Millennials are considered an anxious generation, and people are generally all too ready to give reasons why. Simple explanations include a lack of sleep, often blamed on watching one too many episodes of the latest binge worthy Netflix series; or an obsession with social media, which either paints the picture that everyone is out having fun but us, or has us checking how many likes our latest selfie has in the same anxious way we check how many pounds we have in the bank. Less patronising explanations include the idea that this generation marries later, spends longer in education, in differing jobs and in gap years, and therefore spends more time at a stage in life where employment isn’t a guarantee and lifestyles aren’t built around rigid routine.
This is a more helpful diagnosis, because anxiety is based on uncertainty and many millennials currently find themselves at a stage of life where there is plenty to be uncertain about. Education and exams naturally do this, while modern day employment, with expectations to always be available, can blur the lines between work and the rest of the world. However it’s not just these struggles that cause student anxiety, because all these things, technology, the modern workplace, are relevant to everyone. Instead, a primary cause of anxiety in Millennials is that as the modern world changes, expectations of young people, of those in further and higher education or entering employment, do not. As such, anxiety for millennials often comes not from what they do, but the idea that they should be doing something else, should be on a certain path, or should already have done more.
The generalisation around generations is not only in what they do but also what they are supposed to do and what they should be striving to do in the future.
The generalisation around generations is not only in what they do but also what they are supposed to do and what they should be striving to do in the future. However, the opportunities and the traditional life plan that was normal for previous generations are not as readily available or as straightforward today, and it’s not fair to undermine this generation because they are not achieving the exact same things as those before them. Anxiety comes from a feeling of uncertainty about what is ahead, and the idea that there are certain stages we should be at, at certain times in life, opens the door for millennials to feel anxious about not being far enough down a path that no longer exists, or, if it does, is no longer the only one available to them.
There are new opportunities available for young people today, different to those we have been used to before. Increased options for students leaving school means many are ignoring the traditional paths and taking new ones, choosing other routes and seizing new opportunities. Higher Level Apprenticeships and Foundation Degrees mean there are alternative routes to further education and University; access diplomas mean that career changes and upskilling allow people to quickly and effectively re-enter education at a later date in order to find a job or career path that suits them.
What was once a traditional template for young people transitioning through education and into fully fledged adulthood has been replaced, and although we might occasionally be fed a new one – an image of young well-dressed workers in happy, open offices – the idea of a fixed template of what we should be is contrary to the freedom millennials want. Growing opportunities and options mean more and more routes are available, and stigmas and stereotypes are beginning to fade, as people begin to see that degrees and Higher Level Apprenticeships are no longer two completely separate journeys, but merely different paths. What is new can often seem uncertain, but to compare these differing paths to past expectations is a mistake, and risks leaving young people wrongfully feeling like they are lagging behind, when in reality, new opportunities in higher and further education mean that taking an alternative route to where you want to go is nothing to feel anxious about.