What Generation Y fears the most

Some might say Emily Gould is a twenty-six year old attention-craving narcissist. But I empathize with her. Nay, after reading her cover article in the New York Times magazine, I adore her (via Penelope Trunk).

Then I read the response. So not worthy of the New York Times the commenters declared in unison. Obviously. Because the world is so much cooler, smarter, and better-looking than Emily Gould.

Which is sad because if Emily Gould’s voice – a voice for bloggers everywhere or merely for herself – is muffled in the world than the world is going to get a lot more lonely.

But there are so many other things to pay attention to. So many other very important things, commenters lamented to the Times.

And maybe therein lies part of the problem.

Generation Y is generally not able to recognize themselves in these very important things – not war, or terror, economic crisis, or the general misery and abyss that too often characterizes the world today.

To be sure, we are eventually ushered into the real world where thoughts of changing the world are fastidiously and mechanically hampered down by those somehow deemed smarter and more experienced than us. It’s called entering the workforce, and it is an experience that only furthers the distance between us and the issues that matter.

Such an evolution is chronicled online within the blog posts of Ryan Healy and Ryan Paugh, authors of Employee Evolution and co-founders of Brazen Careerist. They are the self-proclaimed voices of the millennial generation.

Once proud and insistent of all that an online community could do and accomplish, Healy and Paugh are now immersed and defined by the culture they once espoused. As such, the reality of what an online community is and can actually accomplish is setting in, for better or worse. If you’ve followed them from the early days, you can tell – real life has entered their posts. That is, the reality of doing something meaningful is ridiculously difficult.

You might substitute family or environmental activism or accounting for online community – whatever your passion and dreams consist of – and should you pursue these ideals, you might find they’re not all they were cracked up to be.

Wait. If I sound too much like the big bad wolf of Gen X in Gen Y’s clothing, please let me set the record straight. I drink the Gen Y kool-aid on a daily basis. I do believe in hope, idealism, fantastical dreams and change beyond our imagination.

I was brought up in all that is sweet and sugary. In a world where some fear their shoelace being caught in a landmine, the worst thing that has ever happened to me is my father’s death. A kind of tragedy that I wouldn’t understand until the day after it happened, and the day after that, and each and every day after that. I wouldn’t understand how much my life would be defined by the lack of his.

But I’ve never been raped or abused. Or had a drug problem, or anorexia, bulimia or obesity. I’ve only experienced heartbreak once, maybe twice. I’ve never been shot at or tormented. I’ve never worried about putting food on the table or a roof over my head.

Really, I lead a charmed life. I’m not being sarcastic. I’m being serious. I feel incredibly lucky.

And so when I write about how sad or happy or anxious or ecstatic I am, it’s because I’m trying to figure out how to use this charmed life for the best possible result. How can I build a life that is meaningful?

Because I’ve been trying really hard, and what once seemed like an upward arc towards significance has come back down full circle.

I think this is the great unspoken truth about Generation Y.

We’re terrified our lives won’t matter.

Should Generation Y have a downfall, it will be that we engage in far too much navel-gazing, yes, but also that others don’t recognize the importance of such introspection. The backlash against Emily Gould, and that what she represents is somehow not important demeans the individual experience that defines the collective identity.

That’s why blogging is so important for Generation Y. Because when I read Emily Gould’s experience, I recognize myself. And when someone reads what I wrote, they see themselves.

When we make one person’s struggle less than another, we put down our own struggle as unimportant. And it’s really important to figure out ourselves. If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that people react most violently against what they fear the most. And people fear some weird stuff – success, happiness, failure, love. You know.

But if you don’t agree with that, and I wouldn’t expect everyone to, let me tell you something else. You can disagree without malice or hatred. You can disagree without judgment.

It’s this thing called respect.

And I think that’s a good starting point to building a meaningful life.

Hopeless. Romantic.