I sat down at my desk, mug of steaming industrial-grade coffee placed by my keyboard. It’s 8:45am on yet another beautiful Tuesday morning. Too bad I’m numbed by the arctic breeze gushing from my office vents and can only imagine how nice that warm sun must feel. Yawning, I open up the payroll reconciliation spreadsheet for probably the millionth time; the numbers don’t balance, so the file didn’t import properly, which means that I have to start the reconciliation process all over again. Ugh. Forcing my eyes open and taking a sip of my chemically sweeten cup of joe, I click aggressively around my computer screen and try not to hate everything. Then an email pops up from the HR lady: Happy One Year Work Anniversary! I laugh. How…. appropriate.
So, I might be going through a mid-life crisis. Or, whatever the twenty-three year old equivalent is. Quarter life crisis, if that’s actually a thing.
In a lot of respects, I shouldn’t be complaining. I have a full time job. I don’t despise it, and it pays well considering my previous “real” job experience was selling overpriced clothing and teaching two days a week to undisciplined French children. I am gaining practical skills that might make me a desirable employee, and I even have a window for my daily dose of Vitamin D. Yet I can’t help but think, shouldn’t I be gallivanting around the globe? Researching the effects of global warming on emperor penguins in Antarctica? Empowering women in Sub-Sahara Africa through microfinance programs? Sometimes I have silent panic attacks, wondering, am I wasting my youth on pivot tables and a steady paycheck?
I remember being thrilled at having a “grown up job.” Getting that first paycheck after 6 months of part-time retail work was like winning the lottery. I moved out of my parents’ house in the suburbs and into the big city. I made new friends, hosted awesome parties, even got a boyfriend. Being an adult was fun! At about 6 months in, however, my enthusiasm began to dissipate. I used to wake up energized, occasionally sleep-deprived from that happy hour that got a little too happy. But now, as I groggily dragged myself to the bus stop, I truly embodied “Thank God It’s Friday.” It broke my heart to realize, as an adult, I had to go to work—mind-numbing, cubically-enclosed work—every single day, with no end in sight. When that truth hit me, I cried, glass of cheap Sauvingon Blanc in hand.
Later, tipsy to the point of ingenuity, I had a reaffirming thought: that I’m not alone. We “Millennials” are tasked with the impossible: having the perfect life, or more importantly, the illusion of one. Employment factors into this mission, which can be illustrated by a Venn Diagram: In one circle, we need to get a job so we can face the nagging truth that our parents and their home-cooked meals and freshly laundered sheets won’t be around forever. In the other circle, we need to travel, to be spontaneous, to move halfway around the world and just “figure it out,” as our peers’ perfectly curated Instagram feeds urge us. Where these two circles overlap is a sliver of hope: there resides the dream job that provides financial stability without compromising youthful ideals. Yet realistically, I thought as I took another sip of consolation, that’s about one millionth of all the jobs in the world and I’d be foolish to expect that to come my way within five years of my college graduation.
But it’s frustrating to feel like I’m not doing the “youth” thing right. When friends come back from their global adventures, I can’t help but feel a depressed jealousy when our conversation turns to the elephants that they saved or the languages that they acquired. My college-self would shake her head in disapproval: “But I thought you wanted to live abroad forever, shaking up power structures and kissing foreign men. Now your sense of adventure is taking a new bus route home from work. I hate to say it, but you have become boring.”
Boring. The most despised six letters in the English language to the Millennial generation. Boring is settling down in the suburbs, having massive debt in the name of home ownership, and watching PBS documentaries on the private lives of plants.
Yet when I look at my life, I’m decidedly not bored. Ok, I admit that it would be nice if my job responsibilities required a semblance of creative thinking. But between my Spanish class, my leather craftsman dreams and the discerning appetite of my boyfriend, I am facing a whole new set of challenges.
Just because I no longer fulfill the self-imposed prerequisites for the “Perfect Life” award doesn’t mean I’m out of the running. In fact, , I am actually quite happy with my “safe” life. I am more fulfilled at my boring desk job in my hometown than I was in the south of France with a patronizing landlord, a job I dreaded, and moody French friends. Even if my current situation doesn’t fit into “My Perfect and Happy Life: The Guide to Being Everything I Expected Myself To Be At Age 23,” it’s okay.
I thought I had to go across an ocean and find myself in crazy situations to take full advantage of my youth. But my life now is just as meaningful, if I embrace it as such. The adventures and the emperor penguins and the microfinance programs will come, when it is their time. But for now, I really need to make a call about that file import error, if you’ll excuse me.
Meghan wrote this piece for Flux, a forum for those of us encountering adulthood. She is a young professional in the Corporate Social Responsibility industry, where she envisions cultivating a wildly successful career, only if she can figure out how. Her hobbies include making it up as she goes along, painting watercolors of lemons, and battling her anxious mind on the yoga mat. She hopes someday to open a leather crafts workshop and to somehow use her International Relations & Gender Studies degree, as to satisfy her rapacious appetite for handmade bags and global women’s rights.