The Anxious, College-Educated Millennials


A quick blog post before I head out and enjoy the beautiful weather...

I've noticed a trend recently. I don't have any evidence besides anecdotal evidence though, so I've been hesitant to share my thoughts. But yesterday was a tipping point.

Anyway to the thesis: 

Millennials are anxious as hell. I know, I know, everyone is anxious as hell. But there is a particular strand of college-educated, millennial anxiety that seems born from our shitty neoliberal, unequal society. 

This anxiety comes from an odd place. It's often about productivity. Productivity is the mandate of capitalism. So many millennials are constantly worried about output in every aspect of their lives. It's as if the model of the factory worker has seeped into every aspect of our lives. And productivity and hard work are the symbols of meritocracy that doesn't really exist.

The lie that these millennials seem to believe more fiercely than older patients is that America is a place of equal opportunity. They believe that everyone is on an equal playing field and that if they work hard enough, their finances and status will improve. That's a lie for a lot of reasons, which I don't want to get into here, but upward mobility has been pretty nonexistence in America for quite a long time. But there is an implicit belief among the younger generation that the more you achieve, the better you are. One's self-worth then is directly tied to what one does and not who one is. 

Many of these college-educated millennials have thoroughly internalized this message. They constantly compare themselves to their peers. They want so badly to move ahead and improve their status. Competition is how they live their lives. And when they do not succeed, they blame themselves. 

From my vantage point, this has created a crisis of anxiety. If college-educated millennials entire professional lives are competitions, that means they must be constantly on guard and always striving for more. They work long hours, they have side-hustles, they constantly try to learn new hard skills so they can improve their resumes. There is little rest, except maybe a yoga class, some drinks or an occasional vacation. 

Despite what most of them say, I don't actually believe most of them are that happy. Would you be if you were constantly thinking about getting ahead? 

I don't mean to generalize. There are plenty of college-educated millennials who have found other ways to live. But for most of us, neoliberalism has eaten at our souls, until most of us have become capitalist carbon copies in constant competition for money, status and validation. In fact, I've met people who I'm pretty sure have no idea who they are, whose identity is nothing but their external output. Ironically in my view, validation has nothing to do with this nonsense. 

This is where therapists, I believe, need to be radical and political. A therapist must be able to push back against unjust systems and discuss that in therapy. It is not enough for a therapist to help a patient adjust to a broken society. A therapist must push back against the broken society and the status quo. The problem, of course, is that most therapists are stuck in the neoliberal trap too. We're comfortable with our status and pay and do not want to threaten our stability, as we're just as anxious as the society around us. But we must do better...