A Millennial Manifesto: The Responsibility to be Great

growth millennials passion

Pragmatic Idealism

With high aspirations often come painful disappointments, especially when you realize how much work actually goes into realizing your dreams. Luckily, my peers and I are fully aware of the massive effort required to overcome the inertia of this world.

We know that passion is not enough.

Despite this, we are still willing to be idealistic.

In his book, Fast Future, David Burstein described Millennials' approach to social change as pragmatic idealism: "a deep desire to make the world a better place combined with an understanding that doing so requires building new institutions while working inside and outside existing institutions."

Pragmatic idealism is that unique combination of dreaming big while staying realistic about your abilities. You know your odds of getting on the New York Times bestseller list, but instead of deterring you, it simply informs your efforts. I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to be everything, as long as you are realistic about how far you can get and how hard you must work.

Part of being well-rounded is being adaptable. Instead of choosing between renouncing the world and totally buying in, I believe in mastering what's necessary. It's silly to shoot yourself in the foot by denying the way things are, just because you think they ought to be different.

High expectations

I really do believe that we should have high expectations. The more I've learned about life, the more it has become clear that you get what you believe you deserve, and if you can't allow yourself to feel deserving of success, prosperity, healthy relationships, responsibility, and all the other good things life has to offer, you're much less likely to actually attain those things.

So when Millennials are accused to demanding too much, or expecting too much, I ask if the alternatives are more desirable. The accusers might say that the degree of change we demand is unrealistic, but I say aim high while keeping in mind you might not get there soon, or at all, and that plans should be adaptable.

When I started Warrior Spirit, I wanted to find a balance between my desire to change the world and my desire to achieve mastery of the world I lived in. I want to be spiritually sensitive and financially savvy, technologically literate and physically developed. I don't think those things are necessarily mutually exclusive, but there is a reason being well-rounded is respected and rare: it is hard.

I know I can't be everything, but as long as I don't ignore my strengths for the sake of my shortcomings, maintain perspective, and stay humble, aspiring to more is only going to push me to accomplish more.

I would rather live in a world full of limitless possibility, even if I never attain them, than in one with confining limits. I choose to believe in that first world, knowing that belief and action go hand in hand.

To Replace or to Change

One of the most influential articles I've read this year was this one by Brian Sowards. In it, he argues that our generation isn't out to simply change the world. Instead, he wants to create it.

I no longer aspire to change the world. What I aspire to do is bring together a group of people who are signed up to live in a much better one, and simply start living it. - Brian Sowards

When asked how he plans to compete with a big, well-established corporation, he responds by saying he doesn't intend to compete with them at all; he intends to replace them.

I think it's a brilliant way to reframe the questions that we have been bombarded with since high school: What do you want to study? Where do you want to go to school? What company do you want to work for?

What place will you fill in this world?

This question contains a limiting presupposition: the only way to live is to fill a spot provided and predefined.

I never really wanted to grow up into the world I saw around me. I didn't see any alternatives, but given the choice, I would have asked for something different entirely. What Sowards' article does brilliantly is remind us that life is not a multiple choice test. If you don't like the answers presented to you, you can write in your own.

The Millennial Problem

Of course, this is much, much harder, and I think this fact speaks to the frustration my peers and I feel: we know the system is broken, largely because people created and followed the very same choices we are now presented with, so we know those aren't the answers. But we don't always realize that there are other choices. Remember, we were raised in a society that had protocols, procedures, and processes for everything. That was a symptom of the post-WWII era in general, but as technology came to dominate our world, much of life has been fitted into tidy lines. We have been so acclimatized to the lines, we don't always realize we're staying within them.

I believe that this the greatest challenge my generation faces: claiming our own power and agency. We have the skills, the passion, and the connections to make great things happen. We just need to realize that we are allowed to, that we can step outside the lines, make changes, dig up established traditions and remake them.

I'm not saying many of my peers don't already do this. But many of us find ourselves running up against an invisible wall constructed by our particular perceptions of 'how things work'. Older generations scold our lack of initiative and our apparent expectation of being shown through, but the wall is very real to us. It can only be dismantled through a change in perception, which is exactly what I try to advocate on this blog: Pay attention to the ways you think and cultivate those that empower you.

Inspired? Incensed? Discussion happens in the comments.

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Photo credit: itupictures on Flickr