The Mis(sed) Adventures of a Mediocre Millennial

Few people make those top 30 under 30 or 40 under 40 lists. When I recently got an email from my alma mater requesting nominations for one of these elusive awards, I felt a bit triggered. Not everyone is recognized as a shining star at work, in their family or on a public stage. Many of us lead lives that look much different than we had envisioned. Lives that are pretty good, but rarely honored with time-stamped awards.

Looking back, not winning the Most Likely to Succeed superlative in high school foreshadowed my future. I’m not salty or anything, but perhaps my peers saw something in me at 17 that I couldn’t. As I approach my mid-thirties, my life looks nothing like I thought it would- not necessarily better or worse, just different.  I won’t bore you with a long list of all of my unmet goals, unseized opportunities, and half-assed attempts. But let’s just say my wandering nature has rendered me a Jackie of all trades, Master of few and GOAT of none.

This feeling is not unique to me. I know many great people who have worked hard to accomplish impressive achievements- graduate degrees, Fulbright awards, promotions, moves abroad and cross country, etc. More importantly, they are kind, generous and seeking ways to make the world better. And yet their lives have not turned out the way they had hoped. Sure, by external measures of success, they are doing okay. But in many ways they are not quite “there” yet- often feeling unfulfilled, underpaid or overlooked.

Growing up I was constantly told that if I was a good student, worked hard and followed the rules, I’d be rewarded with a good, stable life. Many other Millennials were spoon-fed this ‘Merican myth of meritocracy. Someone just forgot to tell us that it ultimately leads to mediocrity!

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

I’ve discussed this with other people, and they highlight the impact of several external, macro-level events. From the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the 2008 stock market crash and recession. This led many of us to take gap years or accumulate extra student debt by going to graduate school. Just when we began to gain some stability, 2020 unleashed a deadly global pandemic, a competitive housing market, and a complete overhaul of our work and social lives. I am not making excuses for us, but we’ve had our share of challenging world events.

Some people accomplish great things and are recognized publicly and financially for them. Others constantly struggle and experience hardships. But most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Leading fairly average lives with sprinkles of wonder, joy, heartbreak and growth.

My personal definition of success is to say with full satisfaction that I had a fully human experience, having lived all of the nuance that this physical realm can offer. So if mediocrity means being in the middle, this implies the average. Perhaps when we take the sum of all of our experiences and divide them by the number of distinct instances, we’d see that we are probably leading a pretty good life. Even (or especially) if it’s still evolving and looks different than we expected. When I reframe things this way, never winning the Nobel, Pulitzer or any other award is not so bad. After all, it’s the norm not to!

So Suitie, how do you live an extraordinary, but average life? Cheers to finding your very own sweet spot somewhere in the middle!

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