Maintaining Individuality as a Cog in the Machine

The ultimate test for any Quirky Girl™ (or boy) is the crucial post-collegiate decision of money and stability vs. creativity and “changing the world”. Like most Millennials, I have heard time and time again from Gen Xers and Boomers that my dreams of maintaining individuality or making the world a better place in my career will be quickly squashed by corporate America, and like the generations before me, I will succumb to sucking at the teat of the 1%.

It’s not even what is constantly said to us that is so irritating, but more the smug “I know better than you” attitude it is said with. We know very well that the smugness comes from the insecurity they feel for choosing a life of shiny new things bought on credit to impress others and the idea (or even hope) that we will follow the same fate so they can feel they have not wasted their lives. We know this, yet it still just feels so shitty to hear it.

So how do we navigate this complicated capitalist world as new adults- pushed from the collegiate nest armed with only our ideals and a lackluster understanding of how best to be “successful”? How do we even define success? It’s incredibly scary. We hear time and time again how just a few short years ago we were asking permission to go out with friends or even to use the bathroom. Then we suddenly had to make important decisions about our futures out of nowhere and hope to god we picked the right major that would get us both a fulfilling and stable job. The lucky ones are able to find what makes them happy and also what makes them money. That doesn’t happen very often, and almost never happens right out of school.  It is almost inevitable that your early 20’s are supposed to be scary, difficult and mostly awful.

And older generations RELISH in it.

They love seeing us struggle. It’s a right of passage. It’s the same attitude you get from older girls in a sorority who want to haze their pledges because they had to go through it themselves. It’s easy to not remember how miserable it was when you are removed from it for a few years and can only be nostalgic about the few good parts you remember. Even worse, when older generations are nostalgic about only the good parts, and fail to understand that environmental factors (mostly caused by them) make the bad parts even harder and worse for us now than it was for generations in the past.

So what do you do? Do you stick it to the man, try to prove them wrong? Do you show them that life can be more than what they had? Personally, I did something I never thought I would do. I did what they said I would do. I decided to get a job in human resources in a hedge fund so that I could afford my tiny Manhattan apartment that I share. I chose Manhattan over another borough because my commute was 20-30 minutes as opposed to over an hour each way, which I thought was worth the extra $200 a month in rent. I chose human resources so that I can get somewhat close to what I originally wanted to do (counseling or social work), while not having to have anxiety about rent and feeding myself. But let me say, even with a cushy corporate job- daily life is still a struggle. I work long hours and still don’t have money left over after bills to spend on things I enjoy, let alone save for the future. I honestly don’t know how I would have done it if I had chosen a lower paying job that is also more physically and mentally exhausting.

So what do we do when we realize they might have been right? In this society, is it even possible to maintain individuality while you are forced to sit through pointless meeting after meeting with the ultimate goal to just keep making rich people more money to sit on? Are we complicit in this system? Are we sellouts for choosing to be slightly comfortable and continue to promote this mass greed rather than exhaust ourselves helping those who are in need only to struggle with making rent or have to make difficult sacrifices? Am I selfish to not want to cut into my very precious and very minuscule amount of personal time with a longer commute or second job so that I can feel like I am adding more good into the world?

I tell myself that with my extra time I can contribute to my community outside of work. I can be a good friend and neighbor. I can volunteer. But even then, that leaves no time to do any of the things I enjoy, like seeing my family and my pets, or playing my ukulele and piano. Are my hobbies not the only things keeping me somewhat unique while I spend 50 hours a week being a faceless piece of a large puzzle that’s only purpose is to make profit?

I know I am not the only one facing this dilemma, and I don’t want to seem whiny. I am grateful to have what I have, and know others have much, much less. But I can’t help but be jealous of those who took risks and tried to make it in a creative field or took a job where they give back to their communities. And I’m also not jealous of how much they struggle and suffer for it. I am not the only one that wishes the system itself would change so that we don’t have to choose between following a passion and not starving. So for now, I try not to think about how I am wasting my potential where I am. I try to be as Quirky Girl™ as I possibly can at my cushy desk job, and have faith that sometime soon my generation will be fed up with the status quo enough to make changes and break the cycle of smug attitudes about the inevitable soul crushing defeat that is adulthood. In the meantime, I continue to feel like a shameless sellout.

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