Riding your Unicorn into the Real World


Lucy, the unhappy GYPSY.

If you follow the adventures of the Millennial generation at all, you are probably aware of our generational struggle against unmet expectations.  Recently, HuffPost College ran an article using the term GYPSY: Gen Y Protaganists & Special Yuppies.  It’s a good synopsis of how Gen Y attitudes toward their careers, and lives in general were formed. It’s also peppered with precious sketches of stick figures, rainbows, and unicorns.

The gist of the article is a familiar one:  Gen Y was raised to expect the most out of life, but are doomed to live below their wildly high expectations. The emergence of social media like Facebook and Twitter has fueled comparison with peers, a modern phenomenon known as Fear Of Missing Out or FOMO.

Finding your Unicorn

As a 29-year-old millennial I’ve already gone through the brunt of my Quarter-Life Crisis. I recently read the book 101 Secrets for your Twenties, in which author Paul Angone covers a lot of ground in the common struggles of the modern twenty-something.  Very few members of Gen Y have missed out out on the message to “shoot for the moon!” or whatever. The problem is, from my own experience, (and Gen Yers like Angone) is no one taught us how to shoot for the moon, or worse, what exactly shooting for the moon even means?

Here are a few familiar phrases to Gen Y and how they translate to the “real world.”

Some unicorns have burning red eyes, breathe fire, and have gun-wielding Ninja cats. (Google Images never ceases to amaze me.)

“Having it all.” This phrase is usually used in the context of women in the workplace, or more specifically, working moms, but has a broader message to all of Gen Y. Basically, you should try to have it all, whatever that means. Boomer writer Anne-Marie Slaughter concluded that the dream of her generation to have both Motherhood and a career on their own terms was not possible. A response was written by Gen Y member Cheryl Sandberg in the book Lean In. The title of the book eludes to an aspect of success that has been ignored by Gen Y so far: effort. You may not achieve all you set out to do, but you can at least try! The good news is that much like unicorns the definition of fulfillment is rather abstract, and subject to the imagination of each individual. The truth is you probably can have it all depending on what that means to you, and how much you’re willing to work for whatever “it” is.

“Follow you dreams.” This is actually great advice, but it’s incomplete. One drawback of this advice is that it shames those who have a natural inclination towards contentment, or those who are security-oriented. Another problem with this advice is that you don’t always know what your dreams are, or what you’re passionate about. As writer Melissa Kirk from Psychology Today puts it:

The trouble with the exhortation to follow your passion or dream or to find your purpose is that it implies that those of us who are decently content, albeit not particularly passionate about any one thing, or those who are unemployed or underemployed, depressed, raising kids, or otherwise unable to gather enough resources to start off on a new path, are somehow devoid of dreams, passion or purpose, are even somehow small people: the “sheep”, as I’ve heard us “non-passionate” people called by those who consider themselves to be more “passionate”.

Of course, dreams and passion come in all different forms. What you’re passionate about may not always turn into a career. And even if you never find “it” your life may still turn out just fine.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.” Did you have a poster like this in your classroom growing up? This phrase is familiar to many 20-somethings, and although cheesy, is sound advice. Like I said earlier, perhaps no one quite taught us how to shoot for the moon, but trying something you’re passionate about with moderate success, is better than not trying at all.

The HuffPost article leaves the reader with three tips:

1. Stay wildly ambitious. Your hopes and dreams are not the enemy. They just need to be supported by blood, sweat and tears (rather than unicorns, glitter and rainbows)

2. Stop thinking you’re special. The truth is, no one else thinks you are special (apart from people who love you.) Besides, working hard is more rewarding than being special.

3. Ignore everyone else. Approaching the 10th anniversary of Facebook, it only took us a decade to figure out the side effects of knowing every detail of the lives of your peers. Keep it real, and know that online projections are only half-truths. Keep your eyes on your own unicorn.

Good luck to you in bringing your hopes and dreams to the big wide world. Keep your chin up, and your feet planted squarely on the ground, Gen Y, and you will be fine!

Cover illustration source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bulius/4839345269/sizes/m/in/photostream/. (PS– thanks for the awesome pic!)

17 thoughts on “Riding your Unicorn into the Real World

  1. Loved the HuffPost piece, and your overview/extension here. Your emphasis on EFFORT is particularly important. A related bill of goods Gen Y was sold was a misinterpretation of what “happiness” feels like. Lasting happiness is not about having pleasures, it’s about having meaning and a sense of deep engagement called flow. If we “shoot for the stars” with meaning and flow as our goals, it becomes much more attainable than shooting for pleasures (which, research shows, always disappoint us).

  2. Excellent analysis Rachel. I especially LOVED the part about the problem with the “follow your dreams” mantra being that it shames those of us who are perfectly okay with finding contentment and security in our lives. Plus, you can be passionate about something, but even following your passions can leave you unfulfilled at times.

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