As I first sat down to write this, I struggled to compose something that is relatable to many yet personal enough to make you feel something. I am writing this to tell you why you’re going to okay. If you’re anything like me, you might find yourself unable to fall asleep some nights because you are questioning your choices, your standards, and anything else that causes uncertainty. In a world that’s constantly feeding me information that “only someone who grew up in Long Island can understand”, I experience feelings of emptiness and disengagement from the world around me. I long to know if there is anything universal that will connect me to my generation as I get older, or if the boxes that we checked to identify ourselves on standardized tests growing up will only get more complicated, more specific, and more divisive.
I could try to tell you that the young adult experience is cemented by commonalities such as these – the friends who will order Pad Thai with you at 2 AM, the feeling you get from staying up all night talking with your roommate instead of cramming for your exam or presentation the next morning (one we all secretly relish), the moment you realize your college experience is defined more by what happens outside the classroom rather than within it.
But you know those things already. You know how important the balance is between academic and professional pursuits, and seeking friendship and love. You know that already because you’ve spent these years trying to acquire that delicate balance. You know that late night chicken tenders are always worth it and that Molly is dangerous but you secretly want to try it and not to berate yourself over watching one more episode of Game of Thrones instead of getting an extra hour of sleep. So since you know those things, I want to tell us the story of something different. Let’s consider what unites our generation amidst narratives of division and difference, privilege and persecution.
We cannot ignore how often the labels of the groups we belong to ostracize those who don’t belong. We are described by our qualifications rather than our qualities. But when it comes down to it—as people who are young and still developing as human beings, people who are sharing what it means to be undefined—we are more alike than we realize.
What bonds our generation is more than being able to remember where we were when 9/11 happened or hearing that Bin Laden was killed. It’s more than the shared hell that is finals week or knowing what it means to be the people that grew up alongside Harry Potter. What connects us is the fighting spirit within ourselves, the inner essence that has kept us going. Our parents told us we could be anything we dreamt of – and now here we are trying to live up to that unintended pressure that we can’t settle for anything less than the best possible outcome.
In our lives we have all experienced great triumphs – falling in love, finding our passion, making a difference in someone else’s life, breaking a bad habit. But we have also felt hard defeats – failing classes, getting your heart broken, bombing a job interview, falling short of our own expectations. We are a generation that is self-aware and perceptive and careful. We are young and a little scared and know that if we mess up, it will probably end up on the Internet somewhere somehow in some form and that is hard to escape. But what sets us apart is that we never give up our fight. We’ve all felt the weight of our mistakes, be it in high school or in the beginning of college or even just last week. But these times of defeat have taught us lessons of resilience, innovation, creativity, and compassion. They have relayed a hope to us that we can always fight back, and if we don’t win, we can still come close. We don’t give up. We reframe the problem. We repair, reevaluate, and reinvent ourselves.
My young adult years and experiences teach me lessons I hope to hold on to as long as I live. Academics alone taught me not to fear what is difficult. Studying in other countries and visiting new places and spaces taught me to embrace the diversity of humankind. Investing my honesty and passions into both people who aren’t my age and friends who are has taught me to never underestimate a person’s capacity for forgiveness, and consequently, how effective that forgiveness can be. Instead of investing your time in people, it is important to invest yourself in people. There’s a difference between those two things and you should figure out what that means.
All you ordinary human beings out there—those who are my closest friends and those whom I have never met—know that you have taught somebody in the world, possibly me, to be bold and to be brave. Whether it be good humor in the midst of a cancer battle, standing up for yourself to your friends, parents, or employers, deciding to embrace your unconventionality, or engaging in a conversation that goes beyond the autopilot topics we can rely on – you have inspired someone. You have been the strength that kept other people going and likewise you have found your strength in others. You have fed their inner flame. As ambitious as we tend to be, I hope we never find ourselves lacking in empathy or encouragement. I once read somewhere that people hurt other people when they think they don’t matter. If you leave this chapter of your life knowing one thing, be it this – you matter.
In an age of cynicism, instability, hard truths, and an increasingly competitive culture, don’t discredit yourself. Stay humble, but realize your value. See people for who they really are. Listen to your inner voice, and if you can’t hear it, turn off your phone. Be honest with yourself about what you want and what makes you happy. Care for those people you love and those who are in need. As you go on, do not fear what is difficult.