Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Case of the Whiny Millennial

I’m not sure why this is the case—though I can guess—but Polly, of the New York Magazine Ask Polly column, seems to attract whiny, complaining millennials. I imagine that they believe Polly to be a kindred spirit, even though she is not a millennial.

Today’s letter writer is Crumbling. We feel her pain. She worked hard to develop a career as a writer. She even went to grad school. She believes, because she is an entitled brat, that because she worked hard the world ought to be offering her a job as a great writer… in her mid-twenties.  She has gotten a job that leaves her enough time to pursue her writing, but she hates it and complains about it. She thinks it’s beneath her. Obviously, this makes it difficult for her to sustain friendships, but she does have a loving and supportive boyfriend.

Of course, she was brought up in an abusive family. Have you noticed that everyone was brought up in an abusive family. It’s a therapy culture mantra—there is no such thing as not having been brought up in an abusive family. For decades now we have been having a national conversation about abuse, of every color, shape and variety. Have you noticed, the more we talk about abuse the more abuse there is. Anyway, Crumbling has mental health issues. Who doesn't?

Crumbling writes:

I have a history of depression and anxiety. I’m from a really dysfunctional, abusive family. Emotionally abusive … and physically abusive. Everything I’ve done in my life so far has been in this desperate attempt to run away from my family and to simultaneously make them proud. Make them incapable of hurting me. And there have been moments when it worked and I felt safe.

She won herself an M.F.A. and got a job—which she resents. And she resents her bosses, because they seem to be suffering from white privilege:

I just graduated from this M.F.A. writing program. I was able to get a job sooner than many of my friends from grad school, but I’m an assistant. Which is kind of the norm for my industry but it means I have to do things that feel a little degrading. And my bosses are kind but are very rich and privileged, and can at times treat me like the hired help … which I guess I am. But it’s hard when you’ve worked so hard to get somewhere professionally and you end up lying to your parents and friends at home about what you do on a daily basis so that they don’t know you’re spending your days getting coffee and researching dog nannies for your boss’s epileptic dog. 

She has her first job, but it is not a glamorous job writing for a major publication. So she feels spoiled and a failure:

And I know I sound spoiled … but I feel like a big failure here. I’m so fucking poor. Every day I wake up in a sweat over bills and rent money. And I apply to new jobs, but sometimes I can’t apply because I feel so down and lost, I end up swimming in my depression for the day. I don’t know what job would be better. The other jobs in my industry are intense, 12-hours-a-day jobs where I wouldn’t have room for creative things. It would be all getting coffee and all errands. But my job makes me miserable and I can’t afford anything. I just feel trapped. And this is what the next decade or two will be like, right? Rejection, trials, getting coffee, trying to write even when you’re depressed.

What she really want is a low stress job that leaves her room for her creative things. And yet, such jobs do not pay very well. It's a trade-off. Life is all about trade-offs. It’s a choice. She thinks that if she gets a high stress job that pays better she will never become Jane Austen.  She has made a choice. Since she’s a millennial, she complains about it to her friends. But she discovers that her friends do not like being receptacles for her pain, so she has chosen to stop the complaining. It's not a bad idea: 

But slowly, I stopped telling her about when I felt down or if I was going through a hard time. Because I know she wouldn’t be able to handle it, and in the past, she was never very good at cheering me up or really being there. So I pushed my feelings down. And because of my job and depression lately, I just couldn’t take being friends with her anymore. This devastated me. Why did I work so hard to land here if I’m just in this crappy job and hurting? Why can’t I just suck it up and be positive and competitive and driven and ambitious like everyone else, like how I used to be? I feel like such a loser for being this broken about all this.

Besides, she has a boyfriend who feels her pain:

He really knows me and knows how much I’m hurting and he’s been helping. But it’s still so fucking hard. Some days I don’t know how to get out of bed. I do get up, though. I pull myself out of bed and go to work every day and tell myself that I can do this and even if bad things happen, I will survive. But how can I make this better? How do you find joy or peace when you feel like your life is out of your hands and falling apart around you? How do you write when you feel like such a mess? How do you feel better when you’re sad and sick from disappointment in others and in yourself? How do put on a game face and charge into the world, into your job, into anything ready to succeed and believe in yourself when you just feel like crumbling?

As it happens, on this rare occasion, Polly has something useful to add. Before she starts whining about feeling your feelings and before she starts handing out bad advice, she begins with this:

The short answer is that you develop good habits that help you get through the day, even when you’re crumbling. 

