Since the day that I was finally legally allowed to work as a teenager, I have always felt older than I actually was. It is usually just a year or two, but recently I have found myself comparing my life to the lives of friends in their late thirties when I’m only in my mid-twenties. I used to think that this was just me being mature and planning ahead, but recently I’ve noticed that this mindset is causing me to miss my youth.
When I was a teenager, I wanted to work as much as possible to get ahead and have work experience already on my resume and save up for the kind of lifestyle I was hoping to have in college. Then throughout my years in university, I worked a full-time 9-to-5 office job to be “successful” and start climbing the ladder earlier. What this meant is that my friends worked jobs with flexible schedules that allowed them to still enjoy nights out, concerts, days to visit family and friends in other towns, and coworkers that were in the same stage of life as they were, I was “grinding” away with people decades older than me.
Now, after finishing my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, I find myself hurrying to settle down, buy a house; I find myself worrying about finding the right person and what to do about retirement. I know that many people are finding them stuck in the same loop. Of course, there are some things that are smart to plan for. Still, there is a difference between planning and letting them control your daily life, especially when they are potentially years, if not decades, away in the future.
I keep finding myself living the life of someone years older than me when I should be enjoying my youth. I want to enjoy being in my twenties, unmarried, and not responsible for anyone other than myself. However, I am instead focusing on possibilities, the what-ifs, of my future. The constant “grind” culture that we have created tells us that we are nothing if we are not constantly working, that we will get nowhere in life, has made me lose my adolescence and my early twenties. I’m putting my foot down. This pressure to “hustle” will not take away my mid-twenties and thirties as well.
I love my job; I am so lucky to be doing what I do right now, and especially with the people that I work with. I have never been a part of such an inspiring and caring team over the last ten years that I have been working. However, I do not want my life to be my job. I want to continue to learn about myself, my passions (without monetizing them!), find slow moments in life, and appreciate being who I am in that exact time of my life.
There are so many events, both big and small, that I no longer remember from just a few years ago because my mind was focused on the future. What will I be doing? What can I do today to be more successful tomorrow? What will my life look like then? Where should I be in 5, 10, 25 years? But this thought process never stops; once I reach those goals, I just keep thinking about the next step rather than appreciating the beauty of that day.
So how do we break away from the hustle culture without feeling like the “lazy millennials” society keeps claiming we are?
This short, beautiful life is passing us by as we keep burning out by always doing three things at once and keeping one foot in the future at all times. I’m starting my transition to a more now-focused lifestyle by practicing mindfulness and doing things just for me. Practicing art and writing that won’t be seen by anyone else’s eyes. They won’t be used as part of my “grind,” they won’t be shared with social media, they’ll be practices that are just for me to feel present and in tune with my own thoughts right then.
Studies have also shown that thinking of yourself as younger also has an actual effect on your brain chemistry. If you’re in your forties but feel and act like you are thirty, your brain actually responds as if it was younger as measured by gray matter volume and predicted neurobiological age. This obviously has its limitations, but reminding yourself of who you are today, and reflecting on this, will help prevent your brain from thinking it’s older than it actually is and therefore keeping you grounded and allow you to live the lifestyle you want at that age (instead of someone a decade older).
Social media has a way of driving us towards this need to always be doing. I see friends posting about their houses, small businesses, countless academic degrees, children, and other successes. And when it’s just you against hundreds of your friends that are only posting their wins, it seems that everyone is doing so much more when it’s different people posting each day, and they’re only showing a very small part of the story. By reducing the amount of time you spend on social media, only following people that you are truly close with, or mindfully engaging with content that keeps you aware of how much of it is a facade, you are less likely going to experience feelings of inadequacy and pressure.
All of this is easier to say than do. However, I truly think that understanding that as millennials, we have a tendency to overwork ourselves, focus on the future rather than living, and set impossible standards for our lives, we can begin to recognize when we are living through a mode to the future rather than the actual day that we are in. We can take back our youth and learn to enjoy what it feels like to be alive today rather than years from now.
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Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash