have advised me either though, because at the time, the grownups didn’t know. No one knew what the brave new world was going to look like. And no one knew how much more complicated it was going to be.
But now that we’re here I think we can do better for our children. Gen Z should not have to suffer the way we have. I fully intend to encourage my daughters to choose high-paying careers and/or join the military. If they still really want to get that philosophy degree though, I’ll cry while I watch them find out the hard way that that’s just a really, really bad choice. Then they’ll have to marry a rich guy or join the military anyway.
It’s not like I want to leave my marriage, but the thing is, I can’t even if I wanted to. What am I going to do, live off alimony and child support? I don’t want to offend anyone who lives this way because their ex marriage was really, really bad. There are situations when it is called for; when it really makes sense. But the thing is, I couldn’t do it. I want to make it 100% clear that this is how I feel about me myself and I. I don’t judge anyone else for the way they live their life because honestly, I just don’t care. I’m writing this blog to be real and raw with all of you, and I want you all to know that accepting alimony would make me feel worse than mooching off my husband the way I do now. I’d rather live in a box.
Not having an income makes me feel very, very trapped.
I know I have to grant myself some concessions. Part of why I feel trapped now is because I was literally trapped at home with babies for 5 years. But now that it’s been a year since both our daughters have been in school full time, it’s getting harder and harder for me to justify my lack of contribution to this family. My husband doesn’t expect it, but I do. Every marital spat we have about money flushes it back up to the surface again and again, like a backed-up toilet. I can’t help but think that if I had been more practical about my career over the past 10 years, I wouldn’t be in the sad, broke place that I am now. I’m here because I majored in English with no career plans, created an Etsy shop, founded a nonprofit, and bought a food truck. I’m here because I decided to follow my heart.
A friend shares her experience:
“I listened to the grownups who told me to “follow my heart” too. My degree is in Animal Science, Equine Emphasis. I’ve mucked thousands upon thousands of stalls. And it took me years to understand that no matter how many stalls I mucked, I was never going to move far enough up the chain to afford a $30k horse, like the ones I cleaned up after evey day. I wasn’t going to be able to afford to buy myself a farm and start breeding dressage horses. It just wasn’t going to happen. And looking back, the only adult who was ever honest with me about that was my first boss at the first barn I worked at. She told me that if I wanted to own a dressage barn, I needed to “marry a rich man”. And she meant that, because that’s what she did! I wish just one person had said, get a degree in something that will help you find a high paying job and make horses your *hobby*. Instead, I truly believed I was going to get what I wanted because I did everything “right”. I worked SO hard. For years. I loved every one of the horses I ever cared for. It was a fulfilling job because I loved every minute of it. But at the end of the day, I was nowhere closer to fulfilling my dream. So I understand the soul crushing, suffocating grief that comes with a dream, unfulfilled. I’m going to teach my kids to strive for what they want, but to be realistic, as well. Find a way to support yourself if what you love doesn’t pay the bills.”
“I majored in English, too, then went on for a M.A. in Professional Writing. I thought I’d be a real writer, get published, sell lots of books, or whatever. I actually worked as a technical writer for 13 years in corporate hell to keep a roof over my head. I would also be living in a box right now if not for my husband’s military pension and his current job. I’ve had lots of “ideas” over the years to try and reinvent myself, because I didn’t want to go back to the cubicle farm. I took courses in aromatherapy, studied and practiced Reiki, and considered massage therapy for a while. Life coaching is my latest investment, and I’m turning my blog into a brand. I have no idea if it will work…and I’m 43. Part of me says, ‘Get a job. Any job. Just do anything.’ Another part of me says to stick with this and build my business. I get the failure feeling. It keeps me up at night sometimes, too. I cry for the independent woman I was, and I just want her back.” (Read more of Jen’s writing at https://quillofthegoddess.com).
The more stories I hear from other women who feel the same way I do, the more I realize how pervasive this problem is, and that no one talks about it. Parents of today are starting to realize this though, and not all our kids are going to college. That’s a step in the right direction. Gap years are smart, because they give kids time when they are fresh out of high school to wrap their heads around their next 50 years of life before they start preparing for them. Can anyone really say out loud, “My 17 year old kid knows what he wants and is ready right now to spend half a lifetime of savings/debt on training for his life career path” and not sound completely ridiculous? Yeah. I thought so.
I feel like most people have this picture of millennials as “younguns” playing with our smartphones and not taking life seriously. That’s the negative image of us, anyway. But the truth is that we’re adults, and many of us are now parents. I see millennial parents raising our children in a very different way than Gen X raised us. Like all parents, we don’t want our kiddos making the same mistakes in life that we did.
So we are going to teach them about budgeting and house buying and taxes and you know – how to adult. That stuff no one learns in college: adulting. We are going to teach them that money does buy happiness, when it buys you food to eat.
We are also going to teach our kids not to follow their hearts, unless they’re following their brains there too.
I’d like to hear more stories. Many more. I think there are a lot more stories out there that need to be heard. If you’re a post-grad millennial, I want to hear yours right now. Please share with me in the comments below. Let’s not keep sweeping this under the rug like it’s an existential crisis that can’t be solved. Let’s solve it by sharing it with our children, and helping them to become the informed adults of the next generation.