Good advice, advice you should take to heart. If you need more encouragement, you can read Adm. William McRaven’s new book: Make Your Bed. It will make a great Christmas present for your millennial friends.

As happens with Polly, one piece of good advice is quickly drowned in a torrent of psychobabble. This time, Polly is offering up the lean-in form of contemporary psychobabble, and tells Crumbling how to sabotage her job and career and her friendships:

The answer here is not to just suck it up and be positive, though. That’s what got you into this shit in the first place. The answer is to ask for what you want directly. Ask your friend if you can lean on her. Don’t blame, just say, “I need a friend I can call when I’m down. If I don’t trust that I can do that, I lose my faith in our friendship.” She will either show up or disappear. She will either agree to your very simple, non-blaming request, or she will make excuses and counterattack. Don’t get drawn into a debate. Don’t engage without a good-faith effort on her part to tell you directly that she values your friendship and she understands that asking for what you want doesn’t make you weak or needy. STAND UP FOR YOUR NEEDS.

Leaning in and standing up are not quite the same thing, but exactly what NEEDS are in question her. The need to whine. The need to abuse your friends with constant complaining. Here's a piece of advice: any time anyone starts wailing, But, what about my needs? it's time to decamp.

To add a little extra bad advice, Polly recommends that Crumbling learn to say No, to speak up for herself and to get herself fired:

At your job, a similar dynamic is unfolding. People like you and me work very hard and earn gold stars, but we never learn how to say no. We are valued by the charismatic narcissists we work for (okay, fine, they’re everywhere, but we also tend to appeal to other people with narcissistic streaks, so they hire us and love us). But we resent them. We don’t speak up for ourselves and then we randomly explode or just quit mysteriously. Or our employers start to feel suspicious of us. Can they really trust us? We act so weird, and we don’t really tell them the truth anymore.

As I said, this is mental drool. If you want some better advice, heed the advice given out by Colin Powell many years back. When Powell was a teenager he landed his first job sweeping out a factory floor. He did not complain about the indignity of leading the broom brigade. He said to himself that he would be the best they had ever seen at sweeping the factory floor.

So, one day, the owner was walking through the factory and he saw this young man working with uncommon energy and industriousness at sweeping floors. The owner looked at his associate and said, in reference to Powell: Why is he still sweeping floors?

The moral of the story. If you are great at whatever you are doing, people will naturally want to give you greater responsibility and authority. If you whine and complain all the time they will think that you have reached the limit of your capacity and that you do not care about contributing to the company.


whitney said...

A couple generations of kids have been told to find something they love and do that for a living. It seems like such backwards advice to me. Only a rare few will be so lucky as that. What they should be telling them it's "whatever you do do it well and then you will take pride in it and feel good about yourself."
Heck, there's a whole song about it. If you can't have the one you love, love the one you're with. Thank you Stephen Stills

Ares Olympus said...

Powell's story is a good one to consider, but it might be flawed.

At least sweeping is visible work, where someone can observe your gusto, and consider you're hinting at a desire for promotion. But other work, including writing, you're not really being watched, and its hard to see how hard you're working from the outside. And if your writing is so good, it needs no corrections, it can easily be taken for granted.

As a programmer, I've never had a problem with promotion, or at least there's no where I'd want to be promoted to. Being promoted might be a sign that I was not doing my work good enough to keep doing it. I'm sure being a writer would be harder work, and my perfectionism would probably get in the way, while you can leave ugly code in for years, and the users don't care.

Jack Fisher said...

She's an MFA, who wants to be a writer. but doesn't talk about writing. Writers write. She's not a writer, she's another wannabe infatuated with the idea of being a writer, just another cubicle drone. She's got this conflicted sense of identity between want and is, so she's frustrated.

While it's fun to blame this chick for digging a hole, who handled her the shovel? Who told her, starting when she was a teenager, that an MFA (or any degree other than an MRS) was a letter of transit to middle class life? Parents, kolleges with the aid of govt. backed student loans available to MFA students .... spread out the blame where it also belongs.

Tonestaple said...

She used the phrase "incredibly intense" twice in one sentence. It takes a serious tin ear to do something like that. I don't know what she should be when she grows up, but probably not a writer.

Anonymous said...


"I want to move hundreds of thousands of people with my writing genius. I didnt do it yesterday. I might not do it tomorrow....Do I have ANY metric for success? If not,could I have been making SOME progress towards my goal and not known it?"

They say : "Writers write."

- shoe

James said...

A recently found publisher's reply to one of above writers submissions: