Ex nihilo nihil fit: Nothing comes from nothing.
Millennials are a lot of things. We're described as digital natives, ruthless optimists, multi-job hustlers at home in the gig economy. We are the largest generation, and the most educated (in more and more cases, over-educated). We've been striving to change the world for at least a decade now, having pioneered perhaps the first hashtag campaign: Kony 2012.
We are also gluttons for punishment, bordering on outright masochism. Everyone hates us. Boomers think we're lazy and vain; Zoomers think we're lame nerds, what with our skinny jeans and side bangs and Harry Potter Blu-Ray collection. We are the lowest-paid generation in the workforce. We don't have careers. Good luck finding any of us who has worked at one singular company for 10+ years. We overwhelmingly work temporary, part-time, or contractual jobs. We tend to not have health insurance because of this, which means we will die faster and younger than previous generations. We brag about not sleeping and not taking breaks, just so we can put in more unpaid overtime. We rarely take vacations or days off -- after all, time off is better spent learning a new skill, updating your resume, working your weekend job, or, of course, rebranding. There is no 'time off,' when you are a millennial, and with the advent of pandemic-era remote working, we are never truly 'off.' Work follows us on our smartphones while we eat dinner, while we brush our teeth, while we're laying in bed. Self-care is relegated to a face mask or a bath bomb. There's no time for anything else. Not only are we the burnout generation, we're also the loneliest generation, with 30% of millennials reporting that they feel lonely or undersocialized.
Millennials don't have hobbies, they have hustles. Why make art or music for fun when you can turn it into a side business? Why do yoga or use a bullet journal without posting about it -- to generate content? Everything is content. Everything is marketable. Everything is a hustle. And all this hustling with little to show for it. A staggering number of Millennials live at home. We largely don't own property. (And those of us that do, regret it.) We can't afford to have kids, so we have plants and pets. We can't afford to have cars, so we take Ubers or public transportation. We are the hardest-working generation in history, and the least rewarded. Salaries don't increase commiserate with our skills. Our fancy degrees that put us in trillions of dollars of debt were a waste of money and we'd be better off without them. So we learned to become "zero-waste," "sustainable" and "minimalist," living out of a backpack, borrowing, renting, carpooling. Living with less has become a necessary staple of the millennial brand—after all, when you can't afford a house, car, kids, or fun trips to Paris and London, it becomes mighty convenient to call yourself an environmentalist and become suddenly interested in tiny houses (who wants a mortgage? not me!), living out of a van (it just seems so bohemian and nomadic, right?), riding a bike (it's better for the planet!), avoiding flying (um, the carbon footprint is unacceptable, nobody needs to fly) and not having kids (can't you see we have an overpopulation problem?).
But Millennials care. They care so much. They're forward-thinking, "idealistic pragmatists," remember? Not only do they have to save the world, they have to map out all the steps it's going to take to get there. Activism never sleeps. For many, activism has become yet another part-time job, a hustle, an avenue for content. Social media isn't about fun or connecting with friends, it's about promoting causes, raising money, and branding. Branding, branding, branding.
The logical conclusion of this, and one that I have observed as someone born in the 1900s, is that nihilism rates are skyrocketing. More and more millennials, the most prized workhorses in history, are simply dropping out of big cities, getting off the hamster wheel (see: the Great Resignation), and dropping out of society, going to live simply in a cheaper state or even a developing country. These days, I get little engagement from millennials on social causes (that privilege now rests firmly on the shoulders of Gen Z). Nobody wants to talk about saving the world anymore, it's all so exhausting, nothing ever changes, we didn't save anything, things keep getting objectively worse, and we're just star stuff on the dying embers of a dying planet. Why hustle? Why optimize? By the time you make enough money to buy a house, you'll be priced out of the market. Inflation will ensure that you'll never live independently. So why try? These are the sentiments I'm hearing more and more, and something tells me I'll continue to hear them as millennials get deeper into their 30s and firmly into middle-age, and closer and closer to their collective wit's end.
Millennials are nostalgic for a world that no longer exists, and will never exist again. This is the apex of the ressentiment -- the 'enemy' here, of course, being society, or capitalism, or inflation, or boomers, or whatever -- this is the existential horror of our age, the perpetual frustration, the nagging unfulfillment that millennials are facing: staring down the rest of our lives with little--or nothing-- to look forward to. No house, no kids, no savings, no health insurance, not even a career-- the career you incurred massive debt for, the career that you're working yourself to death for, the career you're losing sleep over, the career you chose over yourself-- nope! You can't even have that. You've been sentenced to the eternal torment; the eternal hustle.
Millennials are living through the biggest rug pull in recent history, and the bubble will burst soon. It is only a matter of time.