Millennials’ Impending Midlife Unravellingby Rachel Eden November 6, 2018
“Six Things that Millennials Bring Up Most in Therapy;” the HuffPost title caught my attention during a recent online surfing stint. Public revelations that emerge from the private space called therapy compelled me to read through the list. After I skimmed through the professed challenges of decision-making, emotional independence from parents, financial freedom, and general helplessness to the plights of the world, my eyes settled on Number Five. Inexplicably, Number Five drew me in. Apparently millennials feel like frauds in the new dawn of social media.
In an effort to compete with peers for the imagined ‘who has the better life’ award, millennials tend to showcase areas of their lives in photos and humble brags that inflate their actual realities. As a 35-year-old, I am indeed a millennial. While this struggle absolutely resonates with me, I always considered myself rather genuine, sharing vulnerabilities and observations honestly. Using my own social media profile as a case study, I analyzed the authenticity of my shares. I pulled from my most recent 10 posts and discovered two crowdsourcing questions, three produced-by-me Jewish educational videos, and an assortment of photos showcasing a recent night out, community event, my daughter’s birthday party and a successful trip to the gym. Do these shares accurately portray my life? What about the sink full of dirty dishes and mounds of laundry? What about the late night grocery trips? The swollen bags beneath my eyes? How can I forget the seemingly endless homework, temper tantrums, and meal preparation? While I haven’t intentionally deceived my thousands of nearest and dearest Facebook friends, I also have made no effort to use the online platform as a true tell-all portrayal of my life.
Internet aside, let’s examine how we conduct ourselves in public. Who among us hasn’t thrown off the yoke of societal norms when entering a private domain? Men in torn tighty whities: I’m talking to you. We have all uttered “just wait ‘til we get home” to a family member through gritted teeth. As my mother-in-law said to my son years ago after catching him with a finger in his nostril, “that’s something you do in private, dear.” Indeed the balance between exposing our individuality in ways that make us insecure and conforming to social expectation is delicate. It’s generally easier and more comfortable to wear a composed exterior in place of messy vulnerability.
I relate to the ‘midlife unravelling’ discussed by Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston made famous by her TED talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ (a top five viewed TED talk). Dr. Brown began her own unravelling in her late thirties (I’m precocious!). She describes midlife unravelling in a May 2018 blog post as being “torn between desperately wanting everyone to see our struggle so that we can stop pretending, and desperately doing whatever it takes to make sure no one ever sees anything except what we’ve edited and approved for posting.” The perfect storm is about to hit: Millennials reaching Midlife.
A solution is proposed by Rabbi Noah Weinberg, of blessed memory, who (in typical rabbinic fashion) offers a list of his own questions to address the crisis of midlife unravelling – a term coined after his passing. In Rabbi Weinberg’s teachings written in a book, “48 Ways to Wisdom,” he discusses a concept called, “Introduce Yourself to Yourself.” Ask and answer a number of questions the way you would with an intimate friend (I’ve selected four here): What is my goal in life? Why did I choose my career? What really makes me happy? What are my secret dreams and ambition?
Rabbi Weinberg suggests digging deep into past decisions and illustrates with the following imaginary conversation with a college student: Why am I going to college? To get a degree. Why? Because I want to get into a good graduate school. Why? So I’ll get a good job. Why? So I can pay back my college loans! Through the process of questioning, we can unmask some illogical motivations. Our answers must be frank and our constant stream of ‘why’ questions unbending, However, if we do this work and answer honestly, we can begin making wise decisions with confidence – that we stand by in private and public.
Bridging the gap between our private and public personas begins by looking at who we are, what we stand for, and where we want to go. In fact, the “why” of social media is now easily called into question. As long as we’re intentional, does it matter if our profiles online aren’t the address to learn about who we are substantively? Perhaps social media is not the best tool to effect the “desperate way we want people to see authenticity,” but rather through genuine self-expression, actually in person, to people (imagine that!) The process of asking ourselves “why” is painful because we are shedding our many skins in our midlife unravelling. We must choose: suffocation by masking our true selves or a rebirth of our identity and spirit. Millennials’ fears of being imposters will finally be taken to task – as we all ask ourselves: why.