Growing up, my parents never shied away from introducing me to their friends, nor did they shield me from partaking in more mature, “adult” conversations. I have always been comfortable with successful men and women to my senior–until now.
Now, I am a fourth-year liberal arts student focusing on in history, society and culture. Since declaring my major, I have avoided speaking to actual adults altogether. I attribute this fear to the inevitability that the older, more experienced people with whom I am talking will ask me about my plans for the future and that I will be unable to provide an answer. I have found myself in this predicament time and time again; I wish I could be honest and say that I have no fucking idea. I want to ask them for advice, for anecdotes of failures and successes, and about how they learned to swim in the near-post-grad sea in which I now find myself drowning, but I am ashamed.
I have recently come to realize that every time I introduce myself, I do so as a McGill student. It is my strongest identifying feature, one that I feel is appropriate to share with a new acquaintance, especially one to my senior. This realization terrifies me; if my entire identity–the way that I present myself to the world–comes from being a student, how will I introduce myself next year when this title no longer applies? Do I remind strangers that I attend “the Harvard of Canada” because I think that’s what they want to hear, or simply because I do not know what else to say?
If my entire identity–the way that I present myself to the world–comes from being a student, how will I introduce myself next year when this title no longer applies?
For me, McGill is a safe haven. I feel at home in the company of 40,000 other students, few of whom have a set career path laid out ahead of them. But in the face of graduation, this comfort has led me to a fork in the road. As a buffer for the workforce, or the “real world,” university is an incubator for the underdeveloped, overeducated undergraduate student. It facilitates procrastination and inhibits independence. University today, as my 70-year-old professor put it last week, has become increasingly “spoon-fed.” Our assignment guidelines are laid out in black and white, without much room for critical thinking or creativity, and we have been conditioned to approach our own lives with a similar degree of sterility.
While every generation of young adults has been pressured to succeed after investing time and money into their education, I would argue that our generation has experienced this pressure a little bit more than the rest. As I confront the “real world,” I feel paralyzed, my confidence in my own abilities sinking as the expectations get loftier. We study people like Elon Musk who, by the age of 20, sold his first internet startup for $307 million, or Jeff Bezos, who left his Wall Street job to sell books over the internet and ended up creating Amazon. Growing up alongside these revolutionary innovations and obsessing over the few individuals who found success through them, my generation has maintained the illusion of a society of infinite opportunity. We view their one-in-a-million accomplishments as attainable for ourselves, seeing them as the rule and not the exception.
As hard as it is to realize, most of us will need our framed diplomas and our nine-to-five jobs to move us through adulthood.
These entrepreneurs were the superheroes of our upbringing. They had objective genius and an unrivalled capacity to take risks. But not all of us are Elon Musk. As hard as it is to realize, most of us will need our framed diplomas and our nine-to-five jobs to move us through adulthood.
When we graduate, we are like puppies set free into the wild. We begin a frantic search for our next home, our next meal, our next safe place, scuttling to find comfort and routine as soon as possible. We find ourselves increasingly unsatisfied with our lives, riddled with anxiety and debilitated by the realization that the belief in opportunity and success on which we were raised is actually rather scarce. We are paralyzed by this: “the Millennial Complex.”
While we can blame our educational institutions all we want for putting us in this position, the path forward is ultimately ours to choose. Our risks do not have to be those taken by tech giants and millionaires, but we do not need to be pigeonholed by our degrees either. Rather than philosophizing about how we ended up this way, or worrying about how we will present to “adults” after passing through the Roddick Gates one final time, let’s just get out of our own heads a little and enjoy being pre-post-grads.