The Coming Millennial Midlife Crisis

The Millennial generation is not as young as they once were.

Of all generations, it’s the Millennials who have had the deepest sense that it’s their responsibility to save the earth, to better society, to rescue humanity. From childhood they’ve been told that their parents and grandparents broke this world, pillaged its resources, unbalanced its economy, and harmed its people. From grade school they’ve been assured it falls to them to pull it all back from the brink of destruction. They are convinced they are equal to the challenge.

 

One of the things I most admire about the Millennial generation is their desire to make a difference in the world. They are convinced that it’s their responsibility to make the world a better place. Not only that, but they believe they actually can. It’s little wonder, then, that it’s so easy to rally this generation to the sake of causes—climate change or gun control or social inequalities or other matters of justice. They’ve got a high assessment of both their responsibility and their ability.

But the Millennial generation is not as young as they once were. When we think of them, we probably think of people in their late teens or early twenties—those digital natives who have always been more at home with a screen than a book, with Netflix than with Blockbuster. But the vanguard is nearing the end of their thirties and rapidly approaching their forties. And with it, they’re nearing the age they’re likely to encounter the dreaded mid-life crisis.

What’s a mid-life crisis? I’ve had to think about the term a lot as I and my Gen-X peers move into our middle forties and face the startling reality that, in all likelihood, we’ve come to the second half of our lives. A mid-life crisis may not be a diagnosable condition like pneumonia or diabetes. It may not be a condition that everyone experiences or that everyone experiences in the same way. But that doesn’t make it any less real. It describes a genuine and common phenomenon—a sense of despair or depression that settles over people as they realize that their lives are already half gone, that they are closer to the grave than the cradle.

When we are young we have a sense of optimism and a heightened assessment of our abilities. We believe we can conquer the world, or at least bend it to our will. We always know that at some point we will die, but that time is so distant that it’s ethereal, so far off that we’ve still got a whole lifetime to achieve our goals, or to far exceed them.

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