In a recent dialogue with a gracious and intelligent Baby Boomer about a piece I wrote on Millennials, she said:

"When I first started working with Millennials, I thought, 'Wow' -- if this is the future, then it's very cool. However, over time I've become concerned ... In a weird way, there's a level of hubris coming from this generation I've never seen before ... When an employee came to me looking devastated because she is '33 and hasn't changed the world yet,' I was speechless."

My first thought? I can relate.

When I made it out of my 20s without making the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, I wasn't crushed, but I was far more disappointed than was healthy. And it wasn't about the recognition - it was the shame of feeling like I haven't done enough with my life ... and that time is running out.

Curious as to whether this was common, I polled over 300 people on the pressure to succeed. I got responses like:

"I spent the past weekend in San Francisco, epicenter of the Millennial overachiever. I was supposed to be on vacation, instead I developed an inordinate amount of stress over the fact that I have yet to start and go public with my own company." - 31, identifies as a Millennial 

It turns out Millennials do feel more pressure. 67 percent of them said they felt "extreme" pressure to succeed, compared to 40 percent of GenXers and 23 percent of Boomers. There was a marked difference in the open-ended responses of Millennials, too - an overall mood of anxiety and self-reproach. The majority felt the same way I did: They hadn't done enough yet, and time was running out.

In a society that tells us we're failures if we aren't successful artists, entrepreneurs, or startup CEOs by the time we're 25, it's good to have a reality check.

So here's one: At the age of 40,

  • Samuel L. Jackson hadn't yet starred in a movie.
  • Julia Child was working in advertising.
  • Vera Wang had barely gotten her start in fashion.

By the way, Vera Wang hadn't designed a bridal gown until she herself got married ... at 40.

According to recent research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the more time young adults spend on social media, the more likely they are to be depressed. In fact, study participants who checked social media the most frequently throughout the week were 2.7x more likely to experience depression.

Millennials came of age during the era of social media, and a large number of survey respondents pointed out the fact that social media was a trigger - seeing how well everyone else seemed to be doing often had them feel worse, and like they had to do more to catch up.

But it's important to keep in mind what's truly important, and that it takes a lot of (most?) people longer to hit their stride than their first decade out of college.

The fact is, we live in an increasingly youth-obsessed culture. We put 22-year-olds on the cover of business magazines and look up to celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and JLo, who never appear to age. Then we measure ourselves against them and find ourselves wanting.

Perhaps even more insidiously, somewhere along the way we've started to truly believe that it's normal to have made your biggest contribution to society before you're even old enough to get a rental car.

It's not.

Here's another dose of reality:

  • Colonel Sanders only became a successful restaurateur after he failed as a lawyer, insurance salesman, and tire salesman. His age when he came up with his "secret recipe"? 50.
  • Ray Kroc sold paper cups, was a piano player, and worked as a milkshake multi-mixer salesman before he founded a little company called McDonalds at age 52.
  • John Pemberton invented Coca-Cola when he was 55.

So Millennials, maybe it's time we calm down, slow down, and take a collective breath. We don't have to do it all at once, and beating ourselves up for not having done enough isn't just bad for us, it's bad for everyone.

Because when we feel like we aren't doing enough, our self-esteem drops. We become more unhappy and less present in our lives. This is a disservice to all, since it is when we're relaxed and in flow that we show up as our best selves. It's also when we're the most creative, the most inspired, and the most likely to serve the world.

In the words of another wise and thoughtful Baby Boomer:

"Let's not confuse Millennial or other generational interpretations of success with the only thing that ultimately matters -- leaving a legacy of true values so that our children can be better, more enlightened, caring people than we are. This won't happen on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook trending tables."

There is no ticking clock.

Sometimes it takes longer than you think.

But I'll bet it's worth the wait.

Published on: Apr 27, 2016