I’m a 20-something millennial and I always feel behind
This feeling doesn’t come from jealousy or competition. It’s a need to feel like I’m doing something with my life and contributing to society, like the rest of my amazing peers do. I disappoint myself sometimes.
It’s around 10PM on a Thursday. Today was a good day! My job hunt had just ended with an amazing role I couldn’t wait to begin and I was ending the day reading some articles, watching an online content marketing lecture, and petting my dog. After finishing my lecture, I take a quick break before I move on to take the quiz.
I start scrolling through Facebook. I sip my amber rooibos tea as my friends’ status updates flash by. Like, scrollscrollscroll, like, scrollscrollscroll.
Oh, my friend just got back from traveling to Europe. That’s nice!
I switch to LinkedIn. Scrollscrollscroll, right-click “open in new tab” (I’ll save this article to read for later), scrollscrollscroll. Oh wow, their writing’s just been featured on Forbes! Good for them!
Now, I’m reading the article I just opened in a new tab. It’s a piece on how creating a newsletter could be another way to build your personal brand. I mean, I don’t think I’m established enough to have my own personal newsletter, but it doesn’t hurt to learn for future purposes! I get to the end and, out of curiosity (my cursed curiosity!) I peek at who the author is. A few clicks later, I’m on her Twitter, LinkedIn, then Facebook.
She hasn’t even graduated from college yet and she’s already writing for 3 major news publications, doing freelance work, and, apparently, has her own newsletter.
My heart sank. I shouldn’t feel terrible over the success of this random girl I don’t know, or of my friends’ successes, but I did. And it wasn’t because I was jealous. My romantic partners and friends can attest to the fact that I am incapable of feeling jealousy — it’s just not in my system. No, I felt terrible for a different reason.
I felt terrible because I’m not doing enough with my life. I felt like I was falling behind.
The most immediate reaction from, mostly older, people is, “You’re only 22! You have plenty of time.” However, I have a feeling that a lot of my 20-something friends know exactly what I’m talking about, and totally understand what I mean when I say I feel like I don’t have plenty of time.
It’s hard to feel like I’m a useful and contributing member to society when it appears as if my peers are constantly doing more — more for their communities, more for their careers, more for themselves.
Now, this starts leading down a dark spiral of thoughts. I should’ve tried harder at work. I should’ve tried harder on this personal project. I should’ve tried harder in school. My mind races as I try to pinpoint the exact time at which I could’ve changed something on my timeline. Maybe if I thought hard enough about where I fucked up in the past, I’d feel better about myself in the present.
It’s a coping mechanism I’ve trained myself to do since I started my undergraduate career at UC Berkeley. It comes from growing up in an underprivileged community then suddenly being thrust into an incredibly privileged school such as Cal.
I grew up on the East Side of San Jose (ESSJ or the East Side as we call it). I specifically went to a high school called Mt. Pleasant. It’s a school with a College Readiness Index of 28.9 (highest value is 100). Needless to say, I was not ready for college at all.
When I applied to UC Berkeley and got in, the only impression I had of it was the average GPA and SAT score from a little college pamphlet. I had no idea what it was, otherwise. We didn’t have teachers or counselors who cared enough to really talk about colleges since half of the students would just go to work after graduating.
All I knew was it was the best school I got into, it gave me the most financial aid, and that was good enough for me to SIR. Oh, boy.
Everyone says nothing can prepare you for college. But seriously. I was not prepared for Berkeley. At Mt. Pleasant, I took cute color-coded notes in class, asked a lot of questions in class, did the review worksheets and consistently received A’s in all of my classes. (Minus Physics. I hate you Physics.)
At Cal — that wasn’t enough. My hard work wasn’t enough. I expected to receive a few B’s because that’s what all of my peers (even the super smart and privileged ones) said, but when I saw those B’s start sliding into B-’s, and then C’s, I got terrified. I started pass/no-passing courses just to avoid seeing a big fat “C” on my transcript. This whole experience at Berkeley merits its own essay, to be honest, but I’ll just leave it here for now. Somehow, I got through with a 3.6 GPA from Haas, the 2nd best undergraduate business school in the US, and from Berkeley, the number one public university in the world.
Some days, when I think about it, I still don’t believe it. I go down with a hard case of imposter syndrome.
But every time I accomplish something, like graduating from college or getting an awesome job, a seed of doubt always plants itself in my mind.
“I mean. Good job. I guess,” it whispers, “But you know you’re still shit, right?”
And this happens whenever I come across a person who seems to be further ahead in life than me. With social media comes great amounts of comparison and self-doubt. Everywhere I look it feels like there’s a new 20-something successful entrepreneur, artist, or writer. All the while, they seem to still be able to juggle traveling, having a social life, and doing multiple projects on top of their day job. I get dizzy just thinking about how amazing my peers are and how lacking I am compared to them.
The self-doubt will never go away, not completely. In a way, it’s one of the things pushing me forward, challenging myself to see how much more I can learn and contribute. It’s not a competition, I’m not trying to be better than anyone. I just want to be as good as the amazing people around me, to deserve to be around them. It’s a pretty awkward space between humility and pride.
It’s not a healthy mindset, not by far. And that’s why I’ve dedicated a lot of mental and emotional space my first year out of college and in the real world to practicing some self-care tips. I’d like to share them with my fellow millennials-who-always-feel-behind.
1. Tell yourself this everyday: you are awesome, amazing, and special. You are already contributing to the world and in the future, you will only do better.
Call me a sap, but I seriously do this everyday. If you don’t, well here I am on the other side of cyberspace saying it to you. You deserve to know your worth. And not just your worth in the future, but your worth today.
You are important today. You deserve to celebrate that.
We tend to focus on this amazing person we’re going to be next year, in 5 years, after we retire. Try shifting your perspective to just finding content in yourself as you are today, and happiness will be a bit easier to obtain.
2. Take a break from constantly trying to challenge yourself, and do something that you’re already good at and calms you.
This is tough for those of us who constantly feel “like we should be doing something” — sound familiar? Don’t feel guilty about taking some time to yourself. You don’t always have to be reading industry news, learning a new skill, or networking. Those are all super fun things to do for you nerdy ones out there (including me), but when done in excess, it can be very weary.
Chill, draw, go for a walk. Color in a coloring book, give your parents a call, cuddle with your pet. Vent to your best friend, grab a coffee with an old friend, take a selfie. Actually, take lots of selfies and take special time to edit them and release a little bit of creative energy. Trust me. It’s fun.
3. Surround yourself with positive people who will love you no matter if you’re at your lowest or highest point.
I had a friend in college who once told me that she liked to be friends with people who were “better” than her in some way. It was partly a networking tactic, but surrounding yourself with powerful people who might be huge influencers one day, and partly a motivation tool. Because she was surrounded by people who were constantly better than her, she felt motivated to improve herself. I feel this on some level, but to go as far as to refuse to be friends with anyone not deemed “better” was really toxic to her relationships as well as her self-esteem and mental health.
You not only need a good balance of friends, but I advocate at least one friend who will wholeheartedly love you no matter what. Someone who you can call and say you were laid off and totaled your car and she won’t skip a beat in saying “Linh, if anyone can get through this, it’s you! You’re amazing!” without even pausing to consider that it was a challenge to someone as awesome as you, even if you don’t feel like it. (Shout out to my BFF!) A friend who can love you for you and not judge your character or worth based on your accomplishments is a true friend. When it’s too hard to encourage yourself, it really helps to have a friend you can lean on.
Even with these self-care tips, there are days where I still struggle with my confidence. Just know that you’re not alone in feeling this way. Talking and writing about it helps. I hope that reading about it helps too.