The Phenomenon called “Millennial Guilt”

I’m going to start this off with some context:

I’m 22 years old. I graduated from a pretty good university last May, and went right into grad school nearby. My father and I made a deal: he would handle the student loans for undergrad if I handled the student loans for grad school. It works out well, because I went to undergrad on a lot of grants and scholarships, so in the end, the loans aren’t as sizable as it may be for some other people.

On my end of it, I’m at grad school with pretty much all student loans. But considering I’m there part-time and only two classes a semester, it’s still relatively manageable.

When I’m not at school, I work full-time. Last pay period (which is two weeks), I clocked almost 104 hours. You’d think I’d be living pretty comfortably right now, right?

Wrong.

Unfortunately, I still scrimp to make ends meet. When it’s one unexpected expense after another, it’s time to decide whether you want to eat (properly) or if you want to pay rent.

In the last week, I’ve had a lot of expenses just pile up on me. I had to pay almost $500 to get my 20 year-old car fixed — so I decided I’d start saving up to get a slightly better car because this one is not worth the money I’m putting into it. I had to pay rent — first of the month, how I missed you. And then I get a bill from my school today for $1,164. Turns out, my financial aid does not cover the summer courses I’m required to take for my degree, so I have to pay it all out of pocket. And keep in mind, that’s just ONE course — next summer I have to take two.

So I’m stuck in an awkward position, and I have to do something I hate to do: I have to ask my parents for help.

I’ve been priding myself on the fact that since I started working this job, I haven’t had to ask them for help. But my parents are more than willing to help me out if I need it, so why do I feel so guilty?

Enter what I like to call “millennial guilt.”

Millennial guilt is the name I’ve given this feeling — when you’re supposed to be independent and stable, but you can’t help but feel guilty when you do need that extra helping hand. And I know people will say, “There’s no shame in asking!” but honestly, the attitude that older generations have towards us will prove otherwise.

When I see articles written by bitter Baby-Boomers that say “millennials are so lazy, they should all get a job instead of asking for handouts,” how can you not feel shame when you need help? How am I expected to support myself in a world where rent keeps going up, but wages don’t? Or when people are not paid what they’re worth? If I’m working on average over 50 hours a week, should’t I be living comfortably, and not have to worry about these things?

And there is so much pressure on us to be independent and out there making successes of ourselves, living on our own, financially stable. When I was younger, I thought 22 year-old me would have my own house and 5 dogs or something like that. Instead, I rent an apartment with my partner and we have one dog. In the end, we choose our dog over ourselves (food, care, love), because he deserves to live comfortably.

So when someone tells me, “You shouldn’t feel guilty about asking for help!” I want to say, “How can I not?”

Last Friday was my father’s 60th birthday, and I went down to New Jersey to see my parents to help celebrate. I wanted to do something nice and pay for dinner as a present. But then with a combination of my car acting up and paying my portion of the rent, I was out over $800. That’s more than 3/4 of my paycheck. If it was just the rent, it would have been a different story, because I had some money put away for it anyway. And I felt so bad because even though these things were out of my control, I felt like they were my fault.

But they weren’t my fault. I knew that. And I still do. There’s just that ever-present message of “all millennials are lazy, greedy moochers” in the back of my mind, and I can’t help but feel guilty. I’ve talked to other people about this, and they have attested that they have also felt this same feeling. The feeling that they’re not supposed to ask for help because that’s what society expects them to do.

But in the end, we’re not really left with much of a choice. Of course, I’ll probably get people messaging me saying, “You’re just making excuses for yourself, blah blah blah, look at me, I’m 20-something and I have my own house, no mortgage, and never have to ask my parents for help, blah blah blah, the only thing holding you back is yourself.”

And to them I say, good for you. But just because it’s not a problem for you doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. The issue here is that we are being shamed for not advancing ourselves, when in order to advance, we need to break down a wall. And all we are given to knock it down is a toothpick.

And I’m sure this is not an issue that is limited to millennials; there are definitely going to be a bunch of Gen Xers and maybe even some Baby Boomers who have felt the shame and guilt of having to ask for help. But my point is that us millennials have had this negative stereotype of being lazy free-loaders thrown on us.

And we feel guilty because we’re afraid that they’re right.