My University is home to some of the most fascinating young adults in the world. There’s the former Broadway star who lived in my dorm last year, the freshman who competed in the Jeopardy! College Championship, and the one whose mom invented my favorite childhood breakfast cereal.
But I wouldn’t know.
Instead, my eyes are glued to the pages of my textbooks, the graphic design software on my laptop, the internship listings on LinkedIn and the inside of my eyelids during a rare full night of sleep. Rather than fixating my eyes on any fascinating individuals sitting across from me, I am engulfed in myself.
From blaming helicopter parents to defending current college students, articles flood the Internet commenting on Generation Y's, or Millennials’, selfishness. But the issue transcends entitlement; my generation is guilty of more than just thinking we’re the center of the universe.
We are hyper-aware, analyzing every aspect of our lives. Anxiety manifests itself in job applications, final exams, social schedules, extracurricular activities, bills, bank accounts, travel plans, conversations, social media likes, anything and everything – leaving no room for no worries. We transitioned from parents who micromanaged us to micromanaging ourselves – and ideally, others.
Ruminating over schedules is regular. Saying, “I can’t, I have to do something” is standard. Thoughts regarding every minute of our daily schedule fall on top of each other like dominoes: What will my future hold? What will my parents say? What will ever be good enough?
Overheard in our student center’s coffee shop: “I don't know why I'm stressing about this, I don't stress.” While diagnosing the entire 18-24 year old population with Generalized Anxiety Disorder may help Pfizer out, it won’t help anyone else. Point to social media or parenting styles, if you so please, but that accomplishes nothing.
A lack of commitment, a tendency to be selfish and a disregard for the “big picture” are embedded in our inability to sit and share a moment with someone. I, myself, am guilty of setting aside quality time with a friend, and instead, combing through my mental notepad of what needs to be done that day. With interpersonal communication listed as the first skill on our LinkedIn profiles, when was the last time we “interpersonally communicated” without thinking of what work we should be doing instead?
My parents reminisce of a time when “FOMO” didn’t exist, when anxiety disorders were rare and when you had to attend a coffee date because you couldn’t just text someone, “hi sorry something came up.”
So, what’s the solution? When you find it, let me know. But until then, I say that we take a step forward. Imagine yourself in one year. Five years. Twenty years. What will you be smiling about?
Sure, we have long-term happiness on the line in both cases: work vs. play. I’m not saying forego a night in the library for drinks downtown or put a job application aside for a party, but re-prioritize. Friendships should not be fit into your Google calendar, and relationships aren’t meant to be relinquished for resume boosters. Find time – make time – to be there for a friend in need, have an intelligent discussion, check in to see how someone’s doing or even just laugh over something stupid at 2 a.m.
College gives us proximity: never again in our lives are we going to be so close to people to whom we are so similar, and others we are so different from. Never again will we be surrounded by so many people we are meant to connect with. How will we learn about the people who share our space if we’re so enveloped in ourselves? We’re caught up in the chaos of being fit, educated and successful. This millennial haze is narrowing our scope, obscuring the potential connections we have all around us. It’s nearly impossible to have a lifelong best friend, a partner or a relationship when we’re so concentrated on competing with each other to reach some unattainable ideal. Life is swirling past us and it's not meant to be enjoyed alone. So if not now, when?
After a stressful summer spent solo in a big city, I intended to use my first quarter of sophomore year to reunite with those I’d missed. Instead, I received text after text asking to reschedule. It felt as if I were an inconvenience to anyone who didn’t live across the hall from me, and I went the entire quarter without seeing some friends at all. It was hard not to take these cancellations personally, as I wondered where on my friends’ lists of priorities I fell.
This was all put into perspective when I walked to the gym one day and saw my friend crying right outside. I stopped to console her, listen to her academic woes and offer her some advice for moving forward. Who wouldn’t, right? As we finished talking, she said to me, “I’m really surprised you stopped. Most of my friends would’ve just gone inside to work out.”
Is this what we expect from each other? Inconsistency, inconsideration, indifference? I’m no role model, but it wasn’t a conscious decision to prioritize a friend in need over a workout – it’s just what you do.
Be there for people – from lows like crying outside the gym to the highs of celebrating job offers, straight A’s or just “really good” days. You don’t know what someone else is going through; you have no idea how much a smile, a hug, an awkward stop-and-talk or a set-in-stone date to catch up, could mean to them.
When you are lucky enough to indulge in those moments, the late night laughs and deep conversations over cups of coffee, truly enjoy them. Put down your phone, let go of your to-do list and listen. Focus just like you would on an exam or essay. Get out of your head and listen to what’s going on in someone else’s.
Before you cut it short – for a meeting, or homework, or the “so much” you have to do – take five more minutes. Those five extra minutes could uncover a common love for pineapple pizza, or the fact that your parents went to high school together, or even a magnetic spark that goes beyond friendship. Five minutes each day adds up to 146,000 extra minutes in the average lifetime of 80 years. That’s about 100 days.
Think forward to sixty years from now: don’t you think you’ll want just one hundred days more? Because if not now, when?
For more on the millennial balancing act, watch this TED Talk by Dr. Meg Jay: