You know the Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime?” I’ve been thinking a lot about the lyrics for pretty much the entire last year, because I often ask myself, “well how did I get here?” And logically, like stepwise, I know exactly how I got here. But when I zoom out, I am still stunned, and a little confused, at where I am. A little over six years ago, I was a single grad student who was a year from turning 30, cobbling together an income so I could live in a rowhouse in Columbia Heights with 3 other people, trying to date and find my person among a lot of self-important consultants and Hill staffers, and figuring out what exactly I wanted to do next. Would I stay in DC? Would I work for a big company? A nonprofit? Would I settle down with someone? Become the cool aunt? Should I meet friends for drinks or actually work out after my 8pm class ends?
Fast forward to now, and my life looks very different. I’m a married homeowner, I’m a freelancer for a large PR agency (formerly a Director, but…COVID made me re-evaluate a few things), and I HAVE A CHILD. I’m not going to pick up and move, I’m with my person for the long-haul, clearly I already committed to the kid thing, and if something starts after 8pm, there’s no way I’m going. Those big questions I ask myself are fewer and farther between. But once again, I am trying to figure out what I really, truly want to do for a living, how I want to spend my time and energy outside of my family.
So while I barely know how I got here, I also don’t know where I’m going.
But here’s the thing – as much as I want to feel like I have a unique perspective, I know that this feeling, this sudden rocketing forward into adulthood and then standing still, bewildered about how you got here and what comes next is really common. Many millennials spent most of our 20s trying to make the best of a bad situation, taking the jobs we could get in a not-so-great economy and trying to find love (or whatever) on dating apps. We worked hard, paid our dues (and the minimum payments on our student loans and credit cards), and laughed when anyone we knew talked seriously about buying a house. All while hearing how much society hated us and how self-involved we were in pretty much every major media outlet. People talk about millennials and our delayed adolescence, our earnestness, and our eternal quest for comfort and coziness, but we also have lived through our share of not-so-great historical events (and now two recessions, cool), so can you blame us?
That’s all we see and hear about, though. The flaws of millennials and how we can’t just grow up – even though there are a lot of us who are very grown up (some of us are almost 40!). We don’t hear about or see in popular culture the millennials who struggled hard in our 20s, and remember it keenly, but suddenly (at least it feels sudden to me) find themselves thrust forward into what looks like legit adulthood, all the while panicking that they are about to be found out. The ones, like me, thinking, “wait wait wait, what is this place? Do I belong here? Where did my entry-level job, my crappy apartment, and my questionable dating choices go? Is this my real life?” The ones who are incredibly fortunate and happy with where they ended up, but still feel a little lost.
I’ve struggled to find a perspective like my own, in what I read and watch – I don’t identify with the messy 20-something love stories involving either angsty artists or people about to make partner at a law firm at 25 (how? in what universe?) or the GenX 40-somethings going through mid-life crises. Where are the 35-year-olds who seemingly have their shit together, but are internally screaming because time is moving so fast and they want to make a decent living so they can pay down student loan debt but are also inundated with “follow your passion!” messages on a daily basis? Or if they do appear, why are they so often the annoying side characters, who are written to contrast the main character whose life looks a little messier from the outside? Where are the main characters who have finally passed the “just getting by” phase of their lives, who then start having existential crises about it? Look, this isn’t me starting a crusade to see representation of the millennials who made it after having a weird time in their 20s. I get that that might not always make for riveting story lines. But sometimes, I just wish I would see someone like me, who was the messy friend a few years before but now finds herself blinking in disbelief at the life she finds herself in now, the life with fewer material struggles than in her 20s, and more nebulous ones. I just wouldn’t hate having a guide is all I’m saying.
Like I said, I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know how I became a fairly successful corporate person with a happy, stable marriage, a child, a mortgage, and a financial planner today. It feels like I went in fast forward, like I got on a speeding train without knowing its destination. And then when I got off, no one would tell me how long we’d been traveling or where we’d landed. I like it here, but also…how did I pick this line, and when did I buy a ticket? This metaphor is getting pretty strained, but… I think you get it. How did I get here? How did any of us?