The Plight of the Entitled Millennial (Boo. Hoo. Hoo.)
“Do not pray for an easy life. Pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” Bruce Lee
I’m a first generation Asian American. My parents immigrated here in their teens and ended up in San Francisco. They didn’t have a lot of money or know a lot of English before coming here.
My mom eventually got her pharmacy degree from UCSF. My dad started a thriving tax preparation business in San Francisco.
They achieved the American Dream.
This was a similar theme I heard from a lot of my friends’ parents. By no means am I a special snowflake.
Growing up in a middle class neighborhood with middle class friends, I didn’t experience a lot of real struggle. We lived in the Sunset district in San Francisco. There were a lot of great memories in that house in a safe neighborhood. My parents were able to earn a more than comfortable living and provide my brothers and I everything we needed and a bit more. We could afford to buy a new pair of Nikes once or twice a year, and we could make the occasional trip to Disneyland. I feel fortunate never have experienced true hunger or deprivation.
I have lived a very comfortable life. Who could complain?
I went to one of the best (my bias?) private high schools in the Bay Area. 99% of the graduating class would end up going on to college. You were the talk of the class if for some reason you were not going to college or had decided to go the junior college route.
After graduating from UC Davis, my cousin hooked me up with an interview at an online marketing startup in Mountain View. I got the job.
My life just seemed to be coasting along, but I always felt like something was missing.
It dawned on me one evening when I visited my 80+ year old Uncle Roland. Uncle Roland at this point was not the strapping, muscular man in the photo of him on his motorcycle looking like a Burmese James Dean. Yet, he had the presence of an old, confident lion who had the scars to prove he had been through a lot in his life to get to this point. He was the patriarch of our family since his father had long since passed away.
He would often tell us stories about how he fled Burma on foot, having to flee from the guerillas and navigate the jungles. He would point to the site of an old gunshot wound on his thigh and tell us, “Touch the scar! You can still feel the hole!” He had gotten shot and rolled down the side of a mountain and woke up covered in ants, and he managed to survive. During this time, he also mined jade and and hunted a tiger or two. No big deal.
He was the first person on my mom’s side of the family to make it to America. Coming here with nothing, he managed to find work as a mechanic and eventually owned his own service and gas station.
During my visits to Uncle Roland’s house, he would make curry lamb in the only way he could and I would teach him how to use his iPad, and he would share stories from his life.
My cousin Gabriel and I were there on one of these visits, and I remember Uncle Roland saying, “You and your generation are soft!” I was a little bit surprised to hear him say that.
I am a millennial, so I am entitled to feel offended, right?
But really, I understood that this came from a place of love, and he was making an observation. Life had come to easy for us. The good fortune my generation received on the backs of our parents might be are ultimate undoing.
In an effort to provide a better life for their children, my parents’ generation provided us with everything we would want or need so we would not have to struggle like they did. Inadvertently, we grew up without developing true grit.
I felt entitled to a good job after college. I expected to live a yuppy lifestyle with nice clothes, cars, and experiences. I expected that my income would keep growing year after year.
I thought I was smarter than average and success was a given. Does “smart” really mean anything?
The problem is that when I was laid off in 2008, I was left feeling sorry for myself. I was now out on my own and no matter how hard I tried to start my own business, I would hit a small obstacle and get stuck in my own head.
Success is a given…right? I’d bang my head against the wall wondering what was wrong with me.
“I should be winning by now, I’m almost 25 years old!”
Expectations of where I “should” be painted illusions of grandeur and achievement in my brain, and of course, when reality didn’t match those visions, I felt like a failure and got stuck in my own head.
“I’m not good enough.”
“No one would pay me to do that!”
“Maybe I wasn’t meant to be an entrepreneur.”
What a waste of energy. Ugh.
I would read the case studies from books like “The Four Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss of these people running lifestyle businesses that afforded them the opportunity to travel all over the world with their families and live on a beach for months at a time.
“Why can’t I do those things? What is wrong with me?”
I would feel bad about myself. Boohoo.
Note to self — the world could care less that I feel bad about myself.
I was the opposite of gritty — soft and brittle. I let the smallest obstacles and struggles (they felt big to me though) stop me in my tracks over and over and over again.
After sputtering and stopping so many times to try to make something happen with my life, I realized I didn’t have any true struggle to challenge me. I would have to create my own opportunities to develop grit on my own.
What? You can develop grit?
Michael Jordan is one of my idols. His relentlessness to win and his ability to elevate his performance in an instant just amazed me. I wondered, “Was he born that way? What made him so relentless? How could I be that relentless? I can’t even get enough motivation to get off the couch today.”
I was probably thinking this 10 years ago and only this past year did I get so sick of tired of being held back by my own negative self talk and inability to push through self-doubt that I had to do something about.
I was sitting on my couch on a Saturday night, watching YouTube looking for “inspiration.” I was hoping that inspiration would magically fall into my lap and then I could finally achieve everything I wanted.
“Enough of this bullshit!” There was probably more profanity going through my head at the time.
That night, I signed up for the Seattle Marathon. Why a marathon? If I could get myself to do something that I knew was going to be a struggle and knew required dedicated training and preparation, it would spill over to other aspects of my life.
I was going to blow up the story that I believed about myself and write a new one.
I was fully committed to leveling up my grit. I was putting a saddle on struggle and deciding to ride it until I broke it.
And it was one of the hardest f***ing things I’ve ever done in my life.
It sucked failing to get to bed at a decent time and waking up at 5AM to run when it was dark and cold. In the beginning, there were more days I overslept than not. It sucked when 1 mile felt like 6 miles. It sucked when I was so tired after a sleep-deprived run that I was completely useless in the afternoon. It sucked when my legs were on fire and my heart felt like it was going to implode on mile 15 of my first long run.
But I noticed my beliefs changing through the process.
“I’m not a morning person” eventually became “mornings aren’t so bad.”
“I’m not a runner” became “I feel kind of good after a run.”
“Pain means stop” became “some pain is the price of improvement.”
“Why would anyone run a marathon?” became “Wow, there are people who are training everyday and improving themselves.”
Do you know what it feels like to prove yourself that you can do something?
It’s the greatest feeling in the world. You carry yourself differently. The lens through which you interpret your circumstances becomes completely different.
That’s why people do hard shit. You can prove to yourself that the impossible is possible. You can rewrite the story of yourself to one that serves you better.
On the day of the marathon, I looked back and realized that it was this process of training and improving that was what I enjoyed the most. The magic was in the training process. That f***ing cliche was right! (It’s about the journey, not the…blah blah blah.) The race result would take care of itself.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Boo hoo. Cry me a river over your life of comfort.”
I don’t care what you think, and you shouldn’t care what I think of you!
As a doctor, I help people who are suffering and dealing with their own struggles. Sometimes it’s small stuff. Sometimes it’s unbelievable, horrifying circumstances. I’ve learned that everyone has a struggle and a story. These stories can really f*** you up if you believe the wrong ones. The stories can hold you down or they give you an opportunity to rise up to meet the occasion.
For me, overcoming the safety of comfort that I was blessed with has been my struggle. It is up to me to deal with my own shit because no one else cares! Of course, my mom and dad care. (Love you, Mom and Dad!)
But, maybe other than knowing that my mommy and daddy love me, I’m not entitled to diddly squat! It is a f***ing burden off my back to not feel any expectations of what I think I deserve.
My struggle is my struggle and your struggle is yours.
The question is, will you embrace the struggle when it shows up?
Or will you feel sorry for yourself?
Or will you blame your circumstances for why you can’t do something?
Or will you just coast through life and reach the end knowing that you left your best inside of you?
Or will you forever look at others and think, “it must be nice to be him or her” instead of figuring out how it would be nice to BE YOU?