Narcissistic, Lazy, Depressed Millennials (and me)

This started as a comment on this Hacker News article. It got longer than I expected and I decided it made more sense to put it here.

I’m 27 and have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life. My therapist could paint a similar picture of me — hell, I’m pretty sure I’ve expressed a fear of adulthood in almost the exact terms described by the poor wreck in the article. I certainly struggle with taking care of myself, my environment, and my relationships a lot of the time. And yet mine were not helicopter parents, in any sense of the phrase. I can’t say I know anyone whose parents were like that, actually.

I barely made it out of high school with a diploma for a lot of reasons, most of them my fault. I didn’t really have the money or the work ethic to go to college, so I just started working. I got fired from my first few jobs, mostly my fault. I was lucky enough to have been doing Ruby development for a while before Rails got popular, and I was able to get hired at a tiny company that wanted someone who knew Rails and would work for a bargain rate, credentials and experience be damned. It turned out to be a low-stakes but high-responsibility job and over the years I got the flakiness beat out of me.

I’ve been steadily employed for 7 years now, I’m well paid, and I’ve stayed out of debt other than a mortgage. I still have a lot of problems, but by most measures I’m doing pretty damn well. But I am painfully aware that what separates me from my brilliant, hard-working friends of the same age who are struggling — to get by, to find a place in society, to put their skills to use — is that I had the right interests and the right opportunities at the right time. And there are far too many people my age who have stories like my friends, and not nearly enough who have had the chance to have stories like me.

It doesn’t do any good to make this a generational conflict, but power does rest in the hands of the older generations now. The legacy of the Great Recession is going to be an indelible mark on people my age, but there is still a chance to make that mark a badge of triumph over adversity rather than a stigma of failure. The generation that came of age in the Great Depression and fought the Second World War is honored today for its pluck and constitution, but it wasn’t a path they walked alone. They had the help, wisdom, and generosity of their elders, including men like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. An entire nation was mobilized, young and old, to overcome that adversity.

We would do well to learn from their example.