The Art of Failure as a Millennial

Our view of what success is, and isn’t, must change

Photo: Unsplash @davealmine

Two years ago, I was finishing up my last semester of college. Sleepless nights and online assignments defined the summer. It was all building up to August 6, the day of graduation. I walk across the stage with a diploma cover in hand and victory in mind.

It was finished! No more tests, essays, and used textbooks. No more looking for the right professor or avoiding 8:00 am classes. I was now an adult with an English degree and the world before me. I should be able to thrive as a college graduate, right?

Not exactly.

I’m A Failure

My bachelors degree stands behind a glass display at my parents house, where I currently reside. I often wonder where I went wrong. What mistakes did I make that I could have avoided? What job offer should I have followed up on? What girl could I have talked to more that would potentially be my life partner?

So many frustrations. I see the past as my only reality, but it’s not coming back. That girl won’t text me. That job won’t consider me for future positions. I’m still stuck in my old bedroom, the same one I swore I would never return to.


What happens to a dream deferred? — Langston Hughes

As an artist, I am never completely satisfied. The stages, the fan bases, the pride that comes from defying expectations. How often does that come? More importantly, how often does it stay?

I binge watch interviews, live performances, and behind the scenes of my favorite artists. I listen to podcasts and read blog posts. I look to these people as inspirations to achieve my dreams. But the possibility of said dreams getting deferred always seems to get in the way of me actually pursuing them.

I wear many different creative hats. I refer to myself as a “creative handyman.” Whether it’s graphic design, writing, or music, I have my hands in nearly all aspects of art. I enjoy creating different types of art. Although my platform is not huge, I still enjoy putting my dreams on papers and screens.

Over the last two years, I’ve seen the highs and lows of being a creative. I’ve failed more than I succeeded and the millennial in me feels entitled to want more than I have. I did the work, so I deserve compensation. Yet all that will be left of me is a legacy and dreams both fulfilled and neglected. What good are these temporal things if they can’t all fit in a coffin?

So What Now?

You probably don’t have a car. You’ve jumped from job to job, still living check to check. You’re still single and it seems like dating apps and mutual friendships aren’t helping. Hell, your degree is still waiting for you to do something with it.

All these high expectations set by the generation before us, yet it’s getting harder to actually own something. Remainders of student loan payments constantly appear before our eyes. Updates of engagements, marriages, and new jobs fill our timelines. We’re so used to comparisons that we become accustomed to failure. We expect it every time we open our phones and we’re not living our best lives on Instagram. We internalize it with every ignored job application, failed relationship, and any setback you can think of.

The peculiar beauty of failure is that no one sees it but us. Unless we broadcast it on social media. Or complain about it in a blog post. Failure is a part of the human experience. People aren’t born successful; they become it. Failure shouldn’t be seen as the opposite of success, but the path to it.

Don’t assume that failure is a sign that you’re living life wrong. If anything, it’s a sign that you’re still living and becoming the person you were meant to be. Failure is a complicated painting, but still beautiful nonetheless.

Failed Millennial Life features thoughts from millennial minds on what real success is and how their failures have shaped or guided them. Share your story.