Depression is on the rise among millennials. YouGov called us the “loneliest generation”. Money stress is rampant. Longer work hours and stagnant wages are leading to higher rates of burnout. We’re facing the second once-in-a-lifetime downturn at a crucial time.
Many of us are now approaching their 30s. It’s a huge milestone. And it feels as though we’re on a strict timeline. Almost every 30-year old I’ve talked to seems to be having a crisis. We don’t know what we want. We’re not happy. And sometimes, we feel like a failure.
Let’s go back to our early 20s for a moment. Do you remember your commencement speech? Commencement speakers love to tell you that you should “follow your passion” no matter what and that you should “embrace failure” to push forward. Let’s leave aside the fact that many of them are boomers who faced a completely different economic environment. Or the bullshitty conventions and platitudes of the genre. Or that survivorship bias is real. The problem is that “embracing failure” is not really a choice. Failures happen. What we need are new ways to reflect upon them that are not so facile.
Gravity Problems and Reframing
In Designing Your Life, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans suggest that we should distinguish fixable problems and gravity problems.
“I’ve got this big problem and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Oh, wow, Jane, what’s the problem?”
“Yeah—it’s making me crazy! I’m feeling heavier and heavier. I can’t get my bike up hills easily. It never leaves me. I don’t know what to do about it. Can you help me?”
Sometimes, we’re just trying to solve the wrong problem. There are situations and circumstances that you can’t really trick or bend to your will. Making a living as a writer or pursuing an academic career in the humanities won’t become easy overnight. If you want to become a doctor but you don’t want to invest ten years at this stage of your life, you can’t really do anything about it.
So, should you just give up?
No. The key here is reframing.
You may remind yourself that you’ll start taking care of patients as an intern well before 10 years. Or that non-academic employment shouldn’t feel like a failure.
Reframing is a great strategy for your past failures as well. Every time you fail, you learn something, and this means that you will be able to make better decisions in the future.
Failure = Motivation
The fear of being a failure can be motivating. It is not necessarily a bad thing that you feel like you’re running out of time. While the opposite is true, it may just be the sign of strong motivation. This is one of the main traits of highly successful people. Use your inner motivation to propel yourself.
Failures Are Stepping Stones
Clinical psychologist Meg Jay encourages us to make the most out of our 20s. And how do you make the most of them? By trying stuff. Even if nothing really worked out as planned, trying and failing is essential for self-development. The failings of your 20s are the stepping stones that led you to where you need to be by 30.
The Art of Failure
Fantastic art has been made about failure. Being a chaotic mess is the defining trope of the past decade in TV shows and novels. Your mistakes give you something to say to the world, something to express through your art. Maybe you should try creatively expressing yourself through drawing meditation, photography, or poetry.
Let’s put these points into action. What’s something you’re glad you failed at during your 20s? Think about it and let us know. If you feel like a failure at 30, don’t beat yourself down, but build upon the lessons learned.