It was just another typical Monday morning when just another typical bunch of young people were discussing their work problems. I looked around that group of colleagues and friends and realised that none of us thought our current job was going to be our job for life. We all wanted to achieve more and we all believed we could. Were we expecting too much of ourselves?
It was with these thoughts in mind that I randomly googled the term “millennials expectations”, wanting to learn what other people thought.
One of the related searches was about “millennials unrealistic expectations”, so I clicked on that. And lo and behold, a page full of articles hysterically decrying an entire generation for wanting too much from their lives.
“Millennials make unrealistic retirement plans” said one article.
“Oh what have we done to our children” asked another.
Sceptical of all the negative assumptions, I decided to conduct an informal poll to see what the millennials in my Pakistani social circle were unrealistically expectant about.
Nothing very much, it appears.
A few years in the ‘real world’ seemed to have cleared up a lot of misconceptions about what life was going to be like. But, that has led to quite a cynical view of life.
My evaluation led me to understand that most of my friends, whose life plans have not panned out the way they wanted, have gone through depression and lost some sense of self-worth in the process.
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Those who did find careers they liked were appalled at what they saw as dishonesty and favouritism around them, saying they had gone in expecting life to be fair.
On balance, many of the things those first-world writers were worrying about didn’t exactly apply to Pakistani millennials but some sure did.
So here, in no particular order, is a list of expectations our millennials have and end up being disappointed about:
Expectation: If I achieve my goals, I will be happy
Reality: it’s not as simple as that — happiness is transient.
Expecting to achieve it permanently is just setting oneself up for failure. Besides, no matter how big a goal you achieve, once you are done with it and the euphoria passes, real life will still be there waiting, with all of its problems and annoyances.
Rather than striving for a permanent state of happiness, it’s better to search for small moments in everyday life. And rather than spending money on objects, use it to purchase experiences with your friends and family. That way there will be a store of good memories saved up for those days when nothing seems to go right.
A big screen TV and expensive clothes are great, but they can’t light up your life like a few blissful moments with those you love.
Expectation: I will progress quickly in my career because I’m smart/highly educated
Reality: Work is not just about the highlight reel shown in films and advertisements.
Between the high-fiving at the end of a successful project and the pats on the back by appreciative bosses are long days filled with menial tasks that lead to such moments.
Someone has to draft those letters and notes, call people to set up meetings, make photocopies and file papers. That someone is usually at the bottom of the ladder, where you start out at the beginning of your career.
For the high-five moments and pats on the back, prepare to work hard and long. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your career.
Whether you work independently or for a corporation, it takes dedication, commitment and effort to get you where you want to be. There are no shortcuts.
Expectation: If I try really hard, I will succeed
Reality: Not always, so you need to have a plan B.
I distinctly remember a summer morning when I was 17. There was a discussion at my house about the scholarship I had applied to, I turned to my mother and said, ‘Somehow, I know that things will always turn out right for me, they might be difficult for a while, but in the end everything will be just fine’.
Alas, my balloon of expectation was popped pretty soon because I did not end up getting that scholarship. Instead, I also missed out on other opportunities because I hadn’t applied anywhere else.
Thankfully, after this particular jolt, things got back on track and I received a decent enough education.
Always have a plan B. Self-belief is very important, but it should be tempered with a sprinkling of realism. Sometimes, things go sideways because of what’s outside of your control. That’s no reason to give up.
Expectation: My hard work will be praised
Reality: People will probably not notice or if they do, they won’t bother saying nice things to make you feel good.
We have been raised on healthy doses of attention and praise from our parents and feel that everyone else knows how great we are, just like they do. The problem with that is when everyone around you is a special snowflake then no one is.
You might have spent a lot of time and effort on something that to others will appear ordinary. Or it might not occur to them that you need praise.
In our culture and with older generations, the expectation of praise is seen as a weakness. Never be shy to highlight your achievements, since that’s the only way people will know what you are capable of. But don’t go around hoping to be showered with compliments whenever you write a typo free report.
Expectation: If I can’t solve my problem, someone else will
Reality: The only way your problems will get solved is if you solve them.
This particular expectation I lay at the door of parents who protect their children from every difficult situation. The ones who help out too much with homework and assignments, do their children’s share of chores and accompany them everywhere, even to the first day of work.
You can’t really grow up when surrounded by such protective love because growing up requires some hard knocks. If someone is continuously shielding you from getting bruised, then you aren’t really learning about the harsher parts of life.
Eventually this strategy backfires. No one can be there all the time to solve your problems. You have to learn to do it yourself.
Stop waiting and start doing
If you’re waiting for a knight in shining armour or getting bit by a radioactive spider to become a superhero, stop doing that. Be your own knights and heroes.
We have all heard that annoying quote about expectations, that if you don’t have any, you won’t be disappointed. However true that may be, we, the millennials, have grown up surrounded by such positive environments that we can’t help but expect that state to keep on going indefinitely.
But when disappointment first stings, we can either learn and grow or become bitter and give up. That’s the only difference between success and failure